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Government ministers are championing diversity amongst digital businesses and tech entrepreneurs - why is this not mirrored in the top UK firms?

Ed Vaizey, UK minister of state for culture, communications and creative industries took to the stage during a networking event for Diversity UK last week, heralding the contribution Asian tech and business leads have made to the UK.

Yet the reality is that attempts to increase diversity in the boardrooms of the UK’s largest enterprises are declining.

Research shows that non-white managers in the 7,700 positions below the boardroom of FTSE 100 firms fell to 5.7 percent from 6.2 percent a year ago; meaning the next generation of boardroom employees are beginning to look very similar. 

Despite an increased focus on diversity amongst corporations, just under two thirds of FTSE companies now have an all-white board – an increase on last year.

Further, there are no executive directors of Chinese or east Asian heritage in the FTSE 100, which has puzzled Raj Tulsiani, CEO of Green Park Group, the recruitment firm that commissioned the study published last week. 

Tulsiani said: “China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan are some of the biggest and fastest growing markets so it’s astonishing to see from or research that there is not a single Chinese or East Asian heritage executive director within the FTSE100. And even more startling that there are fewer than 60 Chinese or East Asian Heritage people in the entire 10,000 top leaders in the whole of our study.

“We know that this group forms the single most successful educational demographic in the UK, and has done for quite some while, so big companies need to ask themselves, why are they not drawing on this group’s talent and insights to help provide a competitive edge in targeting important markets for growth?”

Meanwhile, the contributions of east Asian entrepreneurs in the UK tech scene were championed by UK minister Vaizey. The Top 100 Asian Stars in the UK tech list, sponsored by KPMG and startup incubator Wayra featured digital influencers like Dame Zarine Kharas, the CEO of Justgiving.com as well as Bindi Karia, vice president of Silicon Valley Bank, Reshma Sohoni, CEO of Seedcamp and Nikhil Shah, co-founder of MixCloud to name a few.

Former stars include well-known dragon and chairman of Startup Loans, James Caan, as well as Samir Desai, founder of Funding Circle. The list focused on those at executive Levels within established companies and founders in startups. Still, this pool of UK talent has not filtered through to the FTSE 100 boardroom.

It appears that the number of women on FTSE boards has increased, however, Green Park stated: “women and minority leaders continue to feature disproportionately as Non-Executive Board Directors; as a consequence, their true level of influence is far smaller than their numbers suggest.”

UK firms have been criticised for placing women in non-executive positions to fill its diversity quota set by Vince Cable in 2011.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of Green Park Diversity Analytics said: “Diversity is only of value to business if it genuinely brings people of different outlook, experience and culture to the table - there are few benefits to cosmetic change. This research reveals that the drive for diversity in Britain’s top companies is in danger of becoming a euphemism for more seats for professional white women at board tables.

"While it looks like we will meet the targets set by the Davies Committee for gender diversity, it’s clear that we are going nowhere when it comes to improving social mobility and actually going backwards on ethnic diversity.”