Making race discussions “a celebration of difference” in the workplace

1000 Black Voices founder Dr. Shaw says organisations have to get comfortable talking about race

Last month, we asked a group of diversity, equality, and inclusion specialists if anything has changed within organisations regarding race equality since 2020’s summer of racial reckoning across the globe. Here Dr Elizabeth Shaw, Founder, 1000 Black Voices, an organisation that furthers Black inclusion, shares her views.

What initiatives have organisations put in place?

For me and my company, 1000 Black Voices, diversity is about recognising difference. It’s also about acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision-making roles and the workforce, stakeholders and customers being a direct representation of the company’s ethos. 

But how should businesses create an environment and relevant solutions where equity factors are considered? Businesses and teams must work together in new ways to create inclusive workplaces where employees feel trusted, valued, and psychologically safe.

Many companies have pledged to increase the number of diverse voices within their companies, including the c-suite as well as launching other initiatives from posting black squares on their social feeds in solidarity for racial justice to statements of no tolerance for racism, to listening events where key messages are being shared and implementing new internal training programmes. However, the question remains as to whether this activity is making any impact.

To measure this, businesses need to adopt a greater focus on the transparent analysis of all processes and implement tools, including an internal dashboard that captures demographic metrics including ethnicity data, diversity ratio, gender, disability, sexual orientation, pay equity progression and hiring data. Getting a view on these insights can help ensure a level playing field and address any biases and systemic racism on a micro-level. 

Is talking about race still taboo?

The conversation around race can be difficult, hurtful, and full of tension for some, but this isn’t a reason to do nothing or to shy away from conversations about race, discrimination and equity.

Companies need to get comfortable normalising conversations about race. It is only when a business seeks to understand current norms and values and how difference is viewed that conversations around race will be viewed as a celebration of difference rather than a negative and awkward conversation. However, this can be a complex and delicate process that needs to be handled in the right way with a detailed strategy and approach. 

In these instances, many businesses are turning to external consultants to ensure this is achieved in the most respectful way possible and partner with accelerators like 1000 Black Voices. 

Has progress been made to level the playing field for minorities in organisations?

While progress has been made and we are beginning to see organisations implement diversity initiatives, there is still a long way to go. For instance, earlier this year, there was uproar following the report by Green Park that highlighted the significant lack of racial diversity at the top of UK organisations, with not one Black person on an FTSE-100 c-suite. The Black community in the UK stands at 3.3% (according to the 2011 census). And with this in mind, an alarming lack of progress has been made in the industry over the past year.  

There are certainly gaps between good intention and impact. Further action needs to be taken, but more importantly, it has to be a continual process including purposeful learning, reflection and, most importantly – measuring impact. 

What more needs to be done?

Companies need to set clear expectations of what the organisation stands for and maintain zero tolerance for racism. Leaders and all within the business need to proactively work toward Equitable Value and embed a culture that drives respect and tolerance and is free of bias. An organisation’s stance should be developed and tested with input and feedback from people with diverse backgrounds, both internal and external, to the company. 

In order to have a diverse team, companies need to value talent. It’s critical to support diverse candidates and employees by doing foundational work around employment practices such as recruitment, selection, promotion, salary, training, and development to create a safe, welcoming space that is as inclusive on the surface as it is in the depths of its culture.

Attention must also be paid to what happens once talented people are engaged and ask how many diverse role models do companies recognise and reward for the work they do? Organisations should share the message to their employees that they are more than enough, their talent is unique, and they are equitably rewarded.

It’s great to implement employee resource groups (ERGs), but it’s important to ensure these are actually working and delivering meaningful change. With our work at 1000 Black Voices, we often hear how these resource groups are under-resourced, those managing these groups have to squeeze it in with their ‘day’ job, and the budget does not support the ERG’s progress is working towards. Expectations that the resources required to deliver training on inclusion, coaching for progression, and other relevant initiatives can be run on a shoestring needs to end. This is particularly so when those in the Black community appear to feel the brunt of this more than their non-Black counterparts. 

We need to get to a place whereby everyone in the organisation should be accountable and responsible for creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace. Everyone should be promoting inclusive behaviour and be transparent in their journey of learning, self-awareness and understanding their own biases. Key to this is close measurement alongside the reinforcement of goals. Trackable goals where there is ongoing evaluation of progress and change as required should also be linked to compensation for leaders.

Have lessons been learnt?

Organisations are beginning to understand what their position actually is with a more granular approach being taken to listening and amplifying voices. This is leading towards an anti-racism movement as organisational cultures are beginning to change and welcome widespread societal values steeped in diversity, inclusion and equity.

Whilst lessons have been learnt, there is still a long way to go to deliver a better future where employees are valued with authentic equity and a celebration of difference. I would encourage businesses and leadership teams to truly reflect and act as a voice for change to help the business realise its lasting legacy of equitable inclusion and economic resilience. Encouraging culture from the top-down and implementing a strategy to achieve diversity and inclusion goals alongside robust measurement of impact will be key to continually making progress.
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