Does setting targets really help tackle racism?

There are two debates raging in the field of diversity: the effects of being
labelled institutionally racist and an obsession with targets.

These two issues are powerful drivers and are pushing organisations to
"do the right thing". The first is to lose the racist label and
second is to have more ethnic minorities represented at all levels of

But the emphasis on these issues could hide the true lesson of the
Macpherson Report – the opportunity for change.

There is no doubt that a year on from the report, which followed the murder
of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, racism still exists and that the statistics
reflect an appalling failure of society to ensure equality – but can targets
help solve the problem?

Performance targets and business measures serve to focus employers’ minds on
what needs to be done to achieve a goal and, by implication, help move the
organisation forward.

But when it comes to managing equality and diversity, targets and
measurements are a source of contention and confusion.

Perhaps it is because performance targets are internally driven and owned by
management, but equality targets are perceived as being externally imposed.
Also, they allow for an interpretation that can imply failure.

Official recognition of "institutional racism" raises a further
complication. This label allows people who are racist to hide behind an
organisation and deny personal responsibility. It also makes people who abhor
racism feel guilty by association.

Diversity targets fall a long way short of bringing about equality for
Britain’s ethnic minorities and addressing these issues.

The quantity and quality of research performed on diversity issues and the
learning offered is staggering. What is needed is a shift from research to
action. Before targets are discussed, an organisation must understand the
issues and where the problems are. Diversity is essential to achieve sustainable
change and competitive advantage.

Target setting can be like looking through a telescope from the wrong end.
You can see something, but it doesn’t open up the bigger picture. A target sets
minimum levels of achievement that rapidly become maximum levels of attainment.
Apparent achievement can allow the equality debate to stagnate as the visible
target is complied with.

A challenge to both public and private sectors is to appoint specialist
diversity managers who bring diversity into focus, have seniority and a
substantial budget, and who can implement learning from the Macpherson and
King’s Fund reports (News, 3 July).

By Kay Allen, a diversity services director at The Grass Roots Group
UK.  She was formerly diversity director
at B&Q

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