When it comes to racial equality at work, it is important businesses know the difference between equality and equity, David Lammy told delegates at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition.
Kicking off the second day of the conference, the Labour MP for Tottenham and shadow justice secretary spoke about understanding the systemic racism that can exist in society and in the criminal justice system, as well as how that feeds into workplaces.
He said: “In a post-George-Floyd/Black Lives Matter [society], there is more acceleration on the issue of racial injustice.
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“My ancestors, as black Caribbean people, are descendants of enslaved people. But why does that matter? It matters because it is important to understand where people find themselves today, [...] it is important to know where they’re sitting socioeconomically.”
This, Lammy highlighted, is the “business of equity” and it is crucial in understanding “where people are starting from” when it comes to diversity in the workplace.
For example, he explained that people often confuse white privilege with being rich and wealthy, when it is actually about “the absence of having to live with the consequences of racism”.
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The report, which analysed 1,000 large firms, found that of the top quartile of companies, those with the highest profits were the most diverse.
Lammy believes that this is because the “journey travelled [by each individual] matters”. By this he means that diversity in terms of background and culture makes a difference for businesses. It is also why women in leadership positions also matter, he said.
When it comes to creating a more diverse workforce, Lammy told delegates at the conference that while getting senior leaders involved was great, it is actually middle management that matters most because they are the ones that will be actioning the policies. “They are the ones who really construct it,” Lammy said.
Because of this, how managers’ appraisals are conducted, how they are recruiting and how they have been challenged will be a key part of diversifying the workforce.
Concluding his keynote, Lammy quickly addressed the impact he believes Brexit will have on racial equality, saying that the notion of “geopolitics will only intensify over the next decade” as the UK considers trade deals with countries outside the EU.