How leaders can tackle microaggressions in the workplace starting with #MyNameIs
Blogs 1st April 2021 5 minutes read
Working to continue tackling racial inequalities and remaining focused on increasing racial dialogue within the workplace
As Head of the Diversity, Inclusion, Culture and Ethics (DICE) Practice and a Partner at Green Park, like many of us I have waited for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report to be published. Having spoken to many people in my network, it goes without saying that there is both anger and disappointment at some of its conclusions, and its use of language. Senior leaders at Green Park were interviewed for this report, but we feel that our testimonies were lost, particularly concerning the institutionally racist systems in the UK’s largest organisations, which continue to thrive unchecked in a culture linked to personal risk rather than future organisational rewards. Whilst I have now had a chance to read the report comprehensively and gain some more context, I cannot help but feel personally disappointed and saddened for the many people within my family, friendship and professional circles.
Whilst the report did not deny that racism exists in Britain, it concludes that “claims of institutional racism are not borne out” and that there was no evidence “of actual institutional racism”.
It also suggests that the UK should be seen as an international exemplar of racial equality and has played down the impact of structural factors in ethnic disparities.
I personally struggle to accept that the UK should be cited as the model of racial equality. Whilst some organisations have indeed started to focus their efforts on addressing racial inequalities, we also know through our work how much is still to be done. The report goes on to propose that a framework should be put in place that distinguishes between different forms of racial disparity, detailing what is an “Explained” or “Unexplained” disparity. Of the organisations that the DICE team support, many are unaware of the true reasons behind such difference in outcomes; they lack the data and insight to understand the root causes and, I would suggest, that they would also struggle to assess what would constitute explained or unexplained.
The framework also provides proposed definitions for institutional racism, systemic racism, and structural racism. Whilst these definitions may be helpful, I cannot help but feel that this is somewhat missing the point. The crucial point is surely that disparities and differences in outcomes exist - in work, in society, and across many many systems and services.
Whilst the report details some areas in which more positive trends exist, such as within the educational system, it fails to explore in detail the disproportionate rates of school exclusion, or the ongoing attainment gap in higher education. It also provides examples of analysis which many of us will find extremely disturbing. The report states that it is 4 times more likely for a Black woman to die whilst giving birth than a white woman, yet provides no real insight as to why this is the case, but simply recommends that more research is required.
By not recognising the racial inequalities that still exist in our workplaces, healthcare and educational systems, and in wider society, we will be doing a disservice to the many ethnocultural colleagues, employees, and clients that we try so very hard to support.
When we layer in some of the more known statistics and events - such as the fact that Black people in England and Wales are 9 times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers, the killing of George Floyd, the Grenfell tragedy, the Windrush scandal, and the disproportionate death rate during Covid 19, I can only imagine how let down some ethnic minority communities must feel at this time. Whilst the opening recommendations of the report focus heavily on the need to build trust within our UK communities, I feel that some of the contents of this report will only serve to damage this very goal.
Through our culture and inclusion audit work we work with private, public and third sector organisations, including government departments, to analyse data, insight and processes, and conduct qualitative and confidential interviews with Black and Asian colleagues. We see first-hand the disproportionate experiences that they face, whether this be in terms of their overall employee experience, within talent management processes, or the levels to which they are faced with microaggressive and racist behaviours. Many of those we interview articulate a lack of a sense of belonging in the workplace and describe how they have had to “dial down” aspects of their race, cultural identity, heritage, or religion, in order to assimilate into the dominant culture. These experiences are not just the perceptions of a few, but they are substantiated by a clear evidence base and data that supports that disproportionate outcomes exist in our workplaces and in our society. These outcomes go on to affect the promotion and progression of some groups. In our Green Park Business Leaders Index, the senior leader representation is both stark and clear, with many industries showing a distinct lack of ethnocultural representation at the most senior leadership levels across UK businesses, and an obvious lack of visibly diverse senior role models.
However, there are a number of recommendations which I do support. For instance, the request for more transparency around ethnicity pay gap reporting, the recommendation to publish a diagnosis and action plan to lay out the strategy for mitigating any disparities, and the need to disaggregate the acronym ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) to better focus on understanding disparities and outcomes for individual ethnic groups. This latter recommendation is an issue that we have been championing for many years now, as we know that this categorisation not only fails to acknowledge and appreciate the individual challenges that each of the B, the A, and the ME group may face, but also shields the true representation of each group within the workplace. The BAME acronym also disguises huge differences in outcomes between ethnic groups.
Within our learning and development programmes, we made a conscious effort many years ago to move away from delivering sessions on unconscious bias and instead focus on the need for inclusive leadership, cultural intelligence (CQ), and racial fluency. Delivering leadership sessions daily, I see first-hand the positive impact that this can have in building broader leadership accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This has enabled leaders to build improvement plans and apply a DEI lens to the decisions they make. Such realisations amongst the dominant culture of their own personal and organisational biases and the impact they can have in the workplace have enabled ongoing dialogue around race and impactful interventions to be put in place.
So…. Despite some of the report’s conclusions, we must continue to tackle the issue of racial inequalities and remain focused on increasing racial dialogue within the workplace.
What is reassuring is that many of the organisations that we are working with are now taking this issue very seriously and are acknowledging where they are on this journey. They are authentically working to affect change and address racial inequalities. I can only hope that the organisations and their leaders that see only snippets of this report do not just read the headline, but that they delve into the full findings and recommendations and start to educate themselves on the challenge that still lies ahead. I am confident that many of the business leaders that our DICE team supports will stay focused on the plans they have put in place and will measure their progress against the backdrop of their own organisation, by looking closely at employee experiences, promotion rates, attrition rates, local demographics, and acting on the listening feedback that they receive.
As a citizen of the UK and as a professional working at Global level, I do not dispute that compared to other countries we may be further ahead, but we are by no means an exemplar. By not recognising the racial inequalities that still exist in our workplaces, healthcare and educational systems, and in wider society, we will be doing a disservice to the many ethnocultural colleagues, employees, and clients that we try so very hard to support.