Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Citigroup backs Academies of Finance mentoring

But Race for Opportunity says there is 'some way to go' for BME communities in senior finance jobs, writes Anita Pati.

The UK Career Academy Foundation is a charity set up to support 16- to 19-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds who want a career in business. About 85 per cent of those who take part in the foundation's work are from BME groups.

It is backed by large corporations but founded and sponsored by Citigroup, the finance giant.

The foundation has created 'Academies of Finance' in existing schools and colleges, offering a special two-year business studies curriculum, mentoring by volunteers from supporting companies and a six-week paid internship in the finance function of a business during the summer holidays.

This is just one example of how the finance sector is promoting the business case for racial diversity among its staff and customers, according to the annual benchmarking report published by the Race for Opportunity campaign.

Each of the 113 organisations that took part in the study, of which 70 were from the private sector, benchmarked its position against 10 performance indicators, including recruitment and development, community involvement and supplier diversity.

In terms of overall performance, the financial sector topped the 2005 league tables. Lloyds TSB, West Bromwich Building Society and HSBC were in the top five best performers. Credit Suisse First Boston was ranked best newcomer.

The campaign, led by Business in the Community, launched 10 years ago to push diversity at work and show organisations that embracing BME communities improves their bottom line.

This year's survey shows that ethnic minorities, who have an annual spending power of £32bn and constitute 7.9 per cent of the UK's population, are becoming more attractive to companies eager to harness the might of the 'brown pound'. Some 91 per cent of participants now have a clear business case for working on diversity linked to their business objectives, compared with 78 per cent in 2004. And 94 per cent of participants have a board-level race/diversity champion, up from 86 per cent in 2004.

However, Race for Opportunity director Sandra Kerr acknowledged that there was still "some way to go" in recruiting ethnic minorities to top positions. The firms surveyed have just 111 BME senior managers out of 3,262.

- anita.pati@haynet.com

COMMENT - ADE FASHADE, CO-ORDINATOR, PROGRESS THROUGH PARTNERSHIP PROJECT, BASSAC

Although many businesses that have race, diversity and CSR strategies in place can pat themselves on the back, it's not clear how these will affect BME communities. Seventy per cent of BME communities live in the most deprived areas of England. Businesses need to be clear about how they are working towards improving quality of life for BME communities.

It is noteworthy that Race for Opportunity director Sandra Kerr herself acknowledges that there is still "some way to go". BME communities are still being denied access to influential forums and networks that can lead to progress for them.

A disproportionate number of ethnic minorities work in the lower ranks of private sector employment, not to mention that many cleaners are from BME communities. We have successful BME leaders in BME businesses, but what about BME leaders in mainstream businesses? Where are their faces and voices?

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