Lammy gave a rousing keynote speech encouraging the people profession to drive forward of racial equality in the workplace.
He said: “In my experience even when senior leaders are brought into the subject, change doesn’t happen until middle managers get it. They’re the ones who really control things so it’s about how they are being challenged and rewarded.
"What are the KPIs [key performance indicators] around managers?”
Lammy encouraged leaders to think about the disparity between how their Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are treated in society compared with their white counterparts.
“There’s a 22% unemployment compared with 13% for white workers - we have a problem people, things are tough out there if you’re BAME,” he said.
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“Folks say we don’t like the term white privilege. But for BAME, it’s a term that feels real, not a term that denies class isn’t real whatever the colour of your skin. It's not that there can’t be real obstacles if you’re white working class, of course there’s serious problems for you too, but it is to say race is not one of those issues.”
Lammy highlighed five organisations which were making demonstrable change in the area, highlighting to the room what can be done: McKinsey & Company, Starbucks, Unilever, Walmart and Deloitte.
He added: “Moving on from the business of equality to the business of equity is so important and it’s why evidence-based and targets are essential, how you appraise, the supply chain, getting into the granularity of communities you are in and what you represent.
"That’s the ingredient to better equality and tackling equality and discrimination in the workplace.”
When asked by CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese whether an ethnicity pay gap should be legislated, Lammy was adamant this would happen under a Labour government.
He said: “We need to move to monitor an ethnicity pay gap now, I can’t believe it has not been implemented and accepted by government. Even if there was a change in prime minister I think it would happen.
“In the mean time, companies and organisations can do a hell of a lot themselves and don’t need to wait legislation.”
The following panel then discussed the issue from a HR perspective.
Bernadette Thompson, deputy director of inclusion, wellbeing and employee experience at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, argued the profession must and can do better.
She said: “HR is very ‘white-womanish’. We have to look at ourselves as a profession and we should be the first to take the medicine we’re trying to give to others.”
She said: “There is this view that somehow the race agenda, and other diversity areas, have already been tackled and there’s this want to move on to the next topic. The first thing that organisations need to do is use their data, recognise where the issues are within the organisation and be committed to take on action and carve out a strategy that addresses this.
“There is a real worry and concern that policies are not being designed by the individuals it is attempting to support.
“HR is often the follower and we’ve got to move to a position where we are spearheading this change agenda. We are in a unique position to do that, it is not acceptable anymore for us to mimic the practice."
Thompson echoed Lammy’s earlier point about the importance of middle managers, arguing they need to be held to account.
She added: “We set targets and fall by the wayside. Diversity and inclusion must be important in the business so we need to keep it firmly in the boardroom, on the table and keep talking about it.
“It’s tough for middle managers, but what are the consequences of getting it wrong? We must not have people who cannot be themselves, but as a profession, we [HR] must start with ourselves to do better.”
And for those in HR wondering how to get their ideas on equality heard, Thompson recommended one final thought: “If you’re not invited to the boardroom, just get yourself a folding chair and rock up.”