Black Lives Matter: now it's time to act
On 25 May there was yet another incident of police brutality where an African-American man, George Floyd, was killed by police officers in Minneapolis.
His killing was captured on video and we have since seen a wave of protests and outrage against racial discrimination unfold in cities in the US and across the world.
Workplaces play a really important role in challenging societal inequalities by educating employees on creating a fairer society, which they then take back to their families around the dinner table after work.
They bring diverse people together under one organisation to collaborate and work towards common goals, visions, missions and create safe cultures where people feel like they belong. Very often, our workplaces are much more diverse than our circle of friends and family.
As such I was really encouraged to see emails come out this week from a couple of business leaders. They are great examples of how workplaces are challenging inequalities in society.
In his message to employees, Active Campaign CEO Jason VandeBoom said that what happened to George Floyd was an atrocity and that he worries for many of his employees. He was reminded of the massive inequalities people face daily in society.
Inequalities and injustice have no place, and none of us can rest while it prevails. VandeBoom encouraged his employees to lead with curiosity, move outside their comfort zone and listen to the experiences of others. He wants them to be an ally. Not just now but until injustice is transformed.
In another example, Hayden Brown, CEO of Upwork, talked about the practical steps the company is taking to create a more inclusive workplace. How the company is channelling is outrage into work, to actively build a company and a society that black people deserve.
Both companies employ someone to lead on diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives. Yet what’s encouraging to see is that their chief executive is also actively involved, and vocal, about cultivating inclusion and diversity.
Building on this I want to share three practical things I believe businesses should be doing to challenge racial inequalities in society.
Lead from the top- be a bold leader
Chief executives must publicly state what their organisation is doing to improve inequalities in society and reiterate their organisational values.
If you say that you believe in diversity, equality and inclusion, then your actions need to be congruent with these values. By all means employ a head of diversity and inclusion or ask your HR director to take the lead on equality, diversity and inclusion activity but CEOs need to walk the talk. They need to be accountable for the inclusive culture in the organisation.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable
Talking about race can be difficult. Sometimes we worry about saying or doing the wrong thing and ‘putting our foot in it’. Which leads to inaction. As somebody with a disability, I have faced this many times where people are too embarrassed to talk to me.
Therefore, they avoid me or end up making embarrassing mistakes such as patting me on the head. Create safe spaces and networks where employees from a black, asian or minority ethnic background can talk about their day-to-day experiences at work and can speak up about incivilities they face during the working day.
But don’t allow these networks to become echo chambers. Empower white employees to join the conversation, become supporters and allies. We are in this together.
It’s really worthwhile reading the Let’s Talk About Race pocket guide that Sandra Kerr OBE from Business in the Community wrote.
Hold the mirror up for managers
So if you have a chief executive who is taking personal responsibility for inclusivity in the organisation, you will get more comfortable in talking about race as an organisation. However, it’s the middle manager layer that gets overlooked and they play a crucial role in embedding an inclusive culture.
It’s really important that you collect examples of how people from ethnic minority backgrounds are experiencing the workplace. For example, instances of microaggressions, harassment, privilege, and unconscious bias. These personal stories need to be played back to managers so that they understand the behaviours that are happening in their teams and on their watch.
Now that you’ve raised the level of consciousness for managers, you need to give them the tools to eradicate the behaviours that do not create an inclusive work environment. This could be coaching on how to have difficult conversations with people for instance.
I hope the above has given you some ideas about what your organisation can do to create a more inclusive workplace for people from an ethnic minority background. Or perhaps you are already doing the above and this helps validate your thinking and strategy.
Toby Mildon is a diversity and inclusion architect and founder of Mildon consultancy business