Black History Month reminds us of the huge contribution that black people have made to the world, but in 2018 we have still failed to see a number of “black firsts”. Will we ever see a black Prime Minister, England football manager, or Lord Chief Justice? Analysis by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) published today finds that we are highly unlikely to see these black firsts – because we are still failing to ensure black talent is being promoted up the “pipelines” into these top positions.
I first recognised the depth of the problem when I was asked two years ago to put together statistics on the barriers black people faced from birth up to adulthood for a BBC documentary, Will Britain ever see a black Prime Minister? Unsurprisingly the statistics told a clear story of racial disparity.
But the irony was that very team that was making the documentary had to borrow a researcher from BBC 1Xtra in order to have at black person on the production team. The lack of diversity in the current affairs department was striking – and I genuinely do think it would have been easier to make the show if there were senior black people on the production team.
This experience got me thinking about exactly whose talent is being developed. And when I started to dig I found that it wasn’t just the BBC or politics that has a problem, but across a number of sectors.
While films like Black Panther, Get Out, Hidden Figures and Moonlight signal that our big screens are finally taking representation seriously, they perhaps give the wrong impression about just how much work still needs to be done to get equality. Take judges: when looking at how long it will be before we get a black Lord Chief Justice we had to go down to the fifth tier of the judiciary before we found just one black candidate. The fact that the top four tiers of British justice have no black representation shows that the pipeline is in fact almost empty, with no new black talent anywhere near getting appointed to the top court in the land.
Even in football, where so many of the players are black, it seems unlikely we will get a black manager of the England football team anytime soon. A third of footballers in our professional leagues are black, yet only 6 per cent the senior management.
Why is there this disparity? The only black British Premiership Manager, Chris Hutton has spoken about the “incredible imbalance between those of ethnic backgrounds playing football, often at very good clubs, having good careers, being captains of their teams, and an absence in senior management”. He chalks up the disparity to racism that needs far more transparent and open recruitment practices.
Perhaps more troubling is the way in which these snowy peaks may be leading to conscious and unconscious bias in decision-making in these institutions. The government’s austerity programme has hit women of colour hardest; there have been multiple high-profile incidents of racism in football; and black defendants are far more likely to be charged and given longer sentences than their white counterparts. This isn’t simply about representation, but about tackling institutional racism
There was one sector that has lifted its game since I started my research over two years ago. In 2017 five new black MPs entered parliament. Furthermore, the shadow cabinet has seven black members meaning that black talent is being primed to take on the top role. So while black representation is still below the 4.5 per cent needed to reflect the population of black and black mixed-raced people in the UK, we are more likely to see a black Prime Minister than a black manager of the England football team.
So many of our black heroes and leaders today have incredible stories, often seeming extraordinary. Looking at the figures, it strikes me that this is because those that have made it are extraordinary in the literal meaning of the work — unusual humans able to beat the odds.
But should our black heroes really have to be superhuman? Many of us who grew up with black and Asian immigrants parents have been told that we have to work twice as hard to get anywhere. Today, on the last day of Black History Month, I wonder if parents today will need to give their children the same advice?
Dr Faiza Shaheen is Director of CLASS, Centre for Labour and Social Studies.