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Business struggles for UK Ethnic Minorities

Piers Linney has regularly featured in lists of Britain's top 100 influential Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) business leaders but faced major hurdles when was at school.

"When I was at school, no one taught me about being an accountant or lawyer or an investment banker or working in finance," the 49-year-old told AFP.

He said he was told to become a plumber rather than getting work experience in a bank.

But his steely determination saw him become a high-flying lawyer and investment banker, then an entrepreneur championing the cause of smaller businesses.

His most high-profile role to date has been as a judge on the BBC reality show "Dragons' Den", where entrepreneurs compete for financing for their start-up projects.

He currently sits on the board of the UK government's British Business Bank, which helps smaller firms access much-needed finance.

Piers Linney says more needs to be done to break down barriers for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities in business. Image credit: BRITISH BUSINESS BANK / Handout/ IBTimes

Linney said his experience was not unusual, and more needed to be done to break down barriers for BAME communities in business.

"There's no doubt about it that it is harder to achieve if you are from an ethnic minority background," he said in an interview.

"It doesn't mean that you can't. But the barriers that exist -- be they visible or invisible -- something needs to be done about them."

Companies around the world have begun to promise more diversity after global outrage at the death of unarmed black man George Floyd during a police arrest in the United States.

The BBC said it would focus 100 million ($124 million, 110 million euros) from its commissioning budget over the next three years on "diverse and inclusive content".

One focus of the anti-racism protests sparked by Floyd's death has been better BAME representation in society but recent studies indicated low levels across corporate Britain.

Pressure group Business in the Community, which calls for responsible business in Britain, this week said in a report that just 1.5 percent of private sector leaders were black.

That level is almost unchanged since 2014.

And just 6.8 percent of senior managers in Britain's 350 largest companies were from minorities, according to a recent study by the government-commissioned Parker Review, which examines and reports on ethnic diversity in the boardroom.

It warned in February that it would be a challenge for companies listed on London's FTSE 100 index to meet the UK target of at least one BAME board member by the year 2021.

Shanika Amarasekara, who is general counsel to the British Business Bank, suggested being female made it even harder for her to progress in business.

Image credit Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

"You set yourself up knowing that there are battles that you will face," said Amarasekara, 45.

"But I think my approach has been to approach change with a positive outlook -- which is an assumption that everything is possible."

Linney, born in central England to a West Indian mother and an English father, said there needed to be far more people from minority groups to show the way.

"You have to go back... to the education system to make sure that there are visible role models so people think they can aspire to be better than they can be," he said.

"It's about access to opportunity at the end of the day... People from certain socio economic backgrounds can find it harder to climb up the ladder.

"You might not think you can -- which can be a huge hurdle because you don't see people like you doing it. So it's very important to have role models."

Britain is currently grappling with the legacy of its colonial past, with protests in particular targeting statues to figures from the time.

Linney said the major issue that needed to be addressed was a greater awareness of "conscious and unconscious bias" -- whether in society or the business world.

To do so will benefit companies, he added.

"If you're in business, a diverse business in all of its forms, is a stronger business, a more profitable business. You understand your customers more," he said.

"It's about your organisation. You have to sometimes work a little bit harder to access that talent, to look into that pool of talent which doesn't always have the connections or the social capital or the right background or the contacts, to be as visible as they should be."

Source: IBTimes, AFP


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