Five key race at work challenges organisations must urgently address

In the third of the CIPD’s webinar series, Frank Douglas and Peter Cheese discussed organisational blindspots, use of data, and time to hire as a barrier to progression

Marking the third and final event in the CIPD’s webinar series on racism, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese joined Frank Douglas, chief executive of Caerus Executive, to discuss next steps for tackling racism in the workplace. 

Cheese said he felt it was important that he was part of the webinar to address questions directly aimed at the CIPD around “what we are doing in terms of our role in helping the profession address these issues”. “For me personally this has been a big wake-up call,” he said. “I have spent a lot of my life talking about the issues of D&I and believing in them very passionately… Yet the sad fact is we have not made enough progress. More than that, we haven't addressed the central issues and understanding of what racism is”. 

Douglas spoke on the importance of recognising where the profession had not made enough progress to date. He offered five key challenges HR and leaders must urgently address:

Organisational blindspots

Douglas said a key role for an HRD was to help the company understand its strategic blindspots. “We recognise that we are in a diverse world with different markets, challenges, perspectives, buying behaviours and expectations of a brand,” he said, adding that nonetheless black and ethnic minority communities did not have representation at senior levels, nor in decision making rooms of organisations. 

“The question is why do we allow the organisation to have that blindspot?” he asked. “As HR directors that's what strategy is about – identifying blindspots and covering them to move forward. I'm puzzled as to why we have allowed a blindspot to exist when strategically it holds us back.” 

Ignoring the data

Douglas said that while many HR professionals and senior leaders had seen a “host of reports” – including from McKinsey and the CIPD – showing diverse teams were more competitive and innovative, many had not acted on the data. “McKinsey said if you excel in gender and ethnic diversity you have a 35 per cent chance of out performing our competitors,” explained Douglas.

“My question is why don't HR and CEOs believe the data? The data is there. If you walked into a CEO’s office and said you have a proposition that will help the business outperform its competitors, your boss would promote you and give you a bigger office. Why in this case can you not present this proposition to your CEO?

“Why do we not action this data, and why do we not believe that data? Every organisation needs to ask itself why, with this wealth of data on race being a value-creation lever, have we not pulled that lever after all these years,” asked Douglas. 

Conflating different areas of D&I

Douglas referred back to the first webinar, which featured Sereena Abbassi, independent equity, inclusion and diversity consultant, facilitator and speaker, who opened the discussion with a series of questions and prompted delegates to tap their legs if they had experienced what she described. She asked if viewers had ever felt endangered due to their skin colour or nationality; if they had ever had a visa declined based on heritage; if they had ever needed to put on an accent or change their hair to be accepted; and if they had ever had to appear more friendly so as to not intimidate others. 

“Those are not questions that a white person would typically say ‘yes’ to,” said Douglas. “From a black point of view, we still find the black population has higher levels of unemployment. Black men are likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, denied bail, imprisoned, and die from Covid.”

As such, tackling racism and racial inequality was very different to addressing sexism and inequality based on gender, he said, with very different approaches needed: “The black experience is different. You cannot find any optimism in how you’ve progressed the gender agenda with the black, asian and ethnic minority agenda. It is not the same, they do not have the same solutions, so don’t try.” 

The gender agenda moving much faster than race

Douglas said there were lots of reasons for this: the first being a lack of diverse professional networks. “Every white male knows a white female, and so white women are part of the C-suite’s professional and personal orbits,” explained Douglas. “Very few C-suite executives have a black or Asian minority person in their professional orbit and there is even less chance of them being in their personal orbit. So there is a certain level of comfort there [with gender as supposed to race], as this is part of their natural, organic lifestyle.” 

Douglas said the second reason was to do with underlying assumptions made by the organisation. “Every HRD, chief executive and head of talent has said to itself at some point ‘we see a woman leading our company’ and backed all the initiatives they can in order to create that future scenario,” he said. 

“How many group HRD, heads of talent and chief executives have said ‘I envision a black person being the CEO of this company?’ There is the gap. We have not envisioned it, we don’t believe the data and we don’t action the data. The dial has not moved.”

Time to hire being a barrier to progression

“My one piece of tactical advice for HR is that sometimes the unattended policy or practices of HR could be barriers to better D&I,” said Douglas, adding that one of the key metrics of recruitment was time to hire. 

“It is a barrier to diversity, because if you are giving a recruitment team a 30-day metric to go from sourcing to hire, they will go for their traditional network and low-hanging fruit,” said Douglas. “Hiring from a non-traditional network may take 60 to 90 days and there is no reward in that for the recruiter. I challenge you to go back and understand whether time to hire metrics are right for the world we are trying to live in.” 

What is the CIPD doing to tackle these challenges? 

Cheese used the webinar to address questions raised by CIPD members on how it would tackle racial inequality in the workplace and within the HR profession. “What we need to understand and be aware of as white people is the ideas of white privilege and institutionalised racism,” said Cheese. 

“For me personally and the CIPD, this has been a massive wake-up call and what we need to do is move to action. I know it's not the first time that has been said, but this time there is no getting away from what we have to do to move the dial.”

Cheese said the CIPD would be releasing guidance for HR professionals on how to open up the conversation on racism at work, and would be pushing for ethnicity pay gap reporting. He said the CIPD’s Profession Map could be updated to include qualification structures for D&I professionals, which would cover how to weave D&I into every part of an organisation's learning and thinking “and layering a deeper specialism for D&I which takes more than passion”. 

He closed with: “I welcome this debate and challenge, and we should have acknowledged this before. This will not be the end of it. We will do more webinars because we really need to engage as a community and be honest as to where we are with our processes of diversity and inclusion and what we have got to do now to make a difference.” 

The full webinar series is available to watch on demand on the CIPD website, along with an FAQ on tackling racism in the workplace