John Allan

Tesco chair John Allan

Dear John. We’d love to be able to say that ‘it’s not you, it’s us’. But it’s not. It’s you.

You claim you were being “humorous” when you said white males were an “endangered species” in the boardroom, and were going to have to work “twice as hard” to earn their place in the foreseeable future.

But the lack of diversity in leadership is no joke, buddy. Because let’s face it, there has still been no “significant swing” in the pendulum of equality, as you claimed.

The Tesco board of directors consists of eight white men and three women, and even if the women are newly appointed, they’re all non-executives. So hardly proof of diversity in action.

It’s not just Tesco, though, is it? As one reader pointed out recently, just 12 women made it into The Grocer 2017 Power List of the food and drink industry’s top 100 ‘leaders, thinkers and agitators’. And, of the 44 people on the list representing the retail side of the industry, just three were women. It goes to show that the problem of gender diversification is particularly acute in retail.

It’s just not a problem for boardrooms either. According to a recent report by The Fawcett Society, “gender and racial inequality remain major problems in the British economy”, with men in full-time employment still paid on average 13.9% more than their female counterparts. That gap widens for some ethnic groups. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are paid 26.2% less, on average, than white men.

So it’s not exactly an “extremely propitious period” to be “female and from an ethnic background and preferably both”, is it John?

Even your attempt to apologise was, frankly, offensive. You might have been trying to encourage women and people of ethnic minorities to apply for more NED roles, but suggesting it’s a “good time” to do so because boards are looking to boost diversity is just a little bit patronising.

Perhaps you didn’t intend to offend, John. And perhaps you really are a committed advocate of greater diversity. But if you are, please think before you speak next time.

Because it’s frustrating enough listening to men’s rights activists banging on about how hard done by they are in society these days, without one of the country’s most influential businessmen giving apparent support to their barmy ideas.

Women and people with ethnic backgrounds have faced a long struggle for an equality that still doesn’t really exist. And any suggestion they are facing positive discrimination at the expense of poor, hard-done-by white men threatens to set back that struggle even further.

We aren’t angry John, we are just disappointed. Although not as disappointed, we suspect, as some of your Tesco boardroom colleagues.