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Tackling Racism at Work

Tackling Racism at Work

You can’t tackle racism with just an Equal Opportunities Policy

Many organisations are having to consider their future viability and survival post Covid-19, which isn’t going to be easy. However, there is a real danger that some will continue the traditional trajectory of either ignoring race issues or rationalising that racial problems don’t affect their business. In a rural and very white county like Shropshire (95.4% of residents in the 2011 census identified as white English, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Ireland British, compared to 79.2% in the West Midlands), my worry is that addressing racism will not receive the attention and action it deserves.

Research is clearly showing that a move towards anti-racism and actively striving for diversity, inclusion and respect at work is not just a moral and societal imperative, but an important business survival factor. The Mckinsey report “Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters” (2020) highlights that diversity in the workplace is not just a ‘nice to have’. Diverse companies are more able to win top talent, improve their customer and employee satisfaction rates, as well as improve decision making, all helping to correlate with better financial performance.

There may be legislation in place to protect individuals from racial discrimination, but as Binna Kandola, Senior Partner and co-founder of Pearn Kandola (well-respected diversity and inclusion training providers) explains, modern racism is much more subtle and nuanced, “detected mostly by the people on the receiving end, but ignored and possibly not even seen by perpetrators and bystanders”. Most racism in organisations today is not characterised by hostile abuse or threatening behaviour, but takes the form of frequent and more subtle micro aggressions. Examples are many and varied but include: ignoring someone, talking over them, dismissing their views or opinions, making assumptions about them, due to the colour of their skin or using a nickname rather than making the effort to pronounce someone’s name correctly.

Businesses can’t just package race and discrimination in their Handbook tucked up in a well-meaning Equal Opportunities policy and think ‘job done’. Business leaders need to go back to basics, explore the complexities of race terminology, their own unconscious biases and racial injustices. Many businesses will be quick to state that they support the fair treatment of all people at work, but sadly their actions often fall short of their positive rhetoric. Creating an anti-racist workplace takes time and effort. Businesses need to question their existing behaviours and policies, assess their impact and challenge what they are doing to passively perpetuate racism, as well as other acts of discrimination. Similarly, not all businesses can tackle racism on their own, they need to seek additional support and expertise as well as co-ordinate externally with their stakeholders and supply chains, their local communities, schools and education providers.

Introducing Anti-Racism Strategies

The CIPD have taken a clear stance, stating that businesses must be part of the change to ‘step up and stamp out prejudice’ to build diverse and supportive cultures of respect and fairness for all. To complement the CIPD’s ongoing campaign to ‘champion better work and working lives for all’, they have produced a 6 point plan to help organisations develop their own anti-racism strategies:

  • Clarify an organisation’s stance, values and position on anti-racism
  • Co-create a systemic approach for practical action that is prioritised
  • Commit to sustained action, visible leadership and a willingness to learn and change
  • Critically appraise people management approaches including recruitment and retention
  • Connect people by creating safe spaces to talk and discuss race and inclusion
  • Communicate messages consistently and ensure that communication is two way

Business leaders, as well as employees, need to start by educating themselves, expanding their networks and being braver about initiating difficult and uncomfortable conversations, including challenging silence and complicity.

Actively promoting equality, inclusion and respect will not only be key to a productive and engaged workforce, but crucial in creating a resilient and flexible business that maximises the talents of all its people to cope with today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

Footnote:

As an HR practitioner and CIPD branch member, I have begun a deeply uncomfortable journey facing my own prejudices and biases as a white middle-class female living comfortably in rural Shropshire, having always thought of myself as non-racist. I am learning to be braver, ask more questions, read more, challenge my assumptions, speak out and make mistakes. If you are unsure where to start in expanding your own research and reading, please do click on the links above and I can also highly recommend the following:

If you can recommend other strong and powerful resources, please do let me know.

 

 

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