Good afternoon everyone, and thank you to the Black British Business Awards team for inviting me to join you all here today (19 October 2017).
It’s a real honour to be here.
And it’s a pleasure to be back in the City. I spent many happy years working in finance, including just up the road at Deutsche Bank.
It’s fair to say that bankers aren’t the most-loved people in Britain.
When I left banking to become a politician I got the feeling I was the only new MP who was moving into a more popular profession!
I might go for the hat-trick next, become an estate agent!
That business background has followed me throughout my political career.
A lot of people were angry when I first joined the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Culture.
They said “What does this banker know about the arts?”
Well, I think they said “banker”…
Still, at least they knew who I was.
Some guy came up to me a little while back, wanted to shake my hand, take a selfie.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, had a nice little chat.
And as he walks off he’s on the phone to his mate and he says “I just met Sadiq Khan!”
I’ve no idea who he was.
I mean, white people, they all look the same, don’t they?
Anyway, as I say, it’s a pleasure to be here today celebrating the very best of Black British Business.
I shall be tweeting about it later.
And, when I do, I know that at least one person will reply asking why there’s no White British Business Awards!
They will, of course, be missing the point.
You just have to look at the nominees here today to see the incredible contribution that black men and women make to British businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Yet you’re still woefully under-represented at higher levels and in boardrooms.
And, as research shows, most companies lack a coherent strategy to help people from ethnic minorities overcame the barriers that stop them moving up from middle management.
As one of the finalists here today put it:
“The system was not designed by people of colour and it’s not designed for them.”
I’d like to think things are better than they used to be.
30-something years ago, when I was first applying to join some of the big British merchant banks, it wasn’t the easiest business for someone like me to get into.
I’d walk into an interview and the panel would all kind of recoil in shock.
I can’t imagine why.
Must’ve been my haircut…
But for all the progress that has been made there is still, obviously, a long way to go.
We need the business world to do more.
Earlier this month the government published an unprecedented collection of data on racial disparities.
It showed how well – or badly – people from different ethnic groups are served by the public sector.
The first step to overcoming a problem is to admit that you’ve got one and get a grip on exactly how it presents itself.
This data release will help the public sector do that, and I’d urge private businesses to follow the same approach.
It’s not enough to say you don’t discriminate, to say you’re an equal opportunities employer.
You should show it through your actions.
You should recruit from a wider base, create talent pathways, acknowledge and confront unconscious bias.
And the next generation, the stars of tomorrow, need to know that business is a viable, welcoming, rewarding career path.
That is why we have the Black British Business Awards.
That is why we need the Black British Business Awards.
Because the achievements of the nominees and winners here today are worthy of celebration in and of themselves.
But, more than that, they can serve as a beacon to young black people right across the country.
They show what is possible.
What can be done.
And to the wider business world, the Black British Business Awards show how out of date the stereotypes are.
They prove that overlooking people of colour isn’t just bad practice, but bad for business.
They demonstrate what a company is missing out on if they fail to recruit and retain talented black men and women.
There’s a lot to celebrate today, and a lot more still to do.
But I believe that, together, we can overcome the systemic issues that still create racial barriers for too many people in this country.
We owe it to ourselves.
We owe it to the next generation.
And we owe it to the generations who came before us.
Because if there’s one thing that unites most of us here today, it’s the debt we owe to those who came before us.
For my generation it’s our parents, for many of you it’ll be your grandparents, maybe even your great-grandparents.
My parents came to Britain from Pakistan.
Maybe yours came from the Caribbean, or from Africa or elsewhere.
Wherever they came from, they came here because they wanted a better life.
A better life not just for them, but for their children and their children’s children.
They wanted the next generation to have opportunities they had only dreamed of.
And they were willing to give up everything they had, leave their families behind, and move thousands of miles to a country that was unfamiliar, often unwelcoming… and extremely cold!
They came here and they worked and they worked.
And they laid a path for us to follow.
I know that I’m only here today because of the values I learned from my parents, from the example they set me.
I’ve heard similar tales again and again from members of almost every ethnic minority group.
So, just as previous generations inspired us, fought for us, cleared the way for us, let us do the same for business leaders of tomorrow. Thank you.