Quotas are not the right solution for boosting diversity in the workplace, according to Bonnier Publishing UK c.e.o. Perminder Mann.
Speaking in an interview with Emma Barnett on BBC One's "Sunday Morning Live" television programme as part of its show debating whether leadership in Britain is "too white", Mann spoke out about the barriers she had to overcome as a 5ft 2 working class Indian woman to get to the top.
However, when asked whether quotas could help, she said did not believe this was the way forward, instead stressing the need to widen the talent pool from which employers can recruit.
"It's great we're now having positive conversations about being proactive increasing the representation of BAME people," said Mann, paying tribute to research by Simon Woolley, director and one of the founders of Operation Black Vote, which found only 3% of people in Britain's top jobs are from BAME backgrounds.
"But personally, I don't think quotas are the right solution," Mann continued. "I certainly wouldn't want to be dictated by a quota when we're going through our recruitment process. In our organisation, we want to recruit the best person for the job. We want the right people. What we need to do is widen the talent pool that we're recruiting from and that will come through education and awareness."
Mann, who last week was named on a list of the Guardian's "most powerful" BAME leaders, yet was one of only seven women, said her gender, class and ethnicity, as well as her diminutive height, had meant she had to work "that much harder" to get ahead. But, looking to the future, she said she believed it would get easier for young people from BAME backgrounds as more role models came through.
"When I started my career there were stereotypes for what a leader should look like. When I compared myself to other leaders in my industry, I thought, whoah, it's going to be difficult for me to get to the top: I'm a woman, I'm from a working class background, I'm Indian and also I'm only 5 ft 2. Honestly that was always a big barrier because height brings instant gravitas and authority," she said.
"I've always thought with this many elements I've had to work that much harder to prove myself. But it's not been a problem, because with hard work and determination I've got where I have today."
Asked whether she accepted there were inherent prejudices stopping others from getting to the top now, she continued: "I think they exist, those stereotypes, because growing up I didn't have any role models. I had nobody I could look up to and think 'they look like me, she made it to the top and so can I'. It's really important to have those role models and they're coming through now and I think that will change as society moves forward. Young people from BAME backgrounds will have those role models they can look up to. I think the route to the top will become easier but it takes time."
Mann's comments follow the Publishers Association's recently introduced diversity targets and 10-point plan for publishers, and Penguin Random House's newly launched "inclusion tracker", both bids to bring the composition of employees in the industry closer to national norms.
The PA's aim is to lift the percentage of BAME employees working across the industry to at least 15% within five years, and the percentage of women in executive-level and senior leadership roles to at least 50% over the same time period. It builds on its research showing BAME employees make up 13% of the current publishing work force and women at 49% of senior leadership roles, but only 41% of roles at executive/board level.