For Black History Month Yetunde Hofmann explores why talking about race isn’t accelerating progress
This October features Black History Month
, a time to focus on and celebrate black history, heritage and culture, and the iconic figures that have contributed so much to world history. This year, 2022, it is launching a new theme, ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words’, which means not just talking about the past, remembering and celebrating, but actively working towards a more positive and equal future.
The murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked an unprecedented reaction where it took place in the USA, as well as in the UK and the wider world, and led to the amplified voice of people requesting action against institutional racism.
The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, which almost 50% of the white UK population backed, as reported by Prospect magazine
, were long overdue and brought sharply into focus the lack of progress made since the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. Up until 2020 there was the feeling in the UK that it had been all talk and very little action.
Since the Black Lives Matter protests, organisations and individuals have committed to tackling racism on a greater scale than ever before. The movement has also bolstered support around the world, with companies celebrating black history month more in recent years.
Changes in the workplace
In the world of work, we have seen an increase in diversity and inclusion policies, and a rise in much needed roles at senior level for people to lead the diversity, inclusion, equity and equality agendas in their organisations. There has been more unconscious bias training, reverse mentoring, and employee resource groups established. Listening forums have emerged on a larger scale, and firms have committed to taking the time to listen to the lived experiences of their employees. It has also led to companies making bold statements around targets, buoyed up by reports from the CIPD, the Hampton Alexander Review and more, with concrete promises to tackle gender and racial inequality in the workplace.
There have been countless books devoted to understanding and eliminating racism, literature that educates and provides great guidance on what to do and how to move the dial.
Racism is more firmly on the agenda than ever. But how much of that is just words, bold statements and superficial gestures?
The business case for diversity is clear. Countless publications and reports have been produced by top consultancies, which define the necessity to tackle racism of any form in the workplace.
According to People Management
magazine, a recent survey by Glassdoor suggests that two in five black employees are still being impacted negatively by the ethnicity pay gap in organisations.
In May 2022, leading gender equality organisation, the Fawcett Society
, and the UK’s leading race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust
, released a landmark review
which confirms that the harmful, pervasive and entrenched racism that women of colour are forced to endure at every stage of their career journey is still present today. And whilst women in the workplace have made progress in recent decades, black women are still being left behind, as reported in the McKinsey report
of women in the workplace.
This institutional inequality is also evident in the sparse presence of people of colour in the most senior roles of leading businesses. Some progress has been made – according to the Guardian
, most of Britain’s top 100 companies now have at least one minority ethnic board member, although only six CEOs are from a an ethnic minority background.
What needs to be done?
In order to make progress, organisations needs to set meaningful targets and be ready to break down the strongholds, seen and unseen, that can get in the way. We need to think long-term to sponsor real change, which makes it essential to develop and start the implementation of a plan that goes beyond 1 year.
• Introduce seminars, webinars and training, followed by required action and measurement to counter act institutional racism and unconscious bias.
• Adopt a zero tolerance when it comes to banter at work and other sometimes unnoticeable, unconscious behaviours that impact people of colour, but are not always called out. These aspects of everyday racism affect the mental health of others massively.
• Listen to lived experiences, and to what those who share say must be done, in order to effect change.
• Appoint sponsors and mentors internally for black and ethnic minorities, and create programmes and platforms for sharing experience and unifying voices.
Invest in the future
• Bring in incentives, financial and non- financial, for people leaders across your entire organisation.
• Provide your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and those responsible for inclusion, with a meaningful voice at the top table. Equip them with the resources they need, including money, and give them a mandate to effect change.
• Track the career development and progress of your black employees and implement retention.
• Proactively ensure diversity in your HR learning and development functions and make sure that equality themes remain at the heart of continuous learning development strategies.
• Report on the progress made. Celebrate your wins and demonstrate a willingness to learn from the past.
Demonstrate love-based leadership
• See the human being in all, regardless of level or background, and respect that we all are inherently individual and not defined by race or gender or anything else, alone.
• Move towards kindness and compassion in the workplace. Kindness and compassion can only truly be demonstrated if they are rooted in love and equality.
• Establish a culture of love and unconditional acceptance of self and others, and actively celebrate the diversity of your team.
• Bring in the notion of the importance of sacrifice. Without sacrifice and a willingness to focus on the greater good, it is difficult to effect meaningful change. What is your leadership willing to give up in order that ALL may win in the organisation?
• Recognise and celebrate those who ally.
As Black History Month has so aptly put it, ‘The past is in the past. We can acknowledge and learn from it, but to improve the future, we need action, not words’.
So much more still needs to be done. To create a fairer future, organisations must celebrate their minority employees, incentivise them, and encourage them. To move forward we must be prepared to face the facts and actively create equality in the workplace and the world around us.
Now is the time to move from the rhetoric, the celebration, the promises, the listening, though all good, into definitive and decisive action. It is not easy, it will take time, but it can be done if there is a commitment to bring change together.
Yetunde Hofmann is an executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity adviser, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS. Find out more here