But Operation Black Vote’s Colour of Power list is a graphic illustration of just how literally our physical appearance can affect our chances in life.
The campaigning organisation has just released a photographic gallery of the 1,160 most powerful people in Britain today – and even a brief glance shows that the feature that most of these individuals have in common is that they are white.
In fact, only 73 of them come from an ethnic minority background. That works out at 6.3 per cent – less than half the 14 per cent you would expect if people of every race stood an equal chance of getting to the top.
And even this doesn’t tell the whole story because some communities have been much less successful and some institutions are clearly more ready to embrace diversity than others.
Take Britain’s 1.5 million Pakistanis, for example. Among those succeeding to top political positions are Health Secretary Sajid Javid and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Yet there is not one Pakistani chief constable, police and crime commissioner, national newspaper editor or vice chancellor of a leading university.
Nor are there any CEOs of metropolitan borough councils, public body quangos, or top law firms, advertising agencies and charities. And despite our entrepreneurial nature, we are lagging behind Indians in having no one at the helm of a FTSE 100 company or major bank.
This isn’t just a case of a few extremely talented individuals being denied a place at the top table. It affects us all, regardless of our ability or the colour of our skin, because this lack of diversity is symptomatic of the situation at every level of society.
Baroness Ruby McGregor Smith’s ground-breaking report on race in the workplace concluded that making the most of untapped ethnic minority talent would boost the UK economy by £24bn.
But this won’t happen unless our young people are convinced that they will reap the benefits of hard work – and that’s difficult to believe if you can’t see anyone in a position of influence who looks like you.
More than three in 10 of Britain’s Pakistanis live in the 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods. As a result, over half of our children live in poverty compared with a quarter of their white British counterparts.
With our boys continuing to under-achieve at school, it seems likely that many of them will also grow up to face a daily struggle to make ends meet – unless they truly believe that they can aspire to something better.
Fortunately they are not alone. There are around 4,000 Pakistani-led not-for-profit organisations in the UK and many are cornerstones of the communities they support.
Some offer education and training courses for people of all ages; help them to find work, set up and grow businesses; or collect charitable donations for distribution to those in need. The problem is that all this hard work is based on shaky foundations.
Often unable to raise funds from mainstream sources and with limited access to resources, training and development support, many of these organisations are dependent on volunteers and financial contributions from the impoverished neighbourhoods in which they work. Demand for their services was rocketing before the coronavirus pandemic; now some are close to being overwhelmed.
QED Foundation has always reached out to those most in need by working closely with partner organisations around the UK, and particularly in Yorkshire. Many of them are also Pakistani-led. We realised that we could all work more effectively by pooling our skills and experience so we set about establishing a UK-wide network.
As well as building our members’ capacity, this gives them a collective voice so that they can articulate the needs of our communities to key decision makers.
Since the first Colour of Power list was published in 2017, the number of ethnic minority faces has more than doubled from 36 to 73. This is a step in the right direction but there is still a long way to go before young British Pakistanis can look in the mirror and imagine themselves in such positions.
We hope our members will play an important part in bringing about that transformation – and maybe encourage other disadvantaged communities to form similar networks to fight their corners.
Dr Mohammed Ali OBE is the founder and CEO of QED Foundation, a national charity that works to promote the social and economic advancement of disadvantaged communities.
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