Addressing Racial Injustice and Promoting Diversity in the Workplace

Recent events in America have brought the issues of racism and diversity to the forefront of our lives. No matter what your political stance or where you are in the world, these events have been hard to ignore and, for many, have been painful to watch. It’s more apparent than ever that racism is everyone’s problem. Leaders must activate meaningful change throughout their organisations to support all of their workers, not just through challenging times but always.

In times such as these, business leaders must offer both physical and psychological support to any employees experiencing racial injustice. While black employees may seem to be okay right now, they may feel the need to remain professional throughout the global pandemic – which largely affects BAME communities – as well as awful amounts of racial discrimination and injustice, so it’s likely they’re far from content.

All business leaders and those in senior positions (as well as all employees) need to acknowledge any issues and welcome learning about racism; it’s something that we should all be educated in, and there are many useful books and resources to help. It will help if you let affected employees be angry or upset, provide a safe place for them to speak and offer to engage with them to show you care. Asking how they’re feeling isn’t enough. There needs to be an open dialogue in workplaces to promote racial justice and equality. Making public statements and donating to worthy causes is one way to address this, but the real change begins on the inside.

Business leaders have the power and a platform to promote change and encourage equality within their workplace. Now more than ever, it should be a priority for all leaders to create a diverse and inclusive culture where discrimination (both conscious and unconscious) isn’t welcome. While it may seem like a small change in the grand scheme of things, it’s often the smaller steps that make a difference. If even the smallest of businesses take action, larger organisations will follow, and talent will come to expect equal opportunities for all. Diversity should become a priority (even more so than before), all employers will soon need to address, as society becomes more educated and joins the anti-racism movement. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace will become a crucial element of an employer brand if you wish to attract exceptional and wide-ranging talent after this tragedy.

Promoting Diversity in the Workforce

It’s reported that 79% of US HR workers believe their workplace is already diverse. However, the same survey found that only 17% of workers across America support increased recruiting of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. There is some apparent disconnect in these figures.

Part of the issue lies in the fact that employees assume one person represents the entire company. A diverse workforce means far more than hiring one BAME employee. Remember, diversity in the workplace is not only an issue of race and ethnicity but of gender, age, disability, sexuality, socio-economic status, education and religion. While BAME diversity is a long-awaited global talking point, other minority groups should also be included in your initiative.

The world is changing faster than any of us could have imagined. It’s no longer going to be acceptable to be diverse in some ways and not others. A company cannot hire people of different races and backgrounds if they don’t acknowledge gender or disability. Similarly, it’s great to have female leaders, but if they’re all from the same background, a business won’t see any of the advantages a diverse workforce can bring.

Having a diverse workforce offers differing perspectives, inspires creativity and helps businesses to understand a broader range of mindsets and communities. Having different experiences and views in one room will help any business regardless of industry to connect with new audiences and customers as they welcome a more diverse way of thinking. It can stop mistakes being made and improve a company’s overall productivity. However, having a diverse workforce is also proven to improve your hiring efforts as it simultaneously welcomes a more diverse talent pool. People like to work in a place they can envision themselves and feel included, seeing someone similar to them happy at work will help this become a reality. Diversity also creates a better company reputation from both internal and external perspectives as it shows you care about all individuals; this improves employee engagement which reflects positively on your employer brand.

You can help to create a more diverse workforce by reviewing your recruitment process. Introducing a blind review process means that a candidate’s details are removed during screening, and you’re basing hires on qualifications and experience. Modern technology can help to provide a more objective screening process. Still, algorithms must be monitored to ensure potential talent is not being missed and biases have not been set unintentionally. Leaders must be aware of unconscious bias in their hiring decisions. Ensuring a diverse interview panel is one way to avoid this, but we all must try to be mindful of our unconscious bias and where it comes from.

However, it’s not enough for businesses to ensure that these individuals are present and represented amongst their workforce; they must also be able to thrive. Any business can hire to meet diversity targets but having a company culture which encourages participation and equal opportunities for all is the only way to be a truly diverse business. Business leaders cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all mindset if they wish to be diverse; instead, they must recognise and celebrate difference, even down to the different ways of working. Take into consideration any disabilities and acknowledge any cultural needs when managing your workforce. It’s vital to establish a common purpose amongst employees within your EVP that they can all support and remain passionate about. Promote a company culture which works towards one goal while appreciating that everyone thrives in different ways and providing working options to suit all.

It’s also essential that businesses provide learning opportunities to all individuals that want to take advantage of them. Training courses and developing new skills improve employee engagement and provide opportunities which should not be limited to a select few. Training is an excellent way of ensuring your leaders of tomorrow are diverse as well as have the skills to drive your business forward.

Currently, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions and shockingly only 6% of the total top management positions in the UK are from BAME groups, and one of the reasons for this is a lack of opportunity. Businesses should insist on diversity in leadership teams as this will have a ripple effect on a business and influence the strategic vision. Lead by example and put a talented, diverse mix of people at the top. Although, this doesn’t mean offering unqualified people the role based on skin colour or gender. By providing training, mentoring and leadership opportunities to your existing workforce, you can help reduce the problem without hiring a new senior team if the right talent isn’t available. You can train individuals to become leaders in a way that suits your business, invest in employees to improve engagement and your employer brand as well as setting the foundations to become a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

If you’re struggling to create a diverse workforce or leadership team, then one solution is to start a diversity committee or integrate learning about minorities into your EVP. This helps organisations to see things from another perspective, shows empathy with employees from a minority background and shows a genuine interest in making their working lives better. Diversity committees offer a safe space for people to come with concerns and shows your dedication to change. It provides opportunities to educate your workforce on the importance of diversity and gives them a chance to meet people from and better understand a range of backgrounds, races and genders.

A diversity committee within work or a focus within your EVP on learning about other cultures and minority groups provides the opportunity for people to learn, talk and form friendships. It could be as simple as celebrating cultural festivals, sharing meals from across the world or having meet up groups. Gaining a better understanding of each other will help reduce stereotyping and generalisations. Your company culture will feel more welcoming and friendly, which will help you to attract a more diverse workforce going forward.

The COVID-19 crisis could help the workforce to diversify. As more of us embrace remote working, it opens the opportunities for businesses to hire people from different nationalities, locations and backgrounds which may not have been possible when confined to the geographic limitations of an office. Remote training and prolonged periods of quietness have allowed motivated employees to refine skills and learn new ones, helping to diversity your workforce’s offering and enabling individuals to progress in their careers.

Remote working has also given us all an opportunity to reveal more about ourselves. We’ve had no choice but to let colleagues into our homes through Zoom calls and video conferences, in some cases introducing them to family members and pets. As a result, we’ve become more accepting of individuals for who they are. The pandemic has also had an enormous impact on culture, with many becoming more compassionate and understanding of individual circumstances.

When the media inevitably move onto another topic, we implore you to continue to make a conscious effort in building a diverse workforce – for the sake of your business, society and humanity.