The recent political climate has demonstrated a need for a fairer, anti-racist society in many areas, and some recent highlights of the current system have perhaps shown some failings towards black people and people of colour. As a consequence, many organisations are now looking to re-shuffle their working environments to redress any racial imbalance of their staff and bring in more diverse employees. This of course has been widely welcomed though the point has been made that it is not just about access, but also about making sure that ethnic minorities are given the same opportunities to attain leadership roles, and that they are not subject to any micro aggression at work and are nurtured in their roles in the same way as others in the workplace.
It is already known that short-sighted diversity programmes are often failures. Many of the industries now calling for greater diversity have also been historically made up of white, male employees in positions of power. For a better and more sustainable solution to the current climate, it may be useful to look at the problem with a different approach with a long term commitment to diversity, which is far more likely to yield success, a view which is backed by the Race Equality Foundation (REF). Research has shown that ethnically diverse organisations are more successful and every workplace actively recruiting and encouraging a diverse workforce and striving to remove any discriminatory practices whilst supporting advancement to the highest levels for all their staff has benefited from this approach. Those who have long histories of hiring the same type of staff should perhaps take the opportunity to consider how they are operating and how they may benefit from a more strategic approach to diversity.
There are some cases, though rather isolated, where high profile appointments of black and ethnic minority people have been made, but these isolated examples are not a fix for what we are seeing with discrimination today. There is much in the way of anecdotal evidence to show that racism is still a huge problem in the workplace for many, despite regulations aimed towards the contrary. Merely issuing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ statement is not going to address these problems. To ensure that racism and bias are eliminated, a company must also need to accept that there is an issue in the first instance before addressing it. Companies’ statements stating solidarity with the BAME community may well be ignorant of the fact that some have been failing their BAME employees for years. And so, what can we do to help? Listen to our employees, talk to present and past staff to create tailored and specific solutions to problems which have been are currently being experienced by our BAME staff. A ‘one size fits all’ diversity initiative may well fail because it may assume that one solution can resolve all the issues, which is probably not the case.
An analysis of current practices which may have been in place for decades may be needed. In order to create a safe place for all employees where everyone is treated fairly and has an equal opportunity means that a number of processes in terms of recruitment, promotion, pay and incident management may need to be reviewed, updated or even replaced to ensure that they are relevant in today’s world.
We must be proactive in educating ourselves on race, systemic racism and what it means to ensure we become better at dispersing resources throughout our organisations. It just is not enough to just hire more BAME people in line with quotas we may or may not have. We need to put in place a plan for real inclusivity within the workplace – the delivery of which is a responsibility of every single employee.
The REF suggests a number of ways to get started with this.
- Communicate your commitment to tackling any racism in your workplace to all employees. All employers should have a policy clearly setting out a zero tolerance to this and how it will be dealt with by the organisation, but effective communication to set this out is vital.
- Educate all staff on how a manager or employee must address racism if this is reported, experienced or witnessed. Ensure that all senior staff always take the appropriate action as laid out in the organisation’s procedures.
- Make racial bias/unconscious bias training mandatory for all new employees within their induction process.
- Set and communicate the organisation’s objectives on increasing diversity of the workforce and ensure there is fair and equal career progression for all.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which promotes and enforces equality laws in the UK agree. The EHRC says that organisations need to be in line with the Equality Act and show ‘due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.’ They say that to do this requires accountability, and ensuring that employers are seeing through their goals for equality. One of the steps to achieving this is to introduce mandatory reporting by ethnicity on staff recruitment, retention and promotion. This would then identify where there are issues and help employers to tackle any barriers faced as well as help demonstrate how diversity could be improved.
Research by McKinsey & Co provides advice on strategic management to corporations, which highlights the power of subconscious bias, favoritism towards people that reflect the status quo and a perhaps mistaken belief that we are more diverse than we actually are. Buying into diversity must come from all levels within the organisation, and if we can have open and honest discussions about race and the experiences of ethnic minorities within our workplaces, perhaps we can all create an environment which allows all of our employees to reach their full potential.
And what happens when a business falls foul of racial discrimination? They can be taken to employment tribunals and where racial discrimination is proven, compensation is payable, affecting the bottom line. And so, diversity and inclusion is not just a moral dilemma, or a legal burden, but a very real business case to ensure that each and every employee working with us is treated and nurtured in exactly the same way.
The good news is that Trade Associations already take this seriously and we have seen an increase in the number of organisations formalising their approach to diversity and inclusion in a more structured way. To reflect this, we have introduced a new category in the TA Best Practice Awards on Diversity to recognise and reward best practice in this important area. If we are there to help and advise our members on this kind of issue, we must ensure that we regularly review our own policies and procedures at Board level to ensure we are beyond reproach.