In response to the outrage we have seen from the murder of George Floyd, it has never been more urgent that more needs to be done to tackle racial inequality. The Black Lives Matter movement creates an ongoing discussion on the added difficulties faced by people of colour in their everyday lives compared to white people. Whether this is in the workplace or everyday life, this blog will aim to also create an ongoing dialogue of how key lessons from the BLM movement can translate into the workplace.
For decades, successive governments and employers have professed their commitment to racial equality, yet vast inequality continues to exist. With 14% of the UK working-age population coming from a Black or Minority Ethnic (BME) background, employers have got to take control and start making the most of talent, whatever their background. During the recruitment process, many organisations tend to recruit their image and look for replicas of their best employees. Although this makes sense from a skill-set point of view, employers should understand the benefits of individual differences in their workplace. We tend to call this ‘unconscious bias’. This is very much structural and a result of a system that benefits a certain group of people. But how much of this bias is truly unconscious? The result of it is racial discrimination. Many organisations will give diversity and inclusion lip service, but not put money towards it. Or those who do talk about their ethical stance on subjects fail to address what they are doing to develop inclusive workplace cultures. Accenture’s latest global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers in 35 countries found that “more than half of customers in the UK want companies to take a stand on issues they care about such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices. Younger consumers, particularly Gen Z (75 per cent), are driving this trend.”
An all-inclusive workplace
So what about the previous generations? The ones who are in top management roles and leadership boards? Well, many people are uncomfortable talking about racism let alone trying to tackle it. The New York Times best-selling book by Robin DiAngelo talks of ‘white fragility’ and why it can be hard for white people to talk about racism. She highlights “white people who see themselves as liberal can be the hardest, the most defensive, the most resistant, the most arrogant in their certitude that it is not them.” Understanding these deeply ingrained thoughts and changing them is the first step to an all-inclusive workplace. According to research from The McGregor-Smith Review, Businesses need to recognise the huge opportunity to harness the untapped potential of BAME talent. Research by the Government on the business case for equality and diversity, suggests that diversity of people brings a diversity of skills and experience, which in turn can deliver richer creativity, better problem solving and greater flexibility to environmental changes. The potential benefit to the UK economy from a full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% of GDP. As McKinsey identified, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”
It is not just the responsibility of your BAME employees to voice their opinions on this matter, it is everyone’s. It also shouldn’t be looked at as an achievement or courageous thing to stand up for a BAME person, that’s just simply the right thing to do. Organisations should strive to create a genuine culture of openness and inclusion. We are seeing improvement across the labour market over the last 40 years, where the proportion of the working-age population that comes from a BAME background is increasing. However, a lot more is yet to be done for this to implement in our day to day lives. If you are a business leader or an individual reading this blog, these are a few steps to take forwards to building an open work culture:
1. Recognise your privilege.
2. Advocate for radically changing systems of inequality.
3. Don’t take it personally, recognise your position.
4. Listen to the experiences of black and brown people.
5. Practice reflective thinking and act to make changes.
Hanna Siddiqui is a graduate of the University of Reading and has been supporting Ethical Reading with marketing initiatives.