Last year, in the heat of the protests that followed the unlawful killing of George Floyd, it seemed like the world had finally woken up to the parlous state of affairs on racial equity. Businesses released supportive statements, black squares flooded Instagram and, for a moment, it felt like there may have been a paradigm shift in how we approach and tackle systemic racism in society.
So why are we yet to see widespread, tangible investments from senior business leaders to address racial inequality in the workplace? And what can business leaders do to adopt new thinking and deliver long-lasting change?
First, organisations should not shrink away from conversations about race. Starting a conversation about race is potentially going to make you and some of your employees feel uncomfortable. From my experience, a lot of business leaders worry about this and may be unsure about how and where to start talking about racism with their employees. This fear often causes inaction but, rather than shying away from the issue altogether, employers should acknowledge from the beginning that it will be uncomfortable for some people, and get the discussion going. In these conversations, it is important for senior management to listen and validate the experiences and feelings of people regardless of their race or background.
Second, be intentional about how you educate yourself. Advising senior leaders to simply do research can feel overwhelming and many may not know where to start. In the first instance, choose what medium works for you and go from there. There is a wide array of content across all mediums such as TV, YouTube, podcasts, media articles and social media. Being informed from a broader range of perspectives will put you in a better position to understand where everyone is coming from and will help you make positive changes to your company. Also consider an accountability buddy – someone who you can rely on to engage in informal conversations with and exchange relevant content.
Third, treat diversity and inclusion initiatives as business critical. Diversity and inclusion should be treated like any other competency and should not become office housekeeping. Such initiatives should also involve senior stakeholders – whatever their ethnicity – who can allocate budgets and set quantifiable targets for teams.
Furthermore, business leaders should embrace the journey and offer a communal approach. Addressing racial equity isn’t a top-down, or down-up, approach, but one where stakeholders can meet in the middle to effect long-lasting change. Putting mechanisms in place where people can give real-time honest feedback can offer valuable insight to companies trying to understand their own workplace culture.
As the events of this year have shown, consumers and employees alike are paying closer attention to how organisations combat racial inequality. Therefore, company leaders must be proactive allies in the workplace, and take active steps to keep the Black Lives Matter movement alive, even when the spotlight isn’t on.
At Wondrous, when we work with organisations, the emphasis is on instilling leaders and their employees with confidence and helping them to put the right systems in place to create positive and sustainable change. The key challenge for businesses is to creature inclusive cultures that are not only non-racist, but anti-racist. Only then can everyone flourish at work.
Remi Baker is managing director of Wondrous