BLM one year later

In my last post on the subject of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and its impact, I spoke about how the movement had highlighted a desperate need for the public to recognise the mistreatment of those considered BAME. In the workplace, it has been proved time and time again that companies are losing not only valuable talent due to a severe lack of black and other minority professionals in the workplace but also a tremendous amount of potential revenue.

Here we are one year later, what is the update? The effects are still very much being felt across the world and in this article I will share some impacts we have seen so far in light of BLM.

Ethnicity pay gap report 2021
The movement caused undeniable tension in our UK workplaces, public anger and outrage arguably caused the introduction of the now mandatory ethnicity pay gap report. Individuals took to parliament to introduce a mandatory report that companies with 250+ employees must publicly disclose their ethnicity pay gap. The ethnicity pay gap shows the difference in the average pay between all BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff in a workforce, intending to shine a light on race/ethnicity-based inequality in the workplace. In 2020, the petition was created and needed 100,000 signatures for it to be raised in parliament, it received a total of 130,000. Much of the signatures were from residents in South London which are particularly populated with black individuals.

This mandatory reporting was approved by parliament and the first report was published in March this year. It shows the proportions of BAME and non-BAME full-pay relevant employees in four quartile pay bands. The findings of this report probably do not come as much surprise, showing significant pay gaps for every measure, even bonuses.

The government responded to the report’s findings: “Our current ethnicity pay gap figures are not acceptable to us as an organisation, and we fully acknowledge that there is considerable work to be done in this area. As with many organisations, a significant driver of our ethnicity pay gap is a simple structural reason…We still have too few BAME colleagues in senior roles. This situation cannot continue, and we recognise that we must improve in this area. As a result, our key areas of focus to address our ethnicity pay gap over the coming years will be to support and champion BAME staff and address the lack of BAME diversity in our leadership population.” A detailed roadmap to significantly improve these figures was concluded from the report, something that arguably would not have happened any time if not for the BLM movement.

Supporting black culture
As a company, you cannot ignore what your customers are saying. We have seen a range of large companies do more than publish their diversity and inclusion reports and donate money to organisations associated with BLM to reduce racial disparity. Although you could argue that throwing a bunch of money at a cause is minimal effort for a large company, the best evidence of wanting to change is to invest in the said cause. Companies such as Walmart and Target, the biggest retailers in the US, have pledged to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to organisations that supporting black prosperity. We saw the likes of Etsy, an American e-commerce supplier focused on hand-made items, respond to BLM by supporting black-owned shops through dedicating a specific section for it on its site. Launched mid last year, initiatives like this aim to showcase and celebrate the talent of black independent creatives and cause a domino effect to others who also want to introduce new initiatives to showcase black talent. It has now become more recognised that supporting black businesses is essential in the UK. It helps to close the racial wealth gap, supports local economies, creates jobs, divests from large unethical companies, and celebrates black culture.

Figure 1 – Black-owned Etsy shops

Scrapping unconscious bias training (UBT)?
Another important topic that has risen to the surface is how useful unconscious bias training is. This has had particular attention shone on it since BLM as it is intended to tackle patterns of discrimination and prejudice and is used in many workplaces. Unconscious bias training is being scrapped for civil servants in England, with ministers saying it does not ‘work’, as in they do not seem to be effective at improving diversity outcomes in companies. Nudge Unit (a government agency that applies behavioural science to public policy) published a detailed report on the benefits and limitations of UBT and diversity training. The main benefits of UBT found from the report were that interactive workshops or longer-term programmes can reduce bias through increased awareness of one’s perceptions. Non-effective UBT sessions are seemingly those that are presented as short, one-off educational interventions as these do not change people – especially those who have acquired biases over a lifetime of media exposure and real-world experience.

The limitations of the report are that UBT is very varied from company to company as it plays a different role for each, with senior leadership advocating for it on hugely varying scales. The report gave two recommendations that could make UBT more effective based on the findings. These involve avoiding one-off training sessions as training should be an ongoing process. Also, that UBT should be voluntary rather than mandatory (which can result in a backfire). However, voluntary training may only attract those who are already engaged so more needs to be done for those who would not engage themselves usually.

To conclude, there have been many wonderful things that have emerged because of BLM. Whether we have seen this same passion and energy in our workplaces is another discussion. Its clear companies are taking more of a lead in advocating for those who are lacking representation and the UK government has come a long way from where it was in leading the path of introducing BAME professionals in senior positions in the workplace. As for UBT, this will always be up for debate with how useful it is for increasing diversity figures; however, it seems up to the companies themselves to integrate this training with other business practices for employees. If a company is advocating for it and making it a big part of its employer branding, that will naturally attract other like-minded people!

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