Bittersweet success: glass ceilings for Britain's ethnic minorities at the top of business and the professions

Document type
Shamit Saggar; Richard Norrie; Michelle Bannister; David Goodhart;
Policy Exchange
Date of publication
24 November 2016
Minority Groups, Employment
Social welfare
Material type

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This report on ethnic minority progression at the top of business and the professions shows mixed results. The report is based on both quantitative and qualitative research methods, including the analysis of relevant publically available data, focus groups and interviews. The rise of the ethnic minority middle class has been an important success story of British society, indicating that this is a more open society than is often assumed.  In the past generation, a cohort of talented ethnic minority Britons has emerged from elite universities into top posts in medicine, the law, and some parts of business. Indeed, minority representation in the highest social class — the higher managerial and professional class — is now 11.6 per cent non-white minority compared to just 10.8 per cent white people. But there are still blockages, in particular at the very top of the NHS, the civil service, academia and business.

The report considers the reasons for these remaining blockages at the top and makes some detailed recommendations for overcoming them. It does not assume that any under-representation must be the result of systematic discrimination and is careful to measure minority progress by the right benchmarks. It also challenges the idea that more diversity at the top will make businesses more successful. There is no conclusive evidence for this claim. Greater diversity in the most senior positions in business and the professions is mainly just a matter of fairness and what one might call the final stage of integration for Britain’s settled minorities.