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How do you achieve racial equity at work? Call out racism

Racial equity remains a challenge as organisations grapple with the complications of inclusivity.

In the opening keynote of HR Rewired’s first Advancing Racial Equity Conference (ARECON) inclusion and belonging speaker René Carayol said: “Diverse is a fact, inclusion is a choice, belonging is a vision we try to get to.”

Inclusion, he added, is the part where most organisations are failing to drive racial equity, and one of the biggest challenges to it is generational.

He said: “The generation gap is huge, dangerous and growing.”

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One of the biggest problems employers face, said Carayol, is that the remedy to inclusion is coming from too low down in organisations.

Younger employees are screaming for change he said, yet: “change initiatives get crushed in middle management.

“It has to come from the c-suite.”

In addition to a top-down approach, to make change happen Carayol advised everyone wherever they see racism or discrimination to call it out.

Renowned for calling out racism in society, lawyer and activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu gave the closing keynote at ARECON21.

Conference host and HR Rewired managing director Shereen Daniels asked Mos-Shogbamimu how she continues to "put her head above the parapet" knowing about the tactics used to silence black people under the guise of keeping the peace.

Mos-Shogbamimu said authenticity is what is key.

“I find many black people, when we go out into the world, into our workplace or businesses, we often have to adapt to what the world expects to see us as. But the one thing we can never and should never change, is what keeps us grounded. And that's our authenticity,” she said.

“So when I say authenticity, I mean that if you know who you are then nobody can give you a new definition, irrespective of what circumstance you find yourself in.”

The workplace, she added, can be a "cesspool" of black identity mischaracterisation. As a place where people want to progress up the career ladder that can then make it more difficult to feel able to speak up.

However, Mos-Shogbamimu urged people to remember that there is power in every situation.

“We do come across circumstances that stump us,” she said, giving examples of how racial stereotyping comes into play and black people can be seen as “being difficult” or confrontational when they call out others’ behaviour.

“Even if you don't feel you can say something in that moment, say something to somebody […] always use the opportunity,” she said.

To white colleagues looking to challenge their own biases and internalised racism or discrimination, she advised more communication with their black colleagues.

"Find someone you are safe with and have a conversation but expect that conversation to get hard," she said.

Responding to the age-old adage that ‘change takes time,’ and therefore black people must be patient and resist speaking up, Mos-Shogbamimu added that if that mentality inspires inaction, it is useless.

She said: “We know change takes time, but we are part of that process in bringing about change.”