BAME leadership: sensitising leaders early on

One of the major problems in tackling racial diversity lies in a lack of awareness about BAME leadership among students who are future HR leaders.

Incorporating successful leadership exemplars from BAME community members, using curriculum as a vehicle, is important at an early stage, and may encourage students to achieve great things themselves.

One such BAME leader brought to forefront recently is Kamala Harris, the first Indian-African American vice-president in US history.


Create a safe space

It is important to provide all students regular opportunities to exchange views on race and ethnicity, without having to worry about being appraised based on their thoughts.

At the same time, BAME students and their white counterparts need to be included in these conversations together. The idea is to heighten collective consciousness, without discriminating either groups as these conversations cannot be held in separate watertight compartments.

At the beginning this discourse may be awkward, yet it is crucial to set the scene for collective actions that may help alleviate racial discrimination.

This is a skill which is important for a global leader, as recognising and managing cultural and racial diversity may be crucial to personal and professional success.


Relatability with BAME role models

For BAME students to stay motivated, it is important that they see their efforts can pay off.

BAME groups are faced with a double burden – often affected by racial prejudice and poorly represented in senior leadership positions. It is important that they see value in trying to achieve better student outcomes, as this has an amplified effect on their future career progression.

A way to deal with this is to introduce role models early on, through including racially diverse examples within the curriculum and inviting guest speakers from varied backgrounds. This signifies hope and optimism, as students can see progression is not implausible.

Belonging to similar racial and socio-economic background, and rising up the ranks, guest speakers' testament to how they transcended the barriers could benefit students’ learning curve immensely.

Creating a diverse and inclusive learning environment

Racial inequality prevalent in society is also mirrored in the UK Higher Education sector. Based on the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, black, Asian, mixed and other ethnicities constitute 23% of the total student population in 2018/2019, yet, learning and teaching curriculum at most universities is far from inclusive.

Racial bias, no matter how covert or explicit, could also have a detrimental impact on BAME groups.

A learning environment predicated upon respect for all should be encouraged so students are mindful of their individual actions and behaviours pertaining to cultural and racial sensitivities – a life-long learning they may carry forward to their workplaces.


Positive lever of change

The BAME community has suffered disproportionately from the effects of COVID-19 in addition to their pre-existing inequality and precarious conditions. At the same time, racial inequalities have surfaced, for instance the George Floyd killing, Black Lives Matter movement and widespread protests have become even more pronounced during this pandemic.

Within schools and universities, the curriculum should foster an equitable and fair environment, benefitting all races and ethnicities. It is important to set the tone of the conversations right, for example, instead of hate or anger, building a positive change is essential around this situation.

Embedding equality diversity and inclusion in the curriculum could benefit students, particularly BAME groups, to engage in a constructive dialogue celebrating racial diversity and prepare culturally sensitive future HR leaders.

This is needed now more than ever, to develop more inclusive workplaces, creating an all-embracing world.

Smirti Kutaula is a senior lecturer in human resource management at Kingston Business School