Why employers need to sustain investment in racial equity
By Jo Faragher on 24 November 2022
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the reaction of many businesses in support of the Black Lives Matter movement showed that they understood the moral case for racial equity. We saw an increase in leaders listening to what their ethnic minority staff had to say because they knew it was the right thing to do, even if this opened up some uncomfortable conversations across the business. But as we enter a recession in the coming months, will organisations be willing to sustain that investment in racial equity, with financial pressures coming from all angles?
According to data analytics company FLAIR, data and insights can demonstrate that business case, inspiring evidence-backed action that is hopefully also sustainable. Nii Cleland and his cousin Darrell Coker founded the company in 2020 in a bid to “show the humanity in numbers” and are the only specialists in data analysis focused on racial equity. “We see ourselves as a racial equity data partner,” explains Cleland. “Through analysis, companies can understand how racially equitable their culture is. We measure components of culture such as diversity and awareness through a questionnaire and score them based on feedback from employees.” FLAIR then provides organisations with a visualisation of their results and an action plan for where they should go next.
“Some companies feel they need to look at diversity and inclusion in totality, but if you do that there’s a risk of not understanding anything on a deep level,” he adds. Data helps organisations to focus their initiatives and prioritise them, and the stories behind the data can open up and normalise conversations about race at work. “We only highlight a few areas as this can feel daunting, and we provide learning and development materials based on areas they need to develop,” says Cleland. Data can show demographic diversity and highlight areas where more representation would help, but the aim is to guide leaders to take an active approach rather than do it for them, he adds.
Data insights from your own organisation are impactful, but more general research around racial equity also builds a strong case for investment. Almost 20% of young people between 16 and 24 were non-white in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, a key generation now enjoying their first and second jobs in the workforce. The McGregor-Smith review of the same year concluded that the potential benefit to the economy from full representation of Black and minority ethnic individuals across the labour market, through improved participation and career progression, would be £24 billion a year. “We need people, we need the talent,” says Sarah Churchman OBE, chief inclusion and wellbeing officer at PwC UK. “The evolving nature of work, the diversification of our products and services means we need to bring in different kinds of people.”
PwC UK reports on several different pay gaps including gender, race, social mobility, disability and sexual orientation, so has long taken a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion. “We know we have to work harder. When George Floyd was murdered we were asked about the number of Black partners and at that time we only had four, and that was higher than our competitors,” she adds. There are now 12 Black partners and 51% of applications to join the firm next year are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background. “Once you have the data, you can focus on the action plan, and we sell that into the business through targeted initiatives. Our forums have a high representation of staff from minority groups, and they can tell us what works well and what doesn’t.”
One of the targeted actions PwC UK has taken on the back of data is its Black Talent in Business programme, a three-day paid programme that prepares Black undergraduates for further opportunities such as internships or placements. Only 2% of its graduate intake was Black compared to there being 4% of Black students in the UK university population in 2021, which inspired the programme. Asking for investment in such initiatives is no longer a challenge because this is now seen as business as usual, or “part of our DNA”, according to Churchman. “We’ve woven inclusivity into our business strategy, because we know unless we go to different talent pools we won’t meet our skills needs for the future. If you’re further back in terms of maturity on this then yes, a recession might set you back,” she adds.
Programmes such as this don’t need to drain corporate budgets, either – they often just involve a time investment from hiring teams and managers. The 10,000 Black Interns programme was set up to address such issues of low representation and costs nothing for businesses to get involved, for example. Programme director Nana Campbell says: “Our participating organisations name a plethora of reasons as to why they lack a diverse range of voices within their workforce, including not seeing Black talent apply to their roles, or not progressing through recruitment processes which often contain bias. We ask participating organisations to consider our candidates for their quality and potential, and with no obligation to hire, we are opening the door for Black talent to be considered, rather than enabling tick-box hiring.”
Seven in 10 of the organisation’s candidates in 2022 said they would not have received an internship without the support of 10,000 Black Interns, and 30% were offered additional opportunities post internship. “This goes to show that our candidates are lacking in opportunity, not quality,” she adds. “Offering visibility for our candidates is the first step in engendering equity and works to level the playing field in terms of recruitment, this allows employers to consider candidates that fall outside of their typical demographic.” While the key is to open doors, the organisation does ask participating employers to offer interns a minimum of the local living wage. “The response from participating firms has been overwhelmingly positive. Some have changed their hiring practices, others have changed their approach to early talent,” says Campbell. “Many have opened up conversations about race within their workplaces and are taking an introspective approach in terms of how they create more inclusive environments. Others have found permanent hires and amazing additions to their teams.”
There are clear advantages to opening up these conversations about racial equity at work, whether by addressing pay gaps, creating more opportunities at entry level, or levelling the playing field for more senior employees. The outcome is not just a more inclusive culture, but a wider base of skilled talent to draw on for success.
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