Shereen Daniels, Managing Director of HR rewired, Vice-Chair of the Black Business Association, and advocate for anti-racism in business explains how to actively advance racial equity in your organisation.
By way of a quick summary of my first article, ‘Starting From Where You Stand’ on advancing racial equity in the workplace, here are the levels from our Maturity Model for Advancing Racial Equity:
Level One is where you’re treating racism as a compliance issue. Level Two is where there is intent to be inclusive. It’s driven by HR with some pro-activity, but conversations are generic, and language is focused on diversity and inclusion rather than racial equity, racism, Black colleagues etc.
Level Three is where there is strategic focus and specific commitment. Language is intentional and very clear. There is internal communication driven by the business or the board with a senior leader champion.
Level Four takes level three and adds accountability, both public and private.
Once you understand where your company sits within the Maturity Model, you can begin to consider how to advance racial equity within your organisation. The Advancing Equity Model 4.0 is codified from all the work I’ve done with the team here at HR rewired, and the organisations we’ve worked with. It is broken down into four simple steps called the 4-Factor Race Model:
R: Recognise the Problem
You can’t fix what you don’t understand, and we can’t solve what we don’t talk about. The degree of introspection you and your leadership teams are doing will determine how prepared the company is to progress.
In this, you need to understand the strategic imperative for change, e.g. amplifying voices of Black colleagues, committing to measurable action, understanding the language of what racism is, and what white privilege, white fragility and white supremacy mean. Without introspection, your effort becomes tokenistic and can do more harm to your Black colleagues than good. Do not just jump into action. Take some time. Think about racism from your company’s perspective – where’s the pressure coming from, the influencing factors. Is it financially driven through growth into new markets, from investors or employees, or indeed has the organisation been too quiet for too long and wants to catch up. The deeper you can take this pushing past the discomfort, the greater sustainable future change will be. If you don’t delve beyond the shallows for this first stage, then nothing will change.
Essentially, if this introspective work isn’t done, your plan towards racial equity is in performative territory. You, and your organisation, have to move beyond the discomfort and recognise the problem.
A: Analyse the Impact
Now everyone always assumes when I say analyse the impact, your data, the resulting answer will be ‘racism’. Well, it could be. It could be an ethnicity pay gap, promotion/ or attrition rates. But that’s too simple an answer. With data, you can use the ‘five-times root cause’ analysis to assess trends and patterns that might otherwise not be visible. So with post-it notes at hand (I’m a very visual person), ask yourself five times why the data is pulling something up, and you’ll start to understand why the problem is manifesting itself in your workplace.
This analysis brings your company into its own space of where it is starting from, not where companies or society generally stand, but specifically where your company stands. Racism will manifest itself in different ways, as everyone has slightly different ways of doing things, of creating systems. So for single trends, the work has to be specific.
C: Commit to Action
Beyond knowledge is clarity of purpose. It’s committing to meaningful action.
Once you have your ‘whys’ from your qualitative data, you need to analyse the impacts. Here you want to challenge yourself hard, and I mean really hard, about what equitable initiatives you have in your plan, i.e. what fundamentally is going to reduce the barriers Black people face in your company? Those that Black talent face if they join? Or for those clients, who identify as Black, accessing your products or services? How do you treat them? How do you acknowledge their experience of engaging with your product or service being different because of their skin colour?
You never thought about it? Because you never asked the question. So you’ve got to think about it. Is this a process to create a list to say ‘we’re doing it, we’re analysing the data’ or are you preparing to make an impact? And how do you measure for impact rather than intent? Because if you’re not careful, you get lollipops for ticking things off for just doing them, and nobody considers the effect these changes may have on the company’s genes.
E: Empower for Change
So how are you up-skilling your entire workforce? Challenge yourself to consider whether the things that you are doing are because they are comfortable, e.g. a video or a workshop without the introspection. In these cases, maybe everyone wants to be an ally, but if you haven’t done the hard work, the introspection and don’t know what racism is, you can’t be. So every time you create a version of your plan, your action points, etc, challenge yourself, think ‘does this feels comfortable and palatable’, because if it does, it’s probably not the right action or plan. If the conversations had are all agreed with, and people don’t need ‘a minute’ to think’, then you probably haven’t gone deep enough. This is the same with the actions on your plan.
With this is the consideration of how you let your employees become part of the solution. And by that, I mean knowledge through choice, not by force, which in my mind never works as it just brings you back down to being a level one compliance organisation. Remember, if employee input doesn’t equate to impact, then it doesn’t equate to quality.
Now a degree of safety net support is required here as colleagues will not magically become anti-racist overnight. They will not know everything and say all the right things immediately. So just like with someone who’s learning to ride a bike, our job is to help people get back on the saddle. Just to be clear, this is not a pass for racism; there is a scale of mistakes with this. But make it easy for people to do the right thing rather than put in a load of interventions to catch them out when they’ve done something wrong.
Also, consider how to help move people from being bystanders who feel disempowered – who accept certain things, outcomes, behaviours and approaches, that have a disproportionately unfair impact on their Black colleagues – to active allies. It’s not just about sponsorship, mentorship and all the good things that are focused on anti-racism. The solution is also about what the company is consciously doing to dismantle racism, challenging inherent belief systems. This is why introspection, the R within the model, is vitally important. The hard work begins with your relationship with racism.
My wish for you, in adopting this lens, is to be intentional – not knee jerk or ‘let’s chalk some things on a to-do list’. That you have increased knowledge and confidence, so that ‘all of a sudden’ everything you do is intentional – You’ll have clarity of purpose. You’ll be having the right conversations, and challenging yourself every step of the way. In essence, you’ll be taking meaningful action without tokenism.
Shereen is Vice-Chair of the Black Business Association for London’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Founder + Managing Director of HR rewired. An accomplished HR leader, Shereen is cited as one of the leading voices of anti-racism in the workplace and is a sought-after speaker, instructor and advisor. Nicknamed the ‘Oprah of anti-racism’ due to the international popularity of her LinkedIn/YouTube Live shows, Shereen has been featured in Forbes, BBC Worklife and voted one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices for 2020.