A Valentine Letter to the Economist Group

Dear Economists at the Economist Group,

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Let me begin by apologising in advance to anyone who may feel uncomfortable with what I am about to write. Please be rest assured that this letter is written in love hence why I chose to send it to you on the day of love. Martin Luther King, the civil rights activist once wrote, “Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and national opinion before it can be cured.” I pray the ‘pus-flowing ugliness’ highlighted in this letter will eventually be cured as it is exposed to the light of human conscience.

In January 2015, Zanny Minton Beddoes was appointed the first female editor of the Economist newspaper in its 172-year history. Breaking a 172-year old tradition was a clear demonstration of the Economist Group’s intent to join the Commonwealth of organisations breaking the gender glass ceiling. The Economist Group continues to play a crucial role in ushering a more inclusive world. The Economist has not shied away from discussing diversity related issues. Its editor, Ms Beddoes has participated as a moderator for a diversity discussion at Davos and as a panellist at Bill Maher’s talk show about systematic racism in America.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a rejoinder to an article published in the Economist titled, “Serena Williams’s choke was the biggest recorded in women’s tennis.” Since I am not a regular reader of the Economist, I decided to do some research about your organisation to help me identify any implicit bias that might be inherent in the article. My analysis revealed that the organisation was fairly representative along gender lines. Furthermore, on the surface, the professional staff racial composition contained a mixture of whites and people of colour. However, when I examined in detail the racial composition of employees at the Economist and the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), I discovered that black economists and analysts were grossly underrepresented within the Editorial and Research team structure. Even though the exclusion of black professional employees within the Group might be unintentional, I am compelled to bring it to your attention as management and the Human Resources department may have overlooked it.

In carrying out my analysis, I examined the Economist Group’s media directory, which is available in the public domain. The directory comprises:

a) The Economist Editorial Staff Directory

b) The Economist Intelligence Unit Analyst Directory

My review of the Economist Editorial Staff Directory revealed that of the 108 Editorial staff, 100 of them were white and the remaining were people of colour. The EIU directory was more racially diverse with 42 of the 123 analysts belonging the non-white racial classification. When the two directories were consolidated, it was revealed that 22% of the front office staff at the Economist Group is non-white and the remaining 78% are white. So far, so good. But when I broke down the “People of colour” classification into its sub-racial components, I discovered that of the 231 front office staff included in the Economist Group directory, there was only one black economist, Herman Warren i.e. 0.43% of the directory population.

Admittedly, one would expect there to be a prevalence of economists and analysts of Asian and European heritage in the directory relative to black economists as the Group has offices throughout Europe and in India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. But this still doesn’t justify the gross underrepresentation of blacks, after all, the Economist Group has a presence in Africa.

The Economist Group describes itself as “An independent company that wants to attract and develop the best people in our industry, wherever they are from and wherever they are.” It also states, “The Economist Group values diversity. We are committed to equal opportunities and creating an inclusive environment for all our employees.” But while this might appear to be true for others, as far as black people are concerned, the message on the door post seems to read “Not Welcome Here.” Although diversity drive has good intentions, sometimes, it covers a multitude of sins. Organisations in the quest to achieve diversity sometimes fail to look at the complexities of diversity, especially racial diversity. In her ground-breaking book titled ‘White Fragility’, Robin DiAngelo, the American sociologist notes ,

“While people of colour share some experiences of racism overall, there are also variations based on a specific group’s history… black people are the ultimate racial other.

As Western organisations continue to treat people of colour as one homogenous group, should it be any surprise that blacks have been relegated to the bottom of the BAME ladder, as some ethnic minorities are considered more equal than others? The combination of a female editor, Asian economists working side by side with white economists in addition to the Group sponsoring diversity discussions may give the Economist Group a veneer of diversity, but a closer examination reveals it is not that black and white (no pun intended).

