I'll tell you something: HR must continue to build momentum around racial equality

One year since the killing of George Floyd, people practitioners should ensure their inclusion and diversity strategies are active rather than being treated as a tick-box exercise, says Claudine Charles

I'll tell you something: HR must continue to build momentum around racial equality

It’s been a year since we were all shocked by the appalling killing of George Floyd, and although the incident forced many to have challenging conversations at work and at home, there is still much work to do to bring about change.

This isn’t the first time the world has been shocked by the sudden death of a black person in police custody: many remember the killings of Christopher Alder and Sandra Bland, and the beating of Rodney King. In the UK, there have been 1,741 black deaths in police custody since 1990, with 164 in the past 10 years. 

But why should we care? How do these incidents impact ordinary, law-abiding citizens, especially us in HR? We live in a society that’s rightfully horrified by these incidents but often overlooks or disregards racist incidents that impact the emotional and mental health of others in the workplace. I’m referring to the subtle microaggressions, passive aggressions, discrimination, prejudice and gaslighting – to name a few – that black and brown people experience at work. Negative behaviours that, during the course of their career, they unfortunately become accustomed to. However, with many of us working remotely online, we are more connected as a human race and organisations can hire and build partnerships with others across the globe. 

Embracing inclusion and diversity, in this pandemic and beyond, is one of the keys to organisational success. Diversity within businesses creates a competitive advantage and increases the likelihood of achieving your organisational strategy, as you’ll be more likely to have a range of diverse and competent individuals at the table who add value to what you do. More importantly, it builds a richer organisational experience for your people. 

Those who have worked within a truly diverse and inclusive organisation will understand what I mean, but others will read on cynically. Therefore, HR and business leaders play a pivotal role in keeping the conversations about race on the table. People practitioners should be open to having those bold conversations and being instigators of change.

Organisations are better places to work, attract the best employees and truly build a community when they are more diverse, where employees are held accountable for their negative behaviours and where discrimination is dealt with swiftly. Similarly, organisations that are inclusive to all, that are mindful of their employees’ mental wellbeing, that align every employee to their business strategy, and that ensure career development opportunities are accessible to all create better working environments. 

HR should be at the helm of that change and should share a similar transformational vision with their leadership, if they are not there yet. But, more importantly, HR needs to ensure its EDI strategies are developed in consultation and are active, rather than just acting as a tick box.

Many black and brown people do not expect change, and I’m one of them. We are hopeful and we share these messages to inspire those around us to change, because that’s all we can do.

We are capable of so much as HR professionals. Let’s be the catalyst of positive change around race in the workplace. Let’s keep the fire burning and those bold conversations on the table. We all know that just because it’s not discussed in the press doesn’t mean it no longer exists or it’s been dealt with. It constantly rumbles under the surface and then pops up when we least expect it, so we always have to be strategic and proactive.  

Claudine Charles is founder and director of Blended Learning Studio