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17 Aug 2020

Recruiters charged with diversifying UK boardrooms still mainly white - The Guardian

Only six black executives and board members working for leading headhunters, the Guardian finds

In the ruthless world of executive headhunting, Cynthia Davis got used to being called “the black girl”. In the early 2000s, she recalls being one of only five women – and the only black employee – in a firm of 120 people in Leeds.

Even after a 20-year career that has involved working for big names and launching her own firm, BAME Recruitment, she laments the lack of progress. “It’s got better, but it hasn’t changed that much,” Davis said.

While Britain’s largest businesses are under mounting pressure to diversify their leadership teams, the headhunting companies in charge of filling those boardroom seats are still predominantly white.

The world’s leading executive headhunters are known as the SHREK firms: Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, Russell Reynolds, Egon Zehnder and Korn Ferry. Between them, there are only six black leaders among 81 global head office executive and board members, according to figures compiled by the Guardian. Two – Egon Zehnder and Spencer Stuart – have no black leaders at all.

Davis, who has four black staff on her 11-strong team, said headhunting firms that struggled to recruit and promote their own black talent would battle to help corporate clients address boardroom imbalance. Black people make up about 3.3% of the population of England and Wales but in 2019 held only 1.5% of the 3.7m leadership positions across the UK’s wider public and private sectors, according to Business in the Community.


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