Companies seek to spin off diversity campaign from crisis-hit CBI

News

Some of the UK’s biggest companies are seeking to separate a prominent boardroom diversity campaign from the CBI after they cut ties with the crisis-hit business lobby group. 

FTSE 100 groups Aviva, Schroders and Sage as well as Big Four consultancies Deloitte and EY are among the companies that have been involved in the talks, according to people with knowledge of the discussions and a list seen by the Financial Times. 

Securing the Change the Race Ratio campaign’s independence would allow companies that have cut ties with the CBI to remain involved in the diversity initiative.

The spin-off, which could be formally announced as soon as next month, would insulate the campaign from the financial and reputational crises engulfing the CBI. 

The lobby group is fighting for survival after a wave of member companies quit or paused their engagement with it over a governance and misconduct scandal in April, including two allegations of rape which prompted an investigation by the police. 

The CBI has since changed its leadership and committed to overhauling its culture and governance, and is attempting to convince the companies to renew their membership.

Change the Race Ratio was launched in 2020. It calls on businesses to set and publish clear targets for greater racial and ethnic diversity at board, executive and senior management levels. Its 111 signatories employ a total of almost 600,000 people. 

Following the furore over the misconduct allegations, a group of companies that founded the initiative decided they “don’t want it to die” as a result of the wider problems at the CBI, said one of the people with knowledge of the talks. 

Concerns were also raised about the CBI’s credibility to run the campaign, given the high-profile allegations. “The one thing the CBI has no authority on is diversity,” the person said. 

Spin-off talks have considered how to convert the campaign into a non-profit organisation and potential funding models for the standalone entity, said people with knowledge of the matter. 

“Everyone wants to keep it going,” said another person briefed on the talks. “They don’t want to slow it down or for it to be put on ice while other things are happening. It’s such an important topic, it needs to maintain momentum.”

The Investment Association, public relations firm Brunswick and headhunter Russell Reynolds are among other organisations involved in the discussions. 

As part of the plan Lord Karan Bilimoria, who set up the initiative during his tenure as CBI president, would be replaced as the project’s chair by Sir Trevor Phillips, a broadcaster and former head of the UK equalities watchdog. 

Bilimoria told the Financial Times he had been asked to become the first president of Change the Race Ratio, alongside Phillips as chair.

The Cobra beer founder is a vice-president of the CBI but will leave the role after the lobby group’s annual meeting in September. He said he believed the CBI “will continue to be a founding member” of the diversity campaign. 

Which companies would ultimately be involved and whether the CBI would retain any formal relationship with the campaign have yet to be finalised, said two people with knowledge of the plans. A very small number of CBI staff and assets could be transferred to the new entity, they said. 

The CBI said it was “proud to have played a key role in founding Change the Race Ratio” and that “in line with an agreed long-term plan, the campaign will now be established as an independent entity”. 

It said that “increasing ethnic minority representation on UK boards and in leadership is absolutely crucial” and that it would continue working “to empower organisations . . . to aim higher and go further in creating truly inclusive workplaces”.

The organisation is undertaking a redundancy programme and said on Friday that it would close its small offices in Beijing, Delhi and Washington. Brussels is its only overseas outpost which will continue to operate.

Additional reporting by Ian Smith in London

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