Protecting the ethnic minority agenda in the workplace is your duty. Here’s how to start

Here are six ways to safeguard people of colour and banish racism from your workplace

Sophie Chandauka, Chair and Co-founder of the Black British Business Awards, tells organisations how to build and implement an effective workplace agenda on protecting ethnic minority talent.

Derek Chauvin’s long-awaited guilty verdict following the murder of George Floyd is a landmark moment of accountability and a first step in breaking from the past, marked by relief across the Black community and the world.

Why protecting ethnic minorities is a workplace duty

We are reckoning with the fact that racism is a global crisis felt across every aspect of society, not just the streets of America. George Floyd’s murder has driven a renewed sense of urgency around racial equity. What’s undeniable is that the battle we see ‘out there’ is mirrored ‘in here’ inside the organisations with whom we work.

Discrimination can be seen in slower promotions and progression rates, lower inclusion and belonging scores, and under-representation of ethnic minority individuals at senior leadership levels.

The captains of industry who have long failed to stand up against racial inequity are now being held to account by employees and consumers who want to hear and see action from those in leadership positions who have the leverage at their disposal to instigate substantial change.

Has progress been made on the race agenda?

There has been some progress – new data from the Parker Review, published March 2021, shows advancement by FTSE 100 companies on improving the ethnic diversity of their boards, despite the pandemic affecting the board recruitment process.

However, this ‘progress’ is a mere drop in the ocean and is offset by the fact that in 2021, there are no black executives in any of the top three roles at the FTSE 100 for the first time in six years. People of colour are underrepresented at all levels of UK organisations; the issue is particularly severe at higher seniority levels.

Thanks to the excellent work done over the years to shift the numbers around women in the boardroom, we know that it is possible for businesses in the UK to meaningfully progress minority groups in the workplace. But when it comes to race, what we have seen over the past decade is an articulation of good intentions – businesses pledging support, followed by government-backed targets – only to end up with results that barely move the needle, or worse still, slide backwards.

Unequal outcomes will continue to shape the UK workforce, starting at entry-level and compounding as individuals move through their careers if there continue to be no consequences, if external pressure continues to waver and if those who can create sustainable change remain impossible to hold to account.

Creating an inclusive workforce is an ongoing journey

It is beyond question that targeted action to address mid-level ethnic minority talent advancement can release a significant burst of talent and energy into the UK economy, and that increased diversity boosts team effectiveness and innovation.

Study after study shows that companies in the bottom quartile for ethnic diversity statistically lag behind their peers in financial performance. With such strong evidence of benefit to hand, why then has there been such little movement on the progression of ethnic minority individuals in the workplace?

The second edition of our report, ‘Progressing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Talent in the Workplace Through Collaborative Action’ (The Middle), in which we interview key stakeholder groups who play an essential role in creating an inclusive environment, has shed some light.

The report found a consensus amongst all stakeholder groups questioned that organisations find gender and sexual orientation agendas ‘easier’ to manage than the ethnicity agenda, which is perceived to be more complex. This view was particularly expressed by HR Directors, who were amongst those who suggested gender and LGBTQ+ programmes frequently edged out issues of race.

There are many concerns with this unhelpful notion, not least that these agendas are regarded as competitors for limited time and resources, potentially by HR teams looking to present positive results to leadership rather than expose areas for improvement.

Indeed, businesses must acknowledge that creating a more inclusive organisation is a process of cultural change. And it is far from straightforward. Ultimately, it requires acceptance of complexity and the ability to live with difficult emotions (especially anxiety and discomfort), recognises that there are no easy fixes, and accept that this work is an ongoing journey.

Empowering a collaborative taskforce

To address organisational challenges with racial and ethnic representation, I recommend that organisations form a collaborative taskforce; here are six ways organisations can go about creating a taskforce that can deliver meaningful impact with regards to advancing the ethnic minority agenda:

1. Understand your data

Trends from engagement surveys alongside progression and retention data can provide useful insights into pressure points and levers for change in the business. Use these data points, together with any lived experience data, to identify the overarching goal of the taskforce.

2. Identify stakeholders

The perspectives of minority ethnic professionals who do not occupy direct positions of power can provide a valuable sounding board for potential solutions and how they will land in the business. Diversity and scope to challenge, as well as a safe and respectful space, will mitigate against groupthink.

3. Use a mission statement and terms of reference

Use a mission statement and terms of reference to set parameters and expectations. The terms of reference will clarify the overarching goal of the taskforce, which should be aligned to the organisation’s data and agreed upon across the stakeholders represented. The terms of reference should identify secondary goals such as building trust and credibility, acting with transparency, and improving formal HR processes.

4. Leadership and accountability

To establish structure and accountability, spell out roles and responsibilities clearly. The taskforce should have a chair, deputy chair and co-ordinator, each with clear roles and responsibilities. If strategic pillars are identified, the taskforce should be split into smaller interest groups, each focused on addressing one of the strategic pillars.

5. Monitor progress

Use a progress monitoring tool to ensure that agreed actions are delivered to schedule. Using a standard template across interest groups and the wider taskforce will facilitate comparison, bring home the message of accountability and inspire groups to succeed. Share progress at regular meetings of the wider taskforce to encourage cross-group learning, share good practice and learn the lessons of successes and challenges.

6. Report progress to the broader organisation

Keeping the wider organisation informed and engaged will help maintain accountability, momentum and transparency. Hold open forums to share plans, report on progress, encourage questions and offer answers and information. Share success stories widely. Communicate progress and share data. Continue to consult stakeholders from outside the taskforce.

Moving forward

A cohesive approach will drive change. In 2021, it is the moral and ethical duty of captains of industry to lend their commitment and action to achieving equity within their businesses. The time for waiting is over.

Sophie Chandauka is Chair and Executive Founder of the Black British Business Awards. She is the Global COO of Shared Services and Banking Operations at Morgan Stanley. Chandauka has served on several philanthropic boards, including Sentebale, founded by the Duke of Sussex, then Prince Harry, to support children affected by HIV/ AIDS in Africa. In 2018 she was recognised by HM Queen Elizabeth II for her exemplary contribution to the Commonwealth.

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