Whatever your political stance, the whole world can agree that recent actions in the US have caused us to stand still in our tracks. The murder of George Floyd has sparked outrage across the globe and is dominating both the news and social media feeds. You may be wondering what this has to do with business, but taking care of our people, particularly in times of distress is one of the biggest obligations employers have. It’s time to show solidarity, support, and even if you don’t fully understand, a willingness to spread awareness and educate both yourself and employees in issues of race.
In an Instagram poll conducted by networking group Black & HR, 77% of respondents said their workplace had not addressed what had been happening in the black community. While business leaders may feel awkward about speaking up for fear of saying the wrong thing, this is an emotional time for employees, and they need support and reassurance.
As Desmond Tutu, one of South Africa’s most well-known human rights activists, said so well, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As an employer and leader, it’s critical that you lead by example and provide a safe space for your employees which celebrates inclusivity and diversity. Make it clear that you do not stand for discrimination and racism in a time where it matters most, or you may risk tarnishing your reputation and chance for a diverse workforce in the future.
The Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most significant civil rights movements of a generation. Its impact will no doubt last a lifetime. No matter what size your business or what industry you work in, it’s time to make it clear internally and externally that you do not stand for racial injustice. Supporting the movement can reinforce employee confidence in their employer, promote equality at work and help you to attract diverse, skilled talent in the future.
So how can you support the Black Lives Matter movement within your workplace?
Provide emotional support for BAME employees
Your BAME employees will be feeling incredibly emotional, scared and angry right now; their mental wellbeing will be taking a hit with such horrendous news. While you should already be supporting the mental health of all employees, realise that some may need extra help. Allow them to take time off if they feel they need it to heal, but don’t insist as they may prefer to be in work.
As employers, it’s vital to recognise that people are understandably hurting and show your support. Ensure that your company has an open culture and they feel comfortable talking to at least one individual about how they’re feeling. Empathy and support from a workplace can significantly improve your mental health, and in situations such as this knowing your team are on-side, and care can mean the world.
Time off for demonstrations
Protests against Police Brutality are still occurring across the globe. If employees wish to go out and protest, employers must let them use their voice by allowing them to take time off work. Most of the protests are arranged quickly, and as employment lawyer Mary Goldsborough states; “as some BLM events are organised at short notice, employers may wish to consider authorising leave requests on shorter notice to demonstrate understanding of the employee’s cause and, possibly, their own support for the BLM movement.”
There’s no issue with talking to your employees about protesting safely and sensibly as well keeping in line with social distancing regulations as COVID-19 remains a considerable concern. However, your employees must be entitled to freedom of speech and stand up for their rights. Refusing leave will not reflect well on you as an employer and may even imply you do not support the movement.
Stand Up to Racism UK is organising protests that can be done online or at home, including asking everyone to kneel at their doorsteps in a demonstration of solidarity with BAME communities. While this is hard to encourage remotely, why not invite employees to take a picture that you can share on social media? This shows your employees you support the cause and peaceful protesting.
Review your policies regarding racism
Review your approach to racism and discrimination at work. While it’s already illegal, it’s more imperative than ever that employees take such actions seriously. It’s important to admit if you have made mistakes or overlooked issues of injustice in the past; acknowledging where improvement is needed is the first step to significant change.
Make sure that your stance and policy towards workplace discrimination of all kinds is known throughout your organisation. Employees must know how to report offences and who to report to. You must also make sure you act upon any issues that arise. It’s time to lead by example, and the real way you can instigate change is by doing, so don’t say you’ll tackle workplace discrimination if you don’t mean it.
Promote learning on diversity
One thing that the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted to many people is that they have been ignorant or unknowledgeable when it comes to issues of race and discrimination. With many already pledging to read more books, watch films and series about racism, listen to podcasts and engage in open conversations, it’s clear that there is a huge appetite to grow our understanding in hopes to fight racism.
Businesses can help with this. HR teams may wish to share a list of materials to help individuals educate themselves more on issues of race both inside and outside of work.
You can find a great list of resources here.
Diversity and inclusion programmes have been around for a long time, but now your employees will have a better understanding of why they are so important, and it’s a way of making all voices heard. Provide company-wide training sessions about diversity and racism, ensuring that everyone is clear on your policies and what it means to be an ally of BLM.
Openly support charities
While we appreciate that now is a difficult time for many businesses financially, if you are in a position to make a financial gesture, your BAME employees may appreciate it. A public gesture of support not only makes your stance on racism clear to the wider community but shows that you care to improving life for many. There are so many great charities which can be donated to both from the US and the UK, covering a whole range of support for BAME communities.
You can find a great list of charities to support here.
If you aren’t in a position to donate, like many businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, you can still share charities on your social media feeds and with employees internally. This can help rally support for much-needed causes. Make your position clear without getting yourself into an uncomfortable financial situation after any COVID related budget cuts.
Encourage employees to sign petitions
Another way to show solidarity without impacting your business’ finances is to sign petitions. Sharing petitions internally will make your stance on racism clear and show you encourage positive change. There are various petitions going round in support of BLM, including Justice for George Floyd and changing the national curriculum to help educate children on issues of race. It will take less than 10 minutes to craft an email to send internally and less than a minute for employees to sign, but it’s a way of making an impact without cost and showing you care about actioning change.
You can find a list of petitions here.
Create a diverse workforce
It’s one thing to share a black square on social media, to offer a one-off diversity workshop or to ask employees to sign a petition; but in order to instigate change, your business must act. Ensure that you adjust your recruitment process to be more objective and reduce risk of unconscious bias and discrimination; investigate automations and blind screening as well as having diverse interview panels to ensure future hires are based on talent rather than any other factor.
This is the first step in ensuring your workplace is truly diverse and not just in the sense that you hire people of different races, genders, sexualities or even with disabilities. You must ensure that opportunities and development are available to anyone that wants to progress. A recent report claims BAME employees are more likely to say identity or background can influence the opportunities you’re given at work than white British employees. Address any previous obstacles that stood in the way of your BAME employees’ careers.
Opening opportunities to all will help you to create a diverse leadership team and play your part in the fight against systemic racism. Offer the opportunity to study for a qualification alongside work, mentoring schemes or even ensuring any online training opportunities are communicated throughout the business to all staff.
If you are changing your recruitment process or providing greater progression opportunities as a response to Black Lives Matter, tell your employees. They will not judge you for actions you didn’t take in the past but will take your response to the crisis positively.