Why are Black and minority people so underrepresented in senior CX positions?by
In a candid discussion that draws upon her own experiences, Rachel Williams explores the lack of representation of BME people in senior CX positions, and the actions that leaders should be taking to make the sector more inclusive.
There has been a shift in recent years where organisations have started to pay more attention to racial equity and diversity within the workplace. Many companies are implementing supplier diversity, staff diversity groups and initiatives to help equal the playing field.
The question here is how have these shifts and changes impacted the professional world of customer experience?
The data around ethnic diversity for the CX industry is sparse and limited. However, I think it’s important that we start to look at the CX industry through the diversity lens. Additionally, we should all be asking ourselves how we can create more equity and fairness for those from a Black and Minority Ethnic background (BME) within the growing CX landscape.
On a personal note, when I worked for a large corporate organisation within the complaint handling industry I experienced institutional inequality first hand.
The majority of those working on the frontline in customer facing roles were Black. The majority of those in senior management and executive positions were white. As a Black female professional, this caused me to feel disconnected from the senior leadership team.
Also, I could never see myself progressing into an executive position as it looked impossible – glass ceiling anyone? Honestly it felt more like a white ceiling as everyone at the top was white.
I’m writing this article to perhaps get some new conversations going within the CX industry and to raise awareness of the real issues facing BME professionals that may just be right under your nose.
BME employees across all industries make up a very small percentage of senior leadership roles in the USA and the UK. Here are some recent statistics on the topic:
- Black employees made up around 4% of Vice President roles in the USA in 2021 (Mckinsey).
- Black employees were overrepresented in frontline and entry level roles in 2021 (Mckinsey).
- Black employees held 1.5% of top management roles in the UK private sector in 2020 (People Management).
- In 2020, only 4.7% of Britain’s most powerful decision makers from the public and private sector were from a non-white background (Diversity UK).
Unfortunately, there are no statistics which relate specifically to the CX industry on the topic of ethnic diversity. However, we can reasonably assume the trends identified here reflect the lack of diversity in senior CX positions such as head of CX, head of client relationships, and director of CX.
To further support this theory, I searched on LinkedIn for 50 people with the title ‘Head of Customer Experience,’ and found that 7/50 (14%) were from a BME background. Interestingly, when I searched for ‘Director of Customer Experience’ I found that only 4/100 (4%) of professionals with this job title were from a BME background.
So, what do the official statistics and my very small sample tell us about the CX industry in particular?
There is usually an overrepresentation of BME workers on the frontline but an underrepresentation in management.
There is evidently a lack of ethnic diversity in senior positions across the board and CX roles are no exception. Those from BME backgrounds can get their ‘foot in the door’ in front line positions but face barriers to promotion into senior decision-making roles.
What is the impact?
So what is the impact of a company having an underrepresented amount of BME employees in senior positions? Here are a few key points to consider with a focus on the CX industry:
- Less profit: According to McKinsey’s report from May 2020, ‘Diversity Wins’, companies with a more ethnically diverse executive team outperformed their competitors by 36% in terms of profitability. This suggests that by not having a more diverse decision-making team, the bottom line of your company will miss opportunities for growth.
- Closed perspectives: If everyone in the boardroom is white, the perspectives and decision-making activities coming from that boardroom are going to be limited. This is because we often make decisions based on our life experiences and perspectives. This is problematic as your customer base is likely to be from a diverse range of backgrounds. Having more BME employees in senior positions will give your company a more rounded and diverse viewpoint.
- Customer empathy: Did you know that Black employees are more likely to have experienced challenges when growing up? These challenges include discrimination, racism, being raised in a low income family, and being raised in a one parent family.
This arguably puts Black employees at an advantage in terms of having more empathy for customers who may be experiencing similar circumstances. Having a Black person in the boardroom may help to shape customer friendly policies such as payment breaks, support lines for contact centres and loyalty programmes suited to those on a low income.
- Employee experience (EX): A lack of diverse representation at the top of the company food chain can lead to BME employees having a more negative employee experience in comparison with their white colleagues.
It can be quite challenging for BME workers to relate to an exclusively white executive team, with it often feeling isolating and demotivating when you can’t see a path to progression for yourself in a company. Countless studies show that when employees have a poor experience at work it can have a negative impact on their CX performance.
Breaking the norm
Let’s switch gears and start talking about solutions. Here are three areas that organisations can focus on to create more equity for senior positions especially in the area of CX:
To begin raising awareness of any diversity challenges, the most important thing is to take stock. This means obtaining real time data by gathering information about all staff members in terms of their ethnic origin and job titles. A data set should be created which has information on the following:
- What percentage of employees are from a BME background.
- What percentage of managers, senior managers and executives are from a BME background.
The data can then be analysed to identify any diversity challenges.
Once the data has been analysed it should be shared with the senior leadership team. A clear plan of action should be written with the goal of creating a more ethnically diverse leadership team.
For organisations working in companies that deal with lots of customers, a key aim should be to have more BME employees in management and middle management positions. This is because there is usually an overrepresentation of BME workers on the frontline but an underrepresentation in management.
The next area of focus is to let your company know that ethnic diversity is on the agenda. Share your plans for change with all employees as this will boost morale for BME workers on the frontline. The awareness will also give BME employees a level of hope that they too can make it to the top at your company.
When I worked in the corporate world I felt overlooked, undervalued and underdeveloped in terms of my capacity and talent.
Since starting my own business in 2019, I’ve been named as a CX Influencer of the year, a top 10 contributor to CXM magazine, worked with the National Health Service (NHS) and created bespoke training for The Atlas Building.
There are talented, valuable and world class employees who can add value to the boardroom, your bottom line and your CX initiatives. Give them a chance and start making a change by stamping out institutional racism, racial bias and outdated internal cultures.
Rachel is the Founder and CEO of The Experience Corporation. The company helps organisations of all sizes to create meaningful, profitable and wonderful customer experiences. This is done through online training programs, consulting and free resources.
Rachel has over 14 years of experience working in professional CX roles including a...