The search for the CEO of Unity: An Interview with Shruti Bhargava
Blogs 18th September 2020 7 minutes read
It has almost been four months now since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Three other police officers stood by doing nothing to help whilst Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck in a supposed ‘police chokehold’ for a torturous eight minutes and 46 seconds. Caught on a video that spread like wildfire across the internet, this has sparked public outrage, reigniting #BlackLivesMatter protests across the US and the rest of the world. Protests continued last weekend as the four officers charged with Floyd’s death went on trial. The George Floyd case does not solely represent an event in time, it is also yet another example of a long and complex history of systemic racism, injustice and trauma served to the black community.
As a white woman, I have struggled to articulate the anger and frustration I feel from witnessing Chauvin’s murderous crime. Although an experienced Diversity and Inclusion specialist, I realise that I will never truly understand the lived experiences of the black community. I have lived in the ignorant bliss afforded by white privilege. Like a goldfish floating in a fishbowl made up of social constructs set up to protect white entitlement, I can now see its parameters more clearly through the glass that separates my tranquil and protected existence from those who do not have access to such privilege.
It is quite clear that racial inequality still very much exists, despite the implementation of legislation like the Race Relations Act (1968) and the Equality Act (2010) to outlaw such racial discrimination. Black and ethnic minority communities remain massively under-represented, particularly in positions of authority, wealth and power. The data and sources below speak for themselves:
As supported by the data, and as much as we often don’t like to admit it due to our inherent sense of ‘White Fragility’, a term coined by Dr Robin DiAngelo, the marginalisation of black people remains hugely prevalent in the UK; this is certainly not merely a North American issue. Black people frequently report incidences of micro-aggression brought about through biases that the perpetrator may not even be aware of. It is these incidences of bias and discrimination, whether overt or covert, no matter how microscopic, that have led to the prevailing systemic racism we see today.
As white people, we do not, and cannot, truly understand the challenges that black people face in society. But it is our apparent unwillingness, most likely driven by fear, ignorance and/or embarrassment to recognise and educate ourselves on our own biases, privilege and accountability that not only slows down the diversity and inclusion agenda, but it also serves to stall it. As responsible individuals, we need to act now by consciously and consistently including black communities and taking accountability for our own learning and understanding. It is simply not enough to post a black square on social media with an accompanying hashtag. Whilst an incredible representation of unity and a brilliant attempt to create waves towards change, we must, and need, to do more.
Becoming part of the change
Although far from exhaustive, I outline a few suggestions for you to explore and apply below, focusing on what we can do both inside and outside of the workplace to drive race equality.
Driving black inclusion in the workplace
Change starts at the top
In my role in Green Park’s Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics (DICE) Practice, I have observed that gender equality is perceived to be far more of a business priority than racial parity. This observation is also supported by research, such as Green Park’s Leadership 10,000, which shows progress in improving female representation in leadership roles (albeit, mostly in non-executive positions), while finding little or no progress in improving ethnic minority representation.
We must stress the importance of racial parity through clear, consistent and transparent business goals driven from the top. For example, Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, recently published an open letter recognising the need to address the systemic racism which exists within society through taking personal and organisational accountability and outlining sustained action. Unlike Microsoft, we may not all be able to donate $1.5 million to charitable organisations affecting change, however, I hope this example of organisational best practice helps pave the way for other leaders and organisations to act beyond the black square, unite for change and take visible action.
Monitor, report, and reward
The inequality between gender and ethnicity is also highlighted by the fact that ethnicity pay gap (EPG) reporting is not enforced in the UK in comparison to current legislation that states that gender pay gap (GPG) reporting is mandatory for employers with 250 or more employees. Organisations must therefore do their bit to ensure they minimise the EPG we saw in the data outlined earlier in this article. Why not start now and click here to sign a petition to make EPG reporting mandatory.
From an HR/Recruitment perspective, it is important to measure black representation through key hiring and interview slate metrics, and track where in the business, and across all levels, black people are employed. This is especially key when it comes to identifying black senior role models. Having clearer data will help businesses with their succession planning and their recruitment strategies more generally.
While reporting and measuring on its own cannot drive change, it does put the onus on organisations’ leaders to explain to their company stakeholders their progress, or lack of, at achieving equity where disproportionality exists. By tying outcomes to compensation for company leaders, organisations can encourage accountability.
Listen to and empower Race Networks
Black voices within the workplace must be actively heard. Beyond employee engagement surveys, this can be achieved through actively partnering with your employee/business resource groups (E/BRGs). If you do not have a multicultural network, or any other networks for that matter, I would advise you establish them with the support of a D&I specialist, if necessary. E/BRGs are too often left to their own devices. These networks should become integrated business partners to help your organisation drive strategy from the top to fully meet your D&I goals. Only then can impactful and meaningful initiatives, policies, processes and legislation be fully implemented.
To that end, Green Park have partnered with a consortium of D&I Championing organisations to found a not for profit company which seeks to improve racial equality in the workplace. The community interest company aims to improve workplace equality across the public, private and charity sectors through a collaboration of companies, race networks, field experts, individuals and allies who will create solutions and work with member organisations to implement the change.
In addition to launching a UK-wide Race Equality Week, Race Equality Matters will form the Race Equality Network to provide free services, insight, opportunities to collaborate and training materials to 1000 Ethnic Minority Network Chairs. Anyone can get involved with the initiative and you can register your interest at: raceequalitymatters.com.
Driving black inclusion beyond the workplace
Posting a black square on your social media page and sharing posts with BlackLivesMatter and BlackoutTuesday hashtags certainly contributes to the conversation, but making a lasting impact takes sustained and continual work. Each one of us needs to take individual accountability for driving black inclusion long-term, and that starts with educating yourself and supporting charities at the bare minimum.
When it comes to our learning, it is important to take an intersectional approach. As individuals, we make up a plurality of identities. For example, recent PRIDE celebrations were said to have been overshadowed due to the drive and determination to continue the focus on black inclusion. But the challenges experienced by the LGBT+ and black communities (and black women for that matter) are not mutually exclusive. There are many resources that are worth highlighting here. I suggest 5 recommendations below to get you started. For a more exhaustive list of educational resources to support black voices, please click here:
There are also several charities you can donate to and/or volunteer for to show your support and solidarity beyond the black square. I suggest 5 recommendations below:
Ultimately, the reality faced by the black population is a concerning one. No matter how much progress we think we have made, we certainly have a long way to go. But the good news is that there are several steps that we as responsible individuals and organisations can take to educate ourselves on this issue and sustainably improve black lives.