This open letter is addressed to Chief Executive Officers, General Managers, Chief People Officers, Heads of Diversity & Inclusion, Chairpersons and Sponsors of Ethnic Minority Employee Support Groups who are yet to acknowledge and respond to the current civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd two weeks ago.
We are waiting for your support.
Ten weeks ago, the Corona virus brought the world to its knees. We experienced this together. There was a clear recognition of shared emotional displacement.
What if, during this global pandemic we maintained a position that the virus was a problem of the country next door without taking the appropriate measures in the UK? What if, despite seeing increasing mortality rates, we insisted that there was no need to protect ourselves and deemed the virus was not a real threat in our country? We know this was not the case. The scientific community have made significant investment in studying the deadly CV-19 infection to understand the root cause and origin, whom it affects, and how it can be eradicated.
Racism can also be likened to a virus, and similar to CV-19, it hides amongst us undetected, poisoning our system and causing harm which destroys the very integrity and trust within the human systems that we belong to. Discrimination is very much alive here in the UK and is not a problem of the country next door.
We need a basic understanding of the root cause of societal and organisational inequalities and take preventative measures to control it, if we are to ever work towards a cure. This too will take considerable time, commitment, and investment. Our leaders play a pivotal role in creating more equitable healthy and sustainable human systems in the organisations they serve.
There is a growing concern about the real message being sent, not only to the diverse employees but to all of the employees who are taking note. Remaining silent is the loudest statement of all.
It is not a political statement to tell your Black employees, friends, or colleagues that you stand by them. You are watching the grief of a community play out in real time, digesting the fact that we, Black people, are still at a significantly greater risk of fatality through CV-19, loss of earnings, as well as continued systemic injustices.
Active and authentic ally-ship is needed more than ever. It is only with the help of those in positions of influence that we can achieve change. This is a critical moment in our history and the defining moment for those who choose to be a “leader of our times”. Each of us are being asked to take a stand and choose a direction at this fork in the road.
Communicating that you stand in solidarity with the Black Community is saying ‘Yes’ to social justice and building better organisational systems where equality, respect, cooperation and collaboration are supported. To remain silent results in unwarranted speculation and negative interpretation of your intentions. The unintended consequences damaging.
Knowing how to start the conversation can be the hardest part. Below, I have suggested ways to start meaningful engagement with your Black employees, regardless of where you are on your own Diversity & Inclusion journey as an organisation:
- Connection: We advise you to address the delay in communication and allow a space for discussion. Be honest and vulnerable about your silence – maybe you didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. Let your Black employees, customers, and connections know that you are paying attention to world events and reiterate your support during this difficult time.
- Well-being: emotional well-being and mental health is paramount right now, so establishing or finding ways to access counselling or coaching for your Black employees and Allies is key. This has not only impacted Black individuals but has sent a ripple across the wider community.
- Pay Gap: Ethnic minorities earn up to 37% less than white people in the UK. A commitment to ending salary disclosure from candidates at interview stage and implementing transparent salary ranges across each open role would see a greater reduction in the Ethnicity Pay Gap. You have an opportunity to lead here.
- Leadership: 47% of the FTSE 100 still have no Black and Ethnic Minority representation at Executive or Board level. A lack of diverse leadership in your organisation limits your ability to innovate and stay ahead of the competitive curve. The lack of diverse leadership may also have been a contributing factor in the decision to remain silent during these difficult conversations. We advise starting the discussion to create interventions to improve black representation at the level where key decisions are made.
- Ethnic Minority Networks: Your Ethnic Minority Employee groups should be accompanied by senior accountability partners and Executive Sponsors who govern and support their success. Ethnic Minority Groups can help fix legacy inclusion issues in your processes, organisational culture and brand communications.
- Diversity Reporting: Banding Black and Ethnic Minority-focused programmes and reporting together is problematic. Start by opening specific dialogues of inclusion for individual diverse communities. All employees should have access to the Black and Ethnic Minority networks and be encouraged to join.
- Psychological Safety: As an ally, supporting Black History Month is not enough by itself. Proactively creating a ‘safe space for race discussion’, which gives permission for colleagues to ask questions, explore, learn, share different points of view and be allowed to get it wrong. Proactively discuss current events within your team even if you do not have Black members of staff; everyone should have the opportunity to discuss what is happening and if they have been impacted.
- Development: Promote sponsor and mentor relationships within your organisation. Enlist senior allies, of all available backgrounds, to take an active role in elevating the Black future leaders. The sponsor, can use their seniority and organisational capital to actively advocate and provide access to opportunities within the business. The mentor will attend to the professional and personal development of the mentee through partnership.
- Talent Attraction: Engage with Diverse Recruitment businesses who ensure Black and Ethnic Minority communities are reached and treated inclusively. We advise setting proportional targets for ethnic representation for recruitment partners, in line with the expectations you have around Gender.
- Supply Chain: Every touch point for your business should be influenced by inclusion. Actively question your supply chain on their Diversity and Inclusion policies and seek to partner with organisations who can demonstrate Senior Black Leadership representation with their teams.
- Policy: Review your D&I and Professional Conduct Policies to ensure they specifically protect the Ethnic Minority community. Make changes where necessary and publicise anti-discrimination statements. Require training and acknowledgement of understanding by all employees.
I believe this marks the first time in history that there is a global conversation about the importance of Black lives.
Please join the organisations and advocates who have already spoken out to support the Black community. We need actionable outcomes for allies and organisations who claim to hold diversity and inclusion at the top of their agenda.
We are waiting for your support.