New inclusivity course wants bosses to end their silence on race

A convener of a new nine-week business course says leaders must start speaking openly about race if they want to create a truly inclusive workplace.

A course that puts business leaders in the driving seat of race discussions at work is welcoming new attendees in early 2021. 

Led by Letesia Gibson, a business strategist and founder of the inclusive workplace coaching company New Ways, ‘Helping leaders talk confidently about race at work’ encourages the discussion of race topics in the workplace and explores the ramifications of remaining silent.

Over nine weeks, leaders who previously felt unable to discuss race will through open discussion begin to build the blueprint for positive change in their organisations, says Gibson.

“The reality is that we haven’t made as much progress on race as we think. Workplace race discrimination levels against people of colour remain unchanged from 1960 while representation has hardly shifted since 2014 in many UK organisations.” 

A course for leaders

Speaking on the appeal of the course for leaders, she adds: “There are few options for leaders to be in a non-judgmental space to talk about what they find difficult about the race conversation. With that freedom, they can master using curiosity to see problems and solutions differently.” 

From the starting point of discussing race, the course will also explore how leaders should use their position of privilege to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives from the top-down which Gibson believes is a more effective way to enact lasting change. 

“Some leaders think it should be someone non-white or their HR or D&I team leading on race, but the work of anti-racism is about shaping the right culture, embedding inclusivity, and living our values, and that is the work of leadership.”

A culture of silence – the numbers

Statistics about ethnicity conversations at work show that more is required to change the culture of silence around the topic. 

According to a government-sponsored study from 2018 entitled: ‘Race at Work 2018: The Scorecard Report,’ there was limited progress in getting employees to open up about ethnicity since its previous report was conducted in 2015. In the 2018 study, the number of people feeling “comfortable” discussing race grew to 38%, which was up by only 1% in three years.

The role of white leaders in perpetuating silence on race 

The culture of silence around ethnicity at work could come from the fact that white professionals mostly hold leadership roles across FTSE 100 firms and small-to-medium businesses. If leaders are expected to implement a work culture including shared values across an organisation, a reluctance to engage in race conversations due to ignorance or fear of causing offence could account for the enduring taboo today. 

While there is ample evidence that many forms of discrimination continue to affect ethnic minority people within organisations, such as the fact that BAME employees are more likely to have zero-hour contracts and poorer mental health than white workers, a reluctance from leaders to discuss race is also a barrier to a more inclusive workplace. 

Failing to engage with ethnicity topics at work has other negative outcomes including the impact on a leader’s reputation and an organisation’s recruitment appeal, says Gibson: “Inclusive leadership is becoming an expected skill set of modern leaders,” she adds. 

“We want leaders to be capable of bringing diverse people together and be up to date with current thinking and active in addressing both hidden and overt inequalities at work. We are also seeing growing numbers of people turning down job offers because organisations do not appear inclusive enough.”

The course begins on January 26, 2021 and will run as a series of lunchtime workshops over nine weeks. For more information please visit:
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