“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” David Morrison, Australia’s former army chief, said this as he accepted the 2016 Australian of the year award for his work on gender equality in the military.
What he’s talking about is the problem of condoning. We all know what this means: if you fail to speak out on something, like gender inequality or racism, then you’re essentially agreeing with it.
But what General Morrison was really talking about is the importance of allies.
And this is why the quote strikes such a chord with top RBC lawyer Eric Houston. “As a society, we have a habit of walking on by. But I’m a strong believer in the active bystander. It takes moral courage to stand up and speak up.”
He cites the example of two professors from his old law school, recorded after a Zoom class with students. When one of them used racial slurs to disparage black students the other could have challenged her – but didn’t. Not only did he condone her words, but he also failed to become an ally.
Anyone can be an ally. BlueBay CEO Erich Gerth is a good example. You can be an ally too.
“You may not feel comfortable speaking up. You might not be in the room. You might worry about losing your job,” adds Eric. “But if you challenge – if you say ‘I think that’s wrong’ – then you’re taking the opportunity to be an ally and to break the cycle of racism and racist comments.”
Eric’s journey, like so many of reboot.’s ethnic minority ambassadors, saw challenges overcome, prejudices shrugged off or addressed, and accomplishments ticked off.
What stands out is his drive. His willingness to push himself onwards. When a parent moved away from his native Pennsylvania for work, he stayed behind to pursue his dream of a college scholarship. He was 16.
He’s been in London for two decades, and in that time, he’s seen plenty of passive and active bystanders.
“The big problem I see is the lack of role models. I saw some research recently that said, of the top 100 British companies, not one of the top three roles, of chair, CEO and CFO, is occupied by a Black person. If you’re a mid-level executive, you just think, ‘people like me don’t get to that position’.
“I’d like to see companies taking a hard look at their hiring practices. Why are talented individuals being screened out? Can you ask more strength-based questions in interviews – to find those diamonds? And can you work with organisations like 10,000 black interns?”
Eric’s video interview falls close to the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. You don’t need this article to describe his emotions – they’re there to see.
But what he calls for is for ethnic minority professionals to challenge their firms – such as asking whether the company is signed up to BITC’s race at work charter – and challenge themselves – to work hard, take opportunities and change things.
And he is asking everyone to be more active. Don’t just walk on by.
To watch the full interview between Erich Gerth and Eric Houston click below.
Summary by Brandon Bhatti, account manager, Hume Brophy.