Time for action on ethnic diversity in the workplace

Businesses need to learn more about the experiences of black people in the workplace
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There are no more excuses in failing to tackle inequality in business and lack of diversity, argue Bina Patel and Ozlem Mehmet, who believe these are best tackled by a prescriptive and proactive approach.

The brutal killing of George Floyd in the US and the protests and outrage it has sparked around the world has rightly brought the issues of racial equality and ethnic diversity to the fore (yet again).

In February this year, an update report from the Parker Review urged UK-listed companies to do more to promote greater ethnic diversity in business leadership. It noted that since its first report (published in November 2016), well over half of FTSE 350 boards are still all-white and that, across the FTSE 350, there are only 15 directors of colour holding the position of company chair or CEO. It is clear that significant and meaningful change is required and now.

We consider below some practical, immediate steps employers can take to demonstrate their genuine commitment to racial equality and ethnic diversity, to support their BAME employees and promote ethnic diversity in their organisation:

1. Articulate commitment to ethnic diversity

Issue a communication to all staff from the top of the organisation expressing commitment to ethnic diversity, equality and inclusion. Emphasise that there is no place for racism in your workplace and ensure that the importance and value of diversity is recognised and emphasised at every opportunity.

2. Values

Incorporate equality, diversity and inclusion within your corporate core values, ensure they are reflected in your policies, procedures and everyday practices and hold events, workshops and campaigns promoting them. Assess staff of all levels against those values as part of your appraisal process.

Recognise, support and reward the actions of staff members promoting ethnic diversity both in and outside the workplace (for example, sponsoring employees taking part in fundraising activities).

3. Diversity and inclusion champion

Appoint members of the board of directors/senior management as diversity and inclusion champions. Include, as part of their key performance indicators (upon which any pay increases and bonuses are based), consideration of what they have done to promote and improve ethnic diversity in the organisation (including in recruitment and promotion). Ensure that they are provided with formal training to educate them on and enhance their understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion as well as proper tools and resources to support them in achieving those objectives.

4. Diversity audit

Carry out a diversity audit in your organisation, including a breakdown of all positions held by ethnicity, and evaluate the data. Publish the data and, based on the results, put in place a clear strategy (with measurable targets and timeframes) on how the position will be improved. Ensure that the strategy is implemented, progress reviewed and reported on.

5. Ethnicity pay gap audit

As a vital first step in seeking to eliminate pay disparities between ethnic groups, consider carrying out an ethnicity pay gap audit and publishing the results. A number of organisations – including Deloitte, PWC, Bank of England and the Civil Service – are already voluntarily carrying out such audits annually and publishing the data to promote better equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion and transparency within their organisations. Although the results of such an audit may make for uncomfortable reading, a willingness to address the issues identified, together with a proper strategy in place for doing so, demonstrates commitment to diversity.

6. Training and enforcement

Provide regular and compulsory training to all staff on equality and diversity and, in particular, on unconscious bias. Managers should be given specific training on such matters in the context of recruitment and promotion.

Ensure your company’s equal opportunities policy is in a prominent, easily accessible place, regularly reviewed and updated and communicated to staff.

Ensure that any complaints regarding racism are fully and swiftly addressed in line with the company’s disciplinary and grievance procedure and anti-bullying and harassment procedure.

7. Recruitment and promotion practices

Make sure that career progression in your organisation is structured and transparent. Review your recruitment and promotion practices and consider how they can be improved to facilitate a more diverse workforce. Focus on initiatives to increase diversity in the succession pipelines for senior management and the board.

Identify any particular barriers to progression faced by BAME employees and offer training and support to overcome them and facilitate progression.

8. Mentoring and support

Have BAME role models at senior levels of the organisation who can share their experiences of how they overcame barriers to progression and advanced their careers. If there are currently no such individuals in the organisation, consider inviting external speakers to address employees.

Put in place mentoring schemes in which members of senior management mentor junior BAME employees.

9. Celebrate and encourage diversity

Facilitate and encourage employees to have conversations about race and ethnicity and to share information about their experiences. Promote and encourage the sharing of culture and traditions, particularly on dates of significance (cultural festivals, for example). Race and ethnicity should be acknowledged, appreciated and respected, not seen as topics to avoid.

10. Communication and engagement

Carry out a survey and ask your employees what they think of your company’s track record on equality and ethnic diversity and ask them for ideas on how this can be improved. What do they perceive to be the barriers to promotion faced by BAME employees within the organisation? How do they think these can be addressed? Follow-up on the responses received.

Set up a platform – a BAME community/network – within the organisation which provides employees with an opportunity to come together to share their experiences and thoughts, raise concerns about inequality and provides a collective voice for and represents BAME employees to bring about change.

The above steps are a good starting point for organisations. However, continued, longer term decisive and positive action will be key to help to bring about any meaningful and lasting change to address issues of workplace equality and promote diversity.

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Bina Patel and Ozlem Mehmet

About Bina Patel and Ozlem Mehmet

Bina Patel (pictured) is senior associate and Ozlem Mehmet is professional support lawyer in the employment team at Kingsley Napley LLP
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