Business leaders must tackle racism at work, author Reni Eddo-Lodge urges
Jo Gallacher, November 12, 2020
Leaders need to be brave enough to fight back against racism in the workplace, according to journalist and author Reni Eddo-Lodge on day one of the CIPD’s annual conference.
Speaking in conversation with broadcaster and BBC director of creative diversity June Sarpong, Eddo-Lodge explained the many challenges facing BAME people in the UK when applying for, and participating in, the workplace.
Eddo-Lodge is the author of the best-selling book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
Referring to research from the Department for Work and Pensions in 2009, Eddo-Lodge explained how black workers are often passed over for job opportunities.
Of 2,000 CVs for various job vacancies, despite having similar experience, those with “British sounding names” were more likely to be asked to interview, she said.
“The odds are stacked against us before you enter the workplace. That kind of discrimination creates a knock-on effect. The job you have impacts where you live, where your kids go to school, whether you can accrue savings or afford to buy a house. The type of job you have has a huge knock-on effect of people’s life chances.”
Eddo-Lodge explained how looking at data around attitudes to BAME workers can help assure minorities that their feelings of unease are not unique to them.
She added: “When I’m speaking with people, they’ll often speak about a sense of unease because they don’t have the access to the big data which says what’s happening to me is part of a larger trend. People start to internalise it and think it’s something wrong with them; it’s not good for mental health.”
She therefore asked leaders to “be brave” in their diversity decision-making to support BAME workers.
Sarpong said many HR professionals didn’t “have a clue what to do but know they want to do something” and asked Eddo-Lodge what her recommendations were.
Eddo-Lodge said: “Up until recently, anti-racism wasn’t popular, but we did it because we thought it’s going to impact the world in a positive way when we’re gone. One takeaway I’d like HR to know is to question how the way the organisation is structured is disadvantaging people. If it is, how can we remedy that?”
Acknowledging the gap between HR strategy and manager buy-in, Eddo-Lodge told HR professionals that managers may not always “get it” and to instead educate them by asking what influences each manager.
She added: “Personal influence trumps position. I think that sometimes you can be the person in the organisation who says ‘we need to do this’. And it’s hard to convince people this is an issue that is of utmost importance.
“Some people will never be on board. Instead of thinking ‘this is a barrier’ or this person won’t be convinced, speak to someone who they respect if they don’t want to listen to you.
“For me, I do this by trying to be authentic and did my research to make sure what I’m saying was based on fact. I don’t water myself down when speaking truth to power, I think most people are open-hearted and good and think people will respond positively.”
Sarpong agreed, advising HR and managers to focus on those who want to instill change. She added: “Do not waste time with people who do not want to get it. Once you’ve demonstrated it works, those people who were resistant come on board. Focus on where you can make the change.”