A Valentine Message To the Economist Group — Part II

Dear Ms Beddoes ,

Happy Valentine. Exactly a year ago, I penned a letter to the Economist Group in which I expressed my concern at the lack of black representation in your esteemed organisation. I brought to your attention the fact that of the 231 front office staff working for The Economist Group at the time, there was only one black person. On 15 February 2019, you responded to my letter stating you and your organisation think about diversity. You noted that blacks are underrepresented relative to whites and Asians. You sent me a link to statistical data on the gender, race and ethnicity of the Economist’s editorial staff (which I understand was updated following my letter). You concluded by stating that your organisation could do better and are striving to do so.

I took you at your word and expected that in a year’s time the gross underrepresentation of blacks in your organisation would be addressed. But 366 days after my 2019 Valentine letter, my analysis reveals that blacks are still underrepresented in the Group.

My analysis reveals that of the 124 editorial staff at the Economist, there are currently 118 white editorial staff, 6 Asian editorial staff and no black editorial staff (see appendix A). Last year, 78% of the editorial staff were white, 22% were non-black people of colour and there was no black editorial staff. Of the 96 analysts working for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), there are 68 white analysts, 27 non-black analysts of colour and only 1 black analyst (see appendix B). Out of a total of 220 front office economists at the Economist Group, there is only 1 black staff, which translates to 0.45% of the population.

My analysis reveals that the African desk at the EIU comprises of an all-white cast of 4 white analysts even though Africa is predominately black populated (see appendix C). So much for local knowledge.

My analysis reveals that there is a higher probability of being employed in the Economist Group if your first name is Andrew, Charlotte, David, James, John, Rachel, Robert, Sarah or Tom (and you are white obviously) relative to someone whose first name is Ajobiewe, Aponbiede, Ayomide, Bokamoso, Folashade, Kwabla, Makele, Tendai or Tshegofatso.

My analysis reveals a whitewashing of the senior cadre that excludes not only blacks but also Asians. Of the 9 members of the executive team, all are white (see appendix D); of the 10 management staff, all are white (see appendix E); of the 9 members of the Board of Directors, 8 are white (see appendix F). The Board of Trustees also comprises of an all-white cast (see appendix G). To put it succinctly, the higher you go, the whiter it becomes.

In Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, the Invisible Man, the main character suggests that white people have a construction in their eyes, which renders black people invisible. He writes, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The result of my analysis suggests a manifestation of this trend.

In an interview with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, you said, “The Economist is generally a meritocratic place… And it’s one where what matters is the quality of your ideas and the quality of your argument.” I have three follow up questions, one challenge to your comment and one rhetorical question: Are blacks incapable of producing quality ideas? Are blacks incapable of quality arguments? Are blacks only useful as hewers of wood and drawers of water? I challenge you to conduct a census of kitchen assistants, security guards and cleaners working in your organisation and analyse the results along racial lines. Is the racial composition similar to the racial composition of the Economist editorial staff?

Paradoxically, on 7 November 2019, the Economist published a piece titled, “How to make your firm more diverse and inclusive.” The article was in the form of a fictional letter from a fictional shareholder to a fictional CEO. There are two sections of the article worth quoting — On the issue of shelving responsibility: “Now you are no doubt tempted to forward it to someone in HR… Don’t. This is your problem. Without your leadership, it is unlikely to be solved soon.” On the issue of creating a level playing field: “When recruiting, software can mute biases by concealing giveaways to a candidate’s gender or ethnic identity. These include names but also less obvious hints like the sports they play. If only the usual suspects apply, look harder. Specialised recruitment drives, such as visiting “black” colleges or advertising in women’s forums, appear to work.” These are great ideas, but isn’t it time to practice what you preach?

The Economist has a lot to say about diversity, however, I am sure you will agree with me that diversity has become a talking shop. When it comes to diversity, the Economist appears to exhibit a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds. It’s time for action. The lack of black people in organisations like yours creates a vicious cycle whereby as non-blacks are employed, they climb the corporate ladder, sit on interview panels and then recruit people created in their image.

Ms Beddoes, you may argue that you are powerless to do anything. But resolving this racial imbalance shouldn’t be difficult for a person who is the editor-in-chief of The Economist, who is also ranked on the Forbes’ Most Powerful Women’s List and who once said,

“I’m in a position to try and shape the culture.”.. why do nothing?”

Following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex departure from the UK, there has been a national conversation about race in the country. Amid accusations and denials of racism, one thing missing from the debate is that through a strange formula, blacks find themselves at the bottom of the racial totem pole. As organisations brag about breaking new grounds on diversity, blacks continue to find themselves short-changed. BAME which is supposed to be an umbrella term for ethnic minorities has morphed into “bAME” at best and “AME” at worst as blackness is either downplayed or eradicated.

I don’t know how you will respond to this Valentine letter, but I presume you could take one of the following steps:

a) You might ignore this letter by dismissing it as the ranting of an angry black man.

b) You might reply to this letter and state that you are aware of the racial disparity and are working to address it even though you would do nothing about it.

c) You might justify the racial disparity highlighted in this letter on the grounds that there is no qualified black economist in the whole universe.

d) You might decide that the time for paying lip service to the exclusion of blacks is over and use your power and influence to implement the long-overdue change.

Whatever course you take, to thine own self be true.

Selah.

Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

@Alatenumo

14 February 2020

APPENDIX A: Economist Editorial Staff

APPENDIX B: EIU Analysts

Appendix C: EIU African Desk

Appendix D: Economist Group Executive Team

Source: Economist

Appendix E: Economist Group Management Team

Appendix F: Economist Group Board

Appendix G: Economist Group Board of trustees

Writer and social critic