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Is Black Lives Matter a meaningful statement for your company?

15 Jun 2020 By Norman Pickavance

If we want to achieve lasting change on racism in our society, businesses must get seriously involved, says Norman Pickavance

I recently found myself listening to Marvin Gaye's beautifully powerful Abraham, Martin and John, written shortly after the death of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. Yet here we are more than 50 years later, still counting the loss of black lives, asking for justice and demanding that #blacklivesmatter.

It is positive that leaders from many large corporations have spoken out. But how do we really make this moment matter? How do we ensure that we are not marching for change in another 50 years? Where will we find the courage to take the kind of actions worthy of the issues at hand? And how will we implement them in such a way that we deliver the impact so urgently needed?

There is so much at stake. So where do we start? Here are 10 questions to ask yourself to check whether #blacklivesmatter is a meaningful statement in your organisation:

  1. How many black people are represented in senior leadership at your organisation? For example, at Facebook, there is just one black person on the board – and that is its chief diversity officer, Maxine Williams (an awesomely qualified person I might add). So an awful long way to go.
  2. Would black employees say they are treated and paid equitably? Have you asked them?
  3. Would reporting on the numbers of black people in your organisation at each level make you uncomfortable? Before you start counting, let me make a prediction. The number of leaders is going to be about 1 per cent – this is the number you see time and time again across every industry and sector. Only 1 per cent of Britain's 1,000 most powerful leaders are black. Of police officers in the UK, only 1 per cent are black. Of court judges across the UK, only 1 per cent are black. Of the 100,000 people in the investment fund management industry, only 1 per cent are black. 
  4. Would your black employees find your recent 'messaging' on diversity consistent with their experience in your organisation? Have you asked them?
  5. Is diversity and inclusion isolated to singular events – for example, Black History Month or when there are massive global protests – or is it part of a sustained effort and the ongoing fabric of the culture and values of your organisation? Do you know how you would actually change your culture so that black colleagues don't have to work doubly hard just to fit in?
  6. Is your organisation actively investing in the black communities in which they are based and operate?
  7. Does your organisation invest in cultivating black businesses as suppliers and service providers?
  8. Have you personally mentored a black associate? If so, what do you personally value about their perspectives, and how are you influencing your colleagues to change?
  9. How many black male graduates did you hire last year? (I ask this because in 2018 there was 28 per cent unemployment among black male graduates in London. That's against an unemployment rate of less than 3 per cent.)
  10. What mechanisms and resources are devoted to developing and promoting black employees?

If your organisation struggles to answer some of these questions positively, then you are depressingly in the majority. For the past year, I have been working with co-creators and collaborators from the black and afro Caribbean community – from business, the professions and the Church. We have held personal discussions and roundtables, and we know the reality on the ground does not match the rhetoric on diversity emanating from the boardroom. 

Of equal concern, we have also found that the programmes being implemented by many diversity teams just aren’t cutting it. No one is to blame; the institutional bias against enabling change to happen in this arena is massive. Yet we are all still accountable. So, let’s face into that reality. We have to change both the narrative and the way we are going about things, or we must sadly accept we will keep getting the same results (and that is simply unacceptable).

I have boiled my concerns down to a single question for a CEO: what will it take to ensure that this generation of emerging black leaders makes it to the top? I ask this question, not because I am blind to the levels of injustice that occur everyday, or indeed the economic and social hardships that black people experience, but because, despite all of this, I continue to meet an abundance of amazing black talent. This cadre of emerging black leadership deserves better. We are failing them. 

If we want to achieve lasting change, we need to see more black leaders in positions of power, not only as celebrities and sports people in our new feeds, but as leaders in boardrooms and in the City. This is only going to happen if we start acting collectively and collaboratively. It will be a long hard road if we continue walking it alone. So let’s figure out how major business, social impact organisations and black leadership groups can work together in an alliance for change. We need to build this movement together. A movement that not only has energy, but also practical ideas. Not only passion but also the funds. Not only a voice but the connections and influence that can make real change happen faster. 

Because black people are tired, and business needs to get seriously involved if, in the words of Marvin Gaye, “change is gonna come”. 

Norman Pickavance is a former HR director, author of The Reconnected Leader and co-founder of the Financial Inclusion Alliance

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