LACK of diversity at the top of major companies and public bodies risks damaging the West Midlands economy, says mayor Andy Street.
A new West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) study has outlined recommendations to improve opportunities for people from under-represented parts of society.
It concluded the leadership of private and public sector organisations needed to better reflect the diverse nature of the West Midlands.
The study received the endorsement of prime minister Theresa May.
There are also calls for more Windrush descendants to be in positions of leadership in the West Midlands.
This month sees the 70th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush – the iconic symbol of post-war migration – which brought thousands of British subjects to the UK from all over the Commonwealth.
The WMCA said their hard work and contribution, sometimes in the face of bigotry and racism, has helped build the tolerant, multi-cultural UK we know today.
The West Midlands Leadership Commission (WMLC), chaired by journalist Anita Bhalla, has spent nine months reaching out into communities and institutions to give a voice to the views, real-life experiences and ideas of people across the region.
The WMLC is made up of 19 role models who have succeeded in the worlds of business, the arts, health and public services and who personally understand the issues of under-representation.
The mayor said: “It’s not acceptable that certain parts of society are largely invisible when you look at the leadership of our major institutions and companies.
“The diversity of our region is one of our greatest assets but this lack of representation at leadership level can lead to a sense of alienation amongst certain groups and a feeling that it is not possible to get to the top.
“Yet greater diversity in leadership can bring fresh talent and alternative ways of looking at an increasingly globalised world and that can generate greater prosperity and less marginalisation and disaffection among excluded groups.”
It is not only black and ethnic minority (BAME) communities that are underrepresented but also women, the LGBT community, disabled people and lower social economic groups such as white working-class boys.
Anita, who is also chair of PBL Town Hall and Symphony Hall, said: “It’s not good enough to say that diversity policies are in place if those policies are not rooted in an organisation’s culture.
“There needs to be ownership of this issue at the very highest level. Leaders need to build diversity into their workforce so they are able to produce future leaders through mentoring and coaching.
“We found that consciously, or sub-consciously, there is a tendency for people to recruit and promote in their own image and at worst there can be nepotism and a ‘mates club’ mentality.”