HR can help in the CRE’s drive for racial equality by promoting it to the board
as a business necessity. We learn how Trevor Phillips, the organisation’s new
chief, plans to target the private sector as a priority, by Paul Nelson
The new head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) realises how
powerful an image can be.
When Personnel Today met Trevor Phillips, ex-television journalist and
producer, he was adamant that he wouldn’t pose for photos in front of the CRE’s
black and white holding hands logo. It is "too simplistic", he said,
before vowing to scrap it and replace it with an emblem that better sums up the
challenge for racial harmony in multi-cultural Britain.
Phillips is certainly keen to advance the CRE’s cause. He plans to target
the private sector for a serious improvement in race relations, because they
are not directly covered by race legislation. He also wants HR to make
diversity mainstream by selling it to their boards as a way of increasing
Phillips believes HR directors must run with the ball – selling diversity to
their firms as a business benefit, and not simply as a way to tackle a social
problem. He feels that HR directors currently believe diversity is ‘dumped’ on
them, and the only way they will get support from other areas of the firm is to
promote it as a business necessity.
"HR directors aren’t Martin Luther King, they are hired to make their
organisations work. We need to move out of the missionary position to one where
people think about the business," Phillips said.
"Some HR directors have taken a different approach and are aggressive
in treating diversity as a business problem and not a social one. Where
companies state they are doing it [diversity] to hit targets so everyone has a
job next year, people will join in."
Phillips believes this is the only approach that will make business leaders
commit to mainstreaming diversity in firms.
"The chief executive is brimming with racial niceness and says to the
HR director, ‘Make us an inter-racial paradise’. And the poor HR director has
to report back to the chairman, and if they have not made it wonderful, then
they have failed," Phillips said. "A lot of HR directors feel rather
Phillips believes the private sector is "afraid of the CRE", and
admits it doesn’t work closely enough with private companies. However, he
warns, he will not shy away from instigating formal investigations if they do
not change their attitudes.
He told Personnel Today that all private sector firms delivering public
services must comply with the Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA), which forces
public bodies to actively promote racial equality. Employers must also publish
annual reports charting progress and action plans in this area.
He said the Government’s policy of encouraging private organisations to fund
the modern-isation of the public sector has led to an ever increasing number of
private firms delivering public services, creating a grey area in the law.
"Even if the law [RRAA] does not specifically cover private sector
companies, we think it essentially captures private sector companies that work
for the public sector. I am going to operate as if it does," Phillips
"Why should public money be spent in a way that is racially biased? I
cannot accept that. Everyone involved in a public-private partnership and a
contract that provides services to the public sector – both morally and legally
– will have to observe the public duty."
He admits the CRE must change its ways if a new, closer working relationship
is to be successful. "They [the private sector] are asking us how they can
do it [improve racial diversity in the work-place] and that is the challenge we
have not quite risen to yet."
Phillips backs recommendations in a recent Government report, which called
on the CRE to ‘name and shame’ racist employers by making greater use of its
investigatory powers to put the spotlight on firms with bad equality practices
– although he said he will give employers every opportunity to improve before
using the full force of the law that he has at his disposal.
"There will be a considerable effort in tackling the image the private
sector has of us as a ‘heavy handed copper’," he said. "I would
rather the CRE is viewed as a friendly GP, who will give all the medicine and
advice to help an organisation to get healthy. But if a firm is going to disobey,
then we will administer the nasty medicine or have it put into hospital. I am
pretty straight with people, we will instigate formal investigations."
He also backs the Government’s move to merge the six equalities bodies
(SEB), which include the CRE, the equal opportunities commission, the
disability rights commission and the Employers Forum on Age. He believes it
will give them more respect and influence over mainstream diversity issues.
Phillips feels that because the individual specialist bodies look after
different equalities areas, they are "marginalised", viewed as an
"add on" and done as "a favour". He cites the instance of
one body overseeing the case of a black woman working in the City earning less
than her white male colleagues as an example of how the new system can work in
He wants the merged body to share core functions, including communication,
management, estate and property. But he wants to ensure that existing expertise
in specialist areas remain.
Phillips is also promising to radically overhaul the racial diversity of his
own senior team by introducing more white commissions, as he fears the CRE is
regarded as a place where "black people get together to whinge."
Trevor Phillips’ CV
– 2003 – Chair, CRE
– 2002 – Deputy chairman, GLA
– 2001 – Chairman, GLA
– 2000 – Member of the Greater London Authority
– 1993 – Deputy general secretary, TUC
– 1981 – Television journalist/producer (including head of
LWT’s current affairs 1992-1994)
– 1980 Researcher, London Weekend Television