How can we move from awareness to embedding on race?
By Jo Faragher on 10 November 2023
Movement in race equality in the workplace is happening at a frustratingly slow pace. According to a study by Business in the Community, Black employees hold just 1.5% of top management roles in the UK private sector, and just 1% in the public sector. These figures have barely moved since 2014, despite seismic events such as the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic highlighting the challenges ethnic minorities face in society.
Gamiel Yafai, founder of Diversity Marketplace, says many organisations have been so busy building up awareness on race equality, whether through one-off initiatives, a calendar of events or social media pronouncements, that they have ignored the importance of embedding this in their business. “Embedding is the key to unlocking progress in this area, but organisations don’t always understand what that is,” he says. “When we ask clients to list good practice in workshops, 95% of what they do is awareness-raising.” Policies may be adapted, for example, without consulting with employee resource groups first or conducting an equality impact assessment.
Equipping at all levels
“Embedding is doing something like offering reasonable adjustments to everyone, not just disabled people. It’s running a case study of how a policy truly impacted someone from an under-represented group, rather than just rewriting a policy that hardly anyone reads,” he explains. Yafai advocates starting with an audit of where the organisation is on race, as “without that data you’re working blind”.
Another impactful exercise is getting heads of functions on board, asking them to write their own strategies and how they will achieve them. “This helps to embed diversity because they become accountable, rather than the head of D&I. The people responsible for delivering these goals are their teams, and so this embeds every element,” he says. On top of that, organisations need to maximise their employee resource groups and networks (ERGs), as their experiences will feed into whether policies and changes make an impact. ERGs can also help to bring internal stakeholders such as sponsors on board, and provide links to external stakeholders.
The key is to ensure everyone has the tools they need to move forward, he adds: “They have a job to do, it’s not just about building awareness. Sign off on tasks and ensure sponsors are accountable, because this gets things done.” Setting up cross-functional ‘task and finish’ groups for key diversity touch points such as recruitment is another way to embed change. He shares more examples below.
Beyond Black History Month
When it comes to raising awareness, many corporations jump on Black History Month to highlight what they’re doing to improve race equality and to celebrate their Black employees. While this is to be applauded, how much does it actually achieve for race equity at work?
Ironically this year, Black History Month’s theme is “celebrating our sisters”, when in fact a report from the London School of Economics found that Black women are least likely to be among the UK’s top earners compared to any other racial or gender group. Judith Germain, leadership expert and principal consultant at the Maverick Paradox, says spotlighting great work “ensures Black employees feel visible, which can improve trust and performance, but it is imperative these celebrations are not confined to one weekly session or a monthly round-up”. Organisations should be sharing successes whenever they occur, ensuring that current and future Black employees see people like them thriving in the organisation, she says.
“An important step in embedding Black inclusion is acknowledging the fact that not everyone starts from the same footing. Cookie-cutter development programs are not sufficient for true inclusion,” she adds. “Dedicated and personalised development opportunities are integral to helping aspiring leaders reach their career potential, and it will look different for everyone.” She agrees on the key role of ERGs, who should be involved at all levels. “
Weaving inclusion through an organisation means avoiding a siloed mentality. By regularly inviting representatives to the senior leader meetings, inclusion can be regularly addressed at Board level from the perspective of the employee, says Germain. “ERGs also provide rich feedback opportunities for senior leaders, especially when these groups are accessible year-round as an avenue for employees to raise their concerns. Sometimes employees might feel their concerns are not ‘big enough’ to raise with HR, and this is when resource groups could become a peer-to-peer opportunity to raise these concerns,” she advises.
Role models and visibility
Marcus Whyte, founder of Zyna Search, says one of the barriers to inclusion is the lack of ethnic minority individuals in leadership roles, which can create “a cycle where the absence of diversity perpetuates itself”. This means awareness programmes have limited impact because of existing systemic issues, he believes: “Opportunities often arise through networks, which may exclude underrepresented groups. Without advocates at higher levels, Black employees might have fewer opportunities,” he says. “How many of those who lead [employee] networks have benefited from further internal opportunities that other more traditional networks yield?” Doing this, alongside creating and enforcing policies that specifically address racial bias in hiring and promotions, could accelerate progress.
Germain adds that holding managers accountable for avoiding the negative, as well as achieving the positive, will also be a factor in success in embedding greater race equity. “If managers create toxic environments, there should be swift action from HR and senior leaders to reiterate expectations and appropriate consequences for those neglecting their inclusion responsibilities,” she says.
In order to make real progress on race at work, it’s time to build, measure and manage action that permeates throughout an organisation – all-year round, holding every employee accountable, and celebrating success.
What’s the difference between awareness and embedding? Some examples from Gamiel Yafai, Diversity Marketplace
- Having a calendar of events and promoting it month by month
- Having a speaker come in and talk to you about a DE&I strand
- Having a mutual mentoring program where leaders are educated but they do nothing with that education
- Having a staff network or ERGs but not empowering them to act
- DE&I training without follow through
- Creating a Champions programme with any action plan or resources
- Knowing where you are on a DE&I maturity matrix
- Internal function heads creating a DE&I action plan for their department and being accountable for the delivery of that action plan
- Department heads monitor and manage progress and have realistic KPIs relevant to their function, as well as general KPIs for recruitment, retention and progression
- Equality Impact Assessments – Policies, practices and procedures need to be consulted on by the people that they impact
- Visibility of DE&I internally and externally
- Reasonable adjustments in place and having an impact on the working life of staff
- Capitalising on the capability of the ERG committees – creating ‘task and finish’ groups for recruitment, retention & development and progression
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.