Updated: Jan 5
The past months have been an interesting time in the diversity and inclusion space. With the death of George Floyd in the United States, highlighting the frustrations of Black people across the globe around race and racism, much attention has focused on racial inequality and discrimination within the workplace.
Many leaders have made commitments to make changes and address inequality and enhance structures for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Whilst the intention and statements to address equality are a step in the right direction, real change will only come through a focused and authentic commitment to reconcile with race equality. Leaders must be willing to have the difficult conversations about race which are long overdue.
Demonstrable change, that seeks to redress the inequalities around race, will only come when there is wide recognition of, and firm action to remove the systemic barriers that help to reinforce inequality in the workplace, within policies, processes and behaviours.
Much has been learned from the Black Lives Matter protests. They have amplified the voices of Black people around the world. Racism did not appear overnight and is the result of generations of consciously developed processes and actions to marginalise black people both inside, and outside the workplace.
Whilst this certainly does not mean that every leader is a racist, it calls into question the reasons why there are so few Black people at leadership levels within organisations and why, after several decades of ‘working towards equality, so little progress has been made to resolve the issues.
Getting ahead with Race Inclusion
Moving ahead with race equality is by no means a quick fix. It will take time, resources, and leadership commitment to work.
The bottom line is that leadership must lead with inclusion in mind.
Commitment is the starting point. Barriers to progress will only be removed if there is an authentic commitment to changing the status quo. Without this, there is no hope of systematically removing the barriers that fail Black employees.
Having the relevant data around race inequality is the best starting place to recognise the impact of policy and organisational process, as it applies to race.
By investing the time and adequate resources to researching organisational systems effectively, both quantitative and qualitative data, can support leaders to recognise and remove the hurdles that serve to exclude Black and Brown people in the workplace.
Commit to Appropriate Resourcing
There are several reasons why race equality agendas has failed to thrive. Little progress has been made around race equality because the racial agenda is often derailed at the expense of other diverse groups. ‘We are focusing on gender this year’ and ‘We don’t have a race problem’ are common excuses for leadership not giving race equality the attention that employees deserves.
Merely rolling out a month's worth of ‘activities’ every October for Black History Month is not going to cut it anymore. As useful as these events may be, in terms of discussing and showcasing Black culture, they do little to develop the conversation around the problematic issues that Black people experience throughout their working careers.
Make no mistake. The discourse around race has changed and allies that support racial equality have joined in this cause for correction. Below are some points for resourcing the race equality agenda.
Increase it. Leaders will make little progress around the race equality agenda, if they fail to resource the agenda in the way that they have traditionally resourced other organisational priorities.
Without adequate resourcing and expertise around diversity and inclusion, your team will be unable to plan effectively. Secure outside help if you must be get this right. HR is very rarely equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary, to plan effectively around racial inclusion and move the agenda forward.
Commitment to long term impact. The issue around systemic racism will not be changed overnight. The improvement of an internal culture that will create better experiences for Black people, across recruitment, retention, and progression through the organisation is a long haul process, and it must be resourced.
Ask yourself... have you done enough in the past to redress the imbalances around race inclusion in your business? Remember, tick box solutions have not, and cannot work. Resource the race inclusion agenda and start developing actions to embed inclusion.
Engage in Difficult Conversations
Race is an emotive subject and one which, unfortunately, many in leadership positions have failed to engage with, in any real way. Following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests globally, there has been a rush to issue statements of solidarity around race equality.
This, however, is perhaps a time when leaders should think carefully about being rhetorical around race. Times have changed.
In an era where social media is the world’s most prevalent medium of communication, missteps will all too often make unintentional celebrities of brands who fail to act on their promises to develop racial inclusion.
Leaders must engage in the difficult conversations around race, and act to make the necessary changes to embed racial inclusion at all levels. Rhetoric is not going to be enough. Action is also required.
The glass ceiling is a reality for the majority of Black employees and this is a major point of discussion. Why are black employees failing to make the grade? There are many excuses as to why this has failed to happen, even after countless reports recommending that more work is needed to build more inclusive leadership.
The conversations may be uncomfortable but have them we must, lest we find ourselves back here again in another 10 years, asking the same questions that we are asking today.
Leaders and managers must engage with those with lived experience of racism to build knowledge and support effective solutions.
Using Diversity Networks Effectively
Diversity networks, are a useful tool for leadership for supporting the development of knowledge around race in the workplace. If used effectively, diversity networks can equip leaders with knowledge around the lived experience of black and brown people, as it applies to the workplace.
But this comes with a warning. Diversity networks are part of the solution, not the solution itself. Be cautious of putting the accountability for completion of projects on employees. Accountability for the success of race inclusion rests with leadership.
Diversity networks are a useful conduit between employees and leadership and should be seen as such, but without a real commitment from leadership to support effective change, little progress will be made. Diversity networks cannot solve the problems race inequality of leadership. Only leadership action can deliver sustainable change.
Diversity networks are useful to shine a light on the real issues within organisation. Many organisations have staff surveys, and the like, but are these really working? If your organisational culture is such that people are afraid to speak out then you may not have the full picture. This is just one example, where diversity networks can help to educate leadership on the real issues.
Race networks can support employees to come forward to enable leadership to get the full picture of what is really happening within the organisation and how its policies, processes and systems impact people of different backgrounds.
Committing to race equality is the only way that organisations can become truly accountable for race equality. Enabling a process to develop a strategy to engage both leaders and employees around racial inclusion will take time.
There is no quick fix here. The commitment must be authentic, resourced and include the voices of those with lived experience to drive change forward.
Learn More: Interested in Diversity and Inclusion? Kenroi Consulting's Managing Director posts expert contributor content on Forbes.com To learn more about leadership diversity and inclusion follow her contributor page.
Kenroi Consulting is a bespoke diversity consultancy providing tailor-made inclusive solutions for businesses across the UK.
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