The moral argument for equal opportunity is beyond question. Why, then, are businesses grossly failing to reach a consensus on how to shift the dial in a meaningful way for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in the workplace?
2020 was nothing short of a stark reminder that racial and ethnic inequalities are still at large in our societies and public institutions. The tragic coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately taken the lives of many ethnic minority individuals and the murder of George Floyd in the US sparked the revival of the #BlackLivesMatter movement around the world.
Unquestionably, the battle we see ‘out there’, is mirrored ‘in here’ in our organisations too. It is distinctly apparent in the form of slower promotion and progression rates, lower inclusion and belonging scores and, indeed, the underrepresentation of ethnic minority professionals in middle management and senior leadership.
Lloyds Banking Group ended 2020 by releasing a race action plan, which included data revealing its black staff are paid nearly 20 per cent less than their colleagues. Despite the inexcusable delay, there is hope in that it became the first major UK bank to disclose its black pay gap and called for the government to step up by introducing mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting.
An agenda edged out
There is growing evidence that gender and LGBT+ initiatives, such as increasing female representation, are undertaken at the expense of a focus on the representation of ethnic minorities. Stakeholders in business claim to find gender and sexual orientation agendas easier to manage than the BAME agenda, which is perceived to be more complex. There are many issues with this notion, not least that social agendas are being cast as competitors, potentially by departments looking to present results to leadership that please, rather than expose.
What we have seen over the years with race is an articulation of good intentions: businesses pledging support, followed by government-backed targets, only to end up with statistics that barely move the needle (or, worse still, slide back).
Race in the workplace in 2021
Recognition must be given to the voices kickstarting the year by pushing for change. For instance, campaigner Dianne Greyson, founder of the ethnicity pay gap campaign, has penned an open letter to senior officials and politicians in a bid to fight the pay gap that ethnic minorities face in their working lives. It goes without saying though that one voice is not enough to trigger sustainable change.
As we venture into the new year here are my seven predictions on race in the workplace in 2021. The hope – business makes this the year it takes serious action to eliminate the ethnicity pay gap:
- Shareholder scrutiny and activism with regards to race equity will increase.
- Regulators and systemically important public institutions will set clear expectations on boards and C-suite.
- Companies that fail to deliver on commitments made in May 2020 will face reputational damage.
- The UK government will push for ethnicity pay gap reporting measures.
- The Biden-Harris administration will lead from the front and drive global conversations about intersectionality and people of colour.
- Appointments of visible minorities at board and C-suite in FTSE 100 will increase.
- The life science, health sciences and biotech sectors will focus on the ethnic minority agenda in a more systematic way.
Let’s be honest, corporate diversity programmes have historically failed. To respond effectively, organisations must be prepared to use 2021 to hold up the mirror and tackle the systemic and cultural barriers that still obscure the everyday experiences, and impede the progression, of ethnic minority talent.
Sophie Chandauka is co-founder of the Black British Business Awards