Colour at the Top


‘They loved you! Your capability, competence and intellectual rigor were all the perfect fit but they have a big question mark around why you are not more senior and why you don’t earn more’. These were the words my coaching client heard from the recruitment consultant, following an interview at a FTSE 100 Global company for a Director level role.

What made the feedback even more charged, was that the interviewer was the Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity.

My client is an ethnic minority- she was the first in her family to get a job in The City, but she had limited awareness of how to: navigate politics, build profile and of the art of self-promotion.

Her 15 year career to date has required:

·       Learning agility

·       Strong purpose and values

·       A good dose of determination, passion and self-belief

Had the interviewer taken the time to recognise the challenges my client had faced to get promotions and pay rises, they would have uncovered strong evidence of both character and skills, and concluded that this is a person you would definitely want on your team.

Forbes tells us ‘it’s no secret that a diverse workforce is a healthier one’ and McKinsey’s paper ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity- were 33% more likely to have industry leading profitability.

So why are we not seeing more colour at the top?

Some tips to consider if your organisation is trying to increase representation of ethnic minorities:

  1. Bringing diverse groups in at entry level will bring benefit if there is a level of honesty in the organisation around habits and practices that may be holding some groups back

  2. A collective investment into changing the culture needs true sponsorship and commitment (not lip service) from the leadership team

  3. This will be demonstrated by the leadership team having some coaching or training interventions to raise awareness of themselves as individuals and the biases they hold

  4. Hiring managers need to be truly willing to have an open mind to understand the journey others may have travelled to get there and this may mean deviating from a generic assessment criteria

Increasing ‘colour at the top’ will mean looking at ourselves first to examine the affect that our language and judgements are having on others’ - this may be uncomfortable and challenging- but to me the most uncomfortable question we should all be asking ourselves is: why are we still here?


Written for The Tall Wall by Fahrah Gulamhusein, Executive Coach

helen cowan