A BUSINESS-led initiative dedicated to tackling barriers created by racial discrimination will start its work today, September 9.

Established by North East England Chamber of Commerce, the first of its kind commission will be chaired by Nagma Ebanks-Beni MBE, commercial director of Global Chamber member Seaham-based Prima Cheese.

She said: “There is a disconnect between society’s make-up and representation of the same people in business, at all levels.

"Evidence shows clearly culturally and ethnically diverse companies are more successful both economically and socially, but this research is not just about money – fighting discrimination is morally right.

“There is some overt racism in our society but it is unconscious bias that is still widespread and where this commission can make the biggest difference.

"Everyone needs to be aware of how to encourage diversity and what it means to be inclusive. This will only be achieved with a drive from the top down.”

Other members of the group include Aneela Ali from LNER, Alix Bolton of Northumbrian Water and Steph Edusei, from St Oswalds Hospice.

The Commission will focus on areas including socio-economic status and pay levels, barriers to early career employment opportunities, workplace discrimination, representation in specific business sectors and senior positions and entrepreneurship.

Using a range of data and interviews, a report will be put together and published in six months. This will include advice for North-East firms on how to tackle racism, prejudice and discrimination.

The group will also identify opportunities for the Chamber to adopt and promote best practice in the likes of recruitment and board representation.

Ms Ebanks-Beni, who aged 24 set up a successful restaurant in London before moving back to the North-East when she started a family, added: “There is a need to promote role models from the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community to let the next generation see what can be achieved.

"To achieve the commission’s aims we don’t need sympathy, we need empathy. It will be a subtle but powerful change if everyone considers how their actions, no matter how small, can have a huge impact on someone’s well-being. This is what will make the difference.

“I’m sure everyone who is from a minority background has experienced some form of discrimination. It is like layers of paper, each sheet is not heavy but when you have a ream it weighs heavy.

"This Chamber commission will work hard to ensure it helps to create a richly-diverse business community where everyone is given a fair opportunity to progress and succeed.”