How to achieve race equality in your business

Business leaders from across the globe have responded to the injustice of the death of George Floyd with messages of condemnation as well as support for greater race equality, inside society at large, as well as commitments to corporate race inclusion strategies.

As time shifts, it’s important that leaders move from important words of support to meaningful action leading to lasting change. Businesses that are truly committed to embedding race equality within their cultures and instigating effective decision-making frameworks do 7 key things:

Collect, track and analyse data

Before businesses can set a direction of travel, HR functions need to provide leaders with a business ‘heat map’. This is created by collecting, tracking and analysing data in key people decision-making activities including recruitment, work allocation, time with leaders and performance reviews scores. Information should also be analysed based on role, function, pay and reward. This process provides organisations with information about potential hotspots of systematic race bias. By aggregating data across different ethnic groups’ businesses avoid a blanket labelling of ‘race’, and instead provide smart data covering a range of groups, such as Black British, Asian British and others. This process also includes conducting race pay audits.

Take an intersectional approach to race inclusion

Black men and women experience racism differently. Members of the Asian community also have common and yet different experiences of racial bias. Smart organisations use their data to apply an intersectional lens to race exclusion, examining in detail the cross-cutting themes of race, gender, social background, religion, age and other factors. This point is echoed by a close friend and colleague of mine, Fiona Daniels, who stresses that “The glass ceiling effect goes hand in hand with systemic racism. This will be different in different countries too, especially countries where you are not a minority”. In my work with clients, I often take an intersectional approach when examining talent review processes.

Educate your workforce

There is much confusion as to the nature of racial inequity in the UK. A common definition of racism – individual conscious intent – fails to recognise the true nature of racism within UK society as a whole and racism at work. Ensure all key business stakeholders attend meaningful education programmes that focus on exploring;

  • The three types of modern-day racism: overt racism, unconscious racism and systemic racism
  • Micro inequities at work
  • White privilege
  • Bystander training

While society at large has to deal with prejudice in all its forms, we, at work, all have a part to play in the way that we can best influence. So, as business leaders of organisations, we need to endeavour to be free from discrimination and use our platforms to influence others.

Building a workplace community

Many UK businesses have prioritised racial diversity at the expense of racial inclusion and belonging. The focus on representation, while positive in intent, has in many ways created cultures of division and separation. The current numbers-based strategy fails to promote psychological safety and cultures of belonging. Businesses should seek to raise the cultural competencies of leaders, HR colleagues and others. To support race inclusive cultures businesses should:

  • Invest in and empower their employee resource groups. While many businesses have these groups already set up, they tend to be under-funded and have limited structural connectivity to organisational leadership and decision-making. A key point to make here is that while it may be tempting to merge ERGs into one large multi-identity group, doing so will inevitably mean some lose the necessary spotlight to really effect the change we are seeking to make;
  • In the context of COVID-19, a sense of remoteness from organisational decision-making will be exaggerated. Leaders need to find creative ways to ensure that they continue to engage in a long-term dialogue with their non-white colleagues, and ensure their voices are central to any future race inclusion strategy;
  • HR colleagues should measure psychological safety, connectivity and belonging through employee engagement surveys and listening groups. I would also suggest holding micro-listening groups at key stages of any race inclusion implementation plan, as these provide useful ‘pause and reflect’ points, allowing for adjustment as necessary. Again, this process should be undertaken in partnership with your ERG members. It is important to recognise that if we want lasting change to happen, the voices of non-white stakeholders should be listened to and their views acted upon. Without doing so, any approach to race inclusion will be limited in understanding and scope.

Integrate race inclusion through your supply chain

Business leaders should use their financial muscle by driving race inclusion through their supply chain. Procurement teams should set explicit criteria for awarding new business contracts and in contract renegotiations. These are some examples:

  • Insisting on racial diversity on shortlists when working with headhunters and recruitment companies
  • Driving race inclusion when working with suppliers, from construction companies to creative consultants
  • Awarding supplier contracts based on commitments to racial diversity, with those who fail to meet stated goals and targets at the contract renegotiation stage facing financial penalties.

Set race inclusion targets

Working under the principle of ‘what gets measured, gets done’, businesses should set public targets for promoting race inclusive workplaces. These targets should cover all areas across the employee life cycle, including recruitment, engagement, development opportunities and promotions. To meet these targets business should utilise the Positive Actions provisions within the Equality Act 2010. Other activities include implementing sponsorship programmes and creating a diverse leadership bench. Organisations will need to agree quick win targets as more longer-term strategic goals. Targets should be communicated both internally and externally, as public targets increase accountability and act as a motivator for sustainable and long-term action.

Establish accountability structures and ‘devil’s advocate’ process

Businesses should establish long-term structures for measuring progress against any race inclusion strategy. Led by senior leaders, a race inclusion action group should be established. Representation should include stakeholders from a range of key business functions as well as black employees. Effective race inclusion action groups include a ‘devil’s advocate’ – an independent voice whose role is to provide expertise, advice and guidance, as well as scrutiny. Part of the devil’s advocate approach would include, for example, representation of BAME colleagues in interview panels. Of course, organisations should avoid tokenism in this approach.

Article written by Dan Robertson, VERCIDA Consulting

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