How businesses can engage BAME employees

As chair of Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN) I have seen how vital it can be for organisations to engage black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees

A diverse workforce can spot change from a distance and make better-informed decisions, taking a wider perspective on the issues at hand and how they will affect core stakeholders. Diverse companies are also better able to attract talent, achieve stronger brand perceptions and boost overall employee satisfaction. This all helps to create a virtuous circle of positive change both internally and externally.

So with those benefits in mind, how can businesses be better at engaging BAME employees?

1. Champion inspirational speakers

Guest speakers are a brilliant way to engage teams from all backgrounds with inspiring stories about the challenges and achievements of BAME communities in the UK. Speakers might be passionate employees, local business people or suppliers, authors, journalists, artists or charity advocates.

Topics of discussion might include the representation of black people in art and media, or the history of black people in the UK going as far back as 1500. Speakers may also be available to run talent coaching workshops, or they may wish to get involved in employee mentoring programmes.

2. Build pathways into senior leadership for minorities

Diversity means having representatives at all levels of the organisation, including senior decision-makers. If BAME employees do not see pathways for career development they will take their expertise elsewhere.

Mentoring programmes are an excellent way to ensure employees are aware of promotion opportunities and actively pursue them. We also know that role models promote a workplace culture of equality and inclusion by demonstrating that ethnicity is not a barrier to success.

It’s also important to recognise and celebrate the success of BAME employees – a recent example at Amazon is Katie George, EMEA tech campus lead, who was named among EMpower’s Top 50 Future Ethnic Minority Business Leaders.

3. Implement robust policies and decision-making mechanisms

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing diversity and inclusion. This has become a key challenge for many organisations, that need to define how and why they should boost diversity.

Clear and robust policies are the best place to start. Simple initiatives can reduce unconscious bias – for example ensuring meeting documents are anonymous, and basing debate or discussion on data rather than who has the loudest voice. In employee assessments and mentoring programmes, attainment and progress should also be measured according to a consistent standard, ensuring that the playing field is even for all. This might be a set of guidelines or working principles that are made publicly available.

While policies should be the starting point, they’re also the minimum standard. Much more importantly, improved ways of working on a day-to-day basis will drive objective decision-making and deliver better outcomes than any policy.

4. Create internal affinity groups

Employee affinity groups should be considered within any large business to help empower and support the workforce. Businesses might want to consider groups to represent communities including LGBT+, those with disabilities, and BAME workers. Groups should be inclusive and open to everyone who might be interested in getting involved. This provides a support network around specific challenges while also creating allies across the business.

These groups may run social activities, host guest speakers, mentor colleagues, co-ordinate volunteering for social causes and get involved with the organisation’s recruitment activity.

5. Recognise and celebrate culture

Recognising and taking the opportunity to celebrate BAME culture, customs, food and drink is incredibly important if an employer wants to foster a community of inclusive and conscientious colleagues.

There are few better ways to cap off a busy week than sharing a social occasion with your colleagues – and a diverse workforce will give you plenty of inspiration to get staff talking across different teams and departments. Great ideas can come from anywhere; that’s why diversity truly matters.

Initiatives like these will help build diversity for the long term by engaging BAME employees. It’s not just the right thing to do. It also creates a better, more fun and more open working environment for everyone.

Aisha Suleiman is chair of Amazon’s Black Employee Network (BEN)