Making diversity everyone’s business: multi-level changes in institutional policy and practice

Impact Area: Equality and social attainment, finance,

Institution: Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham

Leading Academic: Professor Kiran Trehan


Ethnic Minority Business (EMBs) contribute an estimated £25-32 billion to the UK economy annually, but research has identified the many challenges faced by ethnic minority and female entrepreneurs in accessing finance, markets and support to improve business management and leadership skills. The University of Birmingham’s Enterprise and Diversity Alliance (EDA), launched in 2010, is an innovative network bringing together academic researchers, professional bodies, institutions and entrepreneurs to find effective, replicable and sustainable ways to meet these challenges. EDA research addresses two major areas of concern, assessing how key stakeholders within public, private and voluntary sectors can embed diversity policies and practices in order to improve access to finances and stimulate growth for EMBs, and exploring how EMBs can acquire requisite skills to increase their productivity. This research has identified barriers and facilitators to accessing finance and markets for such businesses.

The EDA has used this evidence base to inform academic and professional publications, policy briefings, interactive workshops and mentoring programmes, embedding diversity into enterprise policy deliberations and practices. It has developed and delivered group and individual mentoring programmes to promote high calibre managerial and leadership skills in EMBs, helping increase efficiency, effectiveness and productivity. These programmes play an invaluable role in supporting small businesses since many of the organisations previously offering this support have ceased to operate in the current austerity climate.

Benefits and Impacts

The EDA, its partnerships and its mentoring programmes have helped to create and improve relationships between minority businesses and the banking sector.

  • Its partnership with the British Bankers Association led to the development of new workshop models and communication methods to strengthen banks’ understandings of minority firms, boosting their engagement with over 150 EMBs, particularly around applications for loans and mentoring support. These models have been rolled out across the sector.
  • The EDA worked with Lloyds Bank to embed diversity in its mentor-training programme and its mentee recruitment methods. This has had considerable impact on Lloyds’ practices, enhancing their capacity to engage with EMBs, and on over 50 minority business mentees, who improved their business plans and record keeping, with higher success rates in funding applications after mentoring.
  • Partnerships with banks, including Barclays and NatWest, have helped hundreds of ethnic minority and women owned businesses to grow through access to finance, new markets, mentoring and business support.
  • The EDA’s nationally recognised initiative with A.F. Blakemore & Son Ltd has brought real benefits to both the mentored African Caribbean entrepreneurs and corporate mentors, increasing the latter’s capacity to work with small firms and enhancing their understandings of EMBs’ needs. Over 50 mentees reported increased professional and personal development and improved business outcomes, including increases in sales, expansion into new products and greater penetration into national and international markets.
  • EDA mentoring programmes have had tangible benefits for the mentored businesses. Wade Lyn, Managing Director of Cleone Foods, points to a 30% increase in listings in supermarkets and the launch of a new cocktail line, which is now widely stocked: “I think the biggest difference for my business has been my capacity to be more adventurous, and strategically plan and invest in the future.”

The success of the EDA’s support for minority businesses in practice has also influenced policy, as EDA approaches have been incorporated into national and international policymaking and recommendations:

  • The UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills adopted the EDA’s principles in its recommendations for working with women in enterprise in its Burt Report (2015).
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development also cited the EDA’s approach as an exemplar in a publication on Inclusive Entrepreneurship (2015).
  • The EDA was included as a case study in a European Commission guidebook identifying best practices and successful initiatives in supporting migrant entrepreneurship (2016).
  • The EDA was also highlighted by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (2016) as an important impact model for developing value to local, regional and national economies.

Lessons Learned

Evidence suggests that the approach delivered by the EDA is worthy of being replicated by other banks, large firms and agencies. Key lessons learned from the EDA’s extensive engagements with EMBs and SMEs include:

  • Mentoring is most productive when it benefits both the mentored and mentoring businesses and is based on longer-term understanding and trust. The EDA has employed a wide range of schemes to build these relationships, including peer to peer mentoring between small and medium sized firms, larger corporates mentoring smaller firms and senior employees of banks working with EMBs.
  • Mentoring was preceded by an informal pre-mentoring event with a relaxed atmosphere in partnership with local business associations, using communication mechanisms participants could relate to. Community networks can be helpful here, as can choosing an appropriate venue and programme to foster two-way conversations in an unthreatening environment.
  • An information pack for all participants on business mentoring is essential.
  • Mentors were carefully selected and briefed to ensure that they were not only trained but, above all, committed to the mentoring process, with some understanding of the diversity issues they would be working with and clarity about what to expect from business mentoring in the longer term.
  • Mentoring meetings were not facilitated in traditional ways or according to one size fits all prescriptions. Facilitators had a light-touch, action learning approach which insisted that members decided what they wanted from mentors. Members took decisions on what to do next, what worked well, and explored why. Achievements were celebrated. This laid the basis for continually reinforced ownership.

Professor Trehan is currently extending the EDA’s work in this area through involvement in establishing an Inclusive Leaders’ Forum in collaboration with the West Midlands Mayor’s Leadership Commission, KMPG and the Wesleyan Group. This will work together with the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Women’s Enterprise, Leadership, Economy and Diversity in order to advance leadership and entrepreneurial talent. The inclusive leadership forum will ensure that 1000 firms (public, private and voluntary) in the West Midlands region will pledge to embed multi-level changes in institutional policy and practice to ensure the leadership diversity gap is addressed through concrete action. Because of this work, Professor Trehan won the Midlands Leadership Awards in the diversity category, for her outstanding contribution to leadership, diversity and inclusion.


Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, The Burt Report: Inclusive Support for Women in Enterprise (2015)

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Inclusive Entrepreneurship (2015)

European Commission, Evaluation and Analysis of Good Practices in Promoting and Supporting Migrant Entrepreneurship (2016)

West Midlands Combined Authority Leadership Commission, Leaders Like You (2018)

Chartered Association of Business Schools, September 2016

Why the world needs more women CEOs