Some may argue that it is critical for the Economist Group to recruit based on intellectual capability rather than on race. Point taken, but is intellectual rigour the exclusive preserve of one or two “special races”? Is black intelligence an oxymoron? Is there a paucity of talented black economists in the UK and around the world? I don’t believe the black race is incapable of producing men and women who have relevant economics degrees; who have masters degrees; who have previous experience writing political and economic analysis for a business audience; who have an understanding of the external market demand for electronic delivery of country analysis; who have a knowledge of global and regional politics and economics; who have a fluency in international languages; who have writing and editing skills; who are well organised, self-motivated and calm under pressure. I stand to be corrected.

Some may argue that the employee demographics reflect the UK demographics after all the 2011 UK census revealed that 80% of the population was white. Point taken, but the proportion of black economists relative to the total number of economists within the group is almost 8 times lower than the proportion of the UK black population relative to the total UK population. Moreover, the Economist Group is headquartered in London, a city where 13.3% of the population is black. To put it succinctly, the staff racial mix up is not representative of the area in which the organisation is situated.

Some may argue that the Economist Group is a global organisation that covers a wide range of countries and it makes sense to exclude blacks. Point taken, but if we are to turn this logic on its head, one should also assume that the economists in the Group should reflect the racial mix of the regions covered. But is this really the case? I observed that the African desk is staffed predominately by non-black economists. For instance, the African Editorial desk at the Economist comprises of two white economists and the African desk at the EIU comprises of 6 white economists, two Asians economists and one black economist .

African Desk

Conversely, the European desk at the EIU comprises of seven white economists. There is something odd when an organisation that professes to be international and covers global markets can only boast of one black economist in its media directory.

European desk

Some may argue that the Economist Group relies on specialists who have localised knowledge of the region they cover. Point taken, but for regions such as Africa which have a high concentration of black people, does it mean there are no African based economists that have an in-depth understanding of the local economies? If the Asian desk can have Asian economists; if the European desk can have European economists; if the Latin American desk can have Latin American economists, why is it so difficult to recruit and retain African economists as part of the African desk? By excluding black economists, the Group is depriving itself and its customers of the contribution of people who have an in-depth understanding of the African economy.

Some may argue that I am playing the race card. Point taken, but this is not a game, it’s the reality. Based on what I have detailed above which is available in the public domain, the evidence is clear that the cards appear to be stacked against black economists.

Before concluding, I would like to discuss representation. Every year, thousands of students of different colours and creed around the world apply for spaces at various universities to study economics. Some of these students dream of one day working for a reputable organisation that would enable them to put the concepts they learnt in school into practice. When they begin their job search, they visit the websites of the organisations they are interested in working for. Some of them will go to the staff directory to check the online profile of employees in the company. How will a black graduate feel when he checks the online directory only to discover that people who look like him are not represented in the organisation? Will he feel that it is a “black-free zone”? Will she look back at her life and wonder whether she wasted three years in school studying a course, which is not open to people with her melanin? Will she feel a sense of disappointment when she learns that her white and Asian colleagues have got their offer letters even though they all have equal academic and professional abilities? Representation matters.

For the sake of clarity, I am not calling or suggesting that anyone within the Economist Group is racist. I am only questioning the structural framework, which has led to the exclusion of black economists. When Ms Zanny Beddoes participated at Bill Maher’s show discussing the theme, “A System of Racism”, the panellists agreed there could be racism and sexism without racists or sexists. I guess some of you may be uncomfortable with this conversation, but as Ms Beddoes said on the show, “That is the conversation we should be having.”

Perhaps, I may have got my analysis wrong in the sense that the Group might have many black economists within its editorial team and research departments. If this is the case, please accept my apology. But to avoid a situation in future where people jump to the conclusion that black economists have been excluded, may I suggest you update the media directory to include those black economists who were initially omitted from the directory (if this is the case). If the Group has no objection in making its economists of other races visible to the outside world, it should have no objection giving its black economists the same level of visibility.

I trust you will read what I have written with an open mind and use your good office to redress the racial imbalance within the Group. In my introduction, I quoted Martin Luther King’s statement about injustice; I’d like to conclude this letter by paraphrasing Ms Zanny Beddoes comment about diversity, “I can’t wait for the day when it is no longer newsworthy that a black person has been appointed as an economist at the Economist Group.”

Happy Valentine.

Selah.

Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA

@Alatenumo

14 February 2019

Writer and social critic