By Nick Myers

Big-up to England for getting through to the Euros semi-finals for the first time in 25 years, and in epic style with four goals against Ukraine.

This is a team that is scoring goals in more ways than one, however. With a squad that features a wealth of incredible black talent – Raheem Stirling, Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka to name a few – this team has openly stood against racism since the tournament began. (And despite receiving upward of 2000 abusive tweets.) It’s ironic to think that the team that was originally booed for taking the knee could soon be lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup.

But, as I watched the recent games, it struck me how teams like England and France have tonnes of black players on the pitch – but few, if any, black managers. In fact, if I hadn’t read at the weekend that Patrick Vieira was Crystal Palace’s new manager, I wouldn’t be able to name a single black Premier League manager. Could you? 

How is it that the world of football talks up a strong commitment to diversity and an actively anti-racist stance – and yet we rarely see this black talent make it through to senior positions?

As always, it’s a lesson for our industry. We can’t have black talent coming in through initiatives like BRiM and yet never breaking through to the upper tier. The recent AA, IPA, and ISBA-led "All In" census supports this point. It found that while ethnic minorities represent 24% of new recruits, just 1% of the C-suite is black.


Black recruits are already walking off the pitch

What’s even more alarming is that 32% of black talent is considering leaving the industry altogether because they don’t feel included. I assumed this was because our sector has a higher percentage of privately educated white people, to whom black working-class people, like me, found it hard to relate. (When I joined our industry, it was like stepping onto another planet; I knew nothing of ski season, or round-the-world gap year adventures. Heck I just wanted to get a job and start earning.)

It turns out that my assumption was wrong. Our industry’s take on diversity has been middle-class white people recruiting middle-class black people: 70% of black talent went to an independent school, according to the IPA’s BLM Audit. So, even when white, private-school elites recruit black, private-school elites there’s a struggle. What hope, then, for the 30% of black entrants who went to the local comp? And why is it that black talent, regardless of social class, feels less welcome?


A different league

We can’t leave inclusion, representation and belonging to chance. Not in football, and definitely not in life. As demonstrated by Singapore, which punches well above its weight in terms of GDP, innovation and tech. Key to its commercial creativity and performance has been diversity.

According to the World Economic Forum, in 1965 Singapore decided not to leave racial harmony to chance and intentionally worked to create a society that broke ethnic ghettos, setting hard KPIs to be more diverse. At Oliver, we’re also not leaving diversity to chance.

Our founder, Simon Martin, has actively put targets in place at all levels across Oliver and the Inside Ideas Group. It’s massively helped us move the needle on things, without sacrificing the quality of our recruitment or appointments. This was a fear of mine initially, as no black employee wants to feel like the "token talent". Or worse, some sort of charity case being "helped". All agency leaders should pay attention to that last part, as it can be a fine line.


Keeping and harnessing capable black talent requires a better game plan

So, what can we do to make the 32% of black talent thinking of leaving the industry feel like this is their home pitch? Here are five things I think might help:

Move from mentorship to sponsorship. We must move from providing "mentors" to providing senior-level "sponsorship" that will advocate for black talent around the boardroom.

Get more of each player on the pitch. Create a more inclusive culture that allows people to bring their whole self to work, because if someone leaves 50% of themselves at home, they’re already halfway out the door.

Turn players into managers sooner. Implicit bias means managers are more likely to delay putting black talent forward, this can be overcome by promoting earlier. In fact, I fear that promoting black talent could be even more problematic for black managers, due to fears about how promoting black talent might be perceived.

Get talent in through the doors and the roof. The 32% of black talent thinking of leaving need to see that success is possible for people like them. This requires lateral thinking, such as a client-side or international hire. Whichever way it’s done, it’s incredibly empowering to see someone like yourself in such a role. Diverse Boards was set up by Dino Myers-Lamptey to help organisations get talent in through the roof.

Set a goal and keep score. Targets shouldn’t be needed when it comes to becoming more diverse. But, as we’ve seen with making boards less male dominated, they do work.  

Every talented black recruit that leaves our industry is an own goal.


Fact: representation is good for the bottom line.

Boston Consulting Group found that diverse management teams generate 19% more revenue through innovation. McKinsey similarly found that diverse organisations outperform rivals by 36%.

Getting more black talent through the ranks and into the C-suite isn’t just kumbaya, it’s a strategic imperative. CEOs reading this should immediately tie it to their senior team’s remuneration. And, no, I am not saying this just because I am black. In fact, what is usually the case is senior black talent are afraid to push the issue of diversity for fear of drawing attention to their blackness.

In the words of former footballer Fabrice Muamba: “Does the reflection of black players on the pitch right now reflect the managers, does it reflect the board, does it reflect people on TV? We have to be a reflection of our product.”

The same is true for our industry. 



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