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Creating a racially equitable workplace

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Having people of colour (POC) on your websites and in your campaigns is great, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in creating true, meaningful change. People of colour need to see ourselves represented consistently, be that in the workplace or elsewhere as we make up a large part of the UK population (and the world!) – seeing yourself is a form of validation we have gone without for so long. However, it does not equate to inclusion.

Any business that posted a black square or put out a statement in June 2020 in support of #BlackLivesMatter should still be giving this energy as they move forward with race inclusion in their workplaces. And if you think the Black Lives Matter movement doesn't concern you because you’re not a B2C brand, think again. Diversity, equity and inclusion work is necessary to ensure people from racial and ethnic backgrounds feel welcomed, included and a valued part of their organisation. It’s for anyone who doesn't benefit from White Privilege. You’ll miss out on brilliant talent if you choose not to invest in this area as well as creating a reputational risk for your business. It just makes sense!

Working as a person of colour

As a woman of colour, I’ve become accustomed to assimilating to get acceptance, respect and be considered for promotions in my career. I learnt at a young age (through what I now know to be microaggressions) that I have been subtly told over the course of my existence that I do not fit in, I don’t belong. I would see my White peers excelling and take my cues to change my behaviour and shrink parts of myself so I could better fit in and earn enough respect to gain a seat at decision making tables e.g. dulling down my love for colourful clothes to wear muted tones like my peers. I also found myself wearing more masculine suit jackets, loose fitting clothing and less make up in an attempt to be seen for what I can offer intellectually rather than observed for my body or femininity.

I took a role to set up and manage a Marketing department and was asked by a colleague if it was my first job. It made me feel shit but I didn’t have the language to describe it. It wasn’t until Dee, the Founder of colourfull told me about his experience when he was asked if he was the intern, even though he was bought in to fill a Director level position. POC are frequently seen as less senior than they are – and I realised it had happened to me too.

The overall impact of these daily slights is that I am ‘othered’ every day in subtle ways, which takes its toll and is frankly exhausting.

This exhaustion is known as emotional tax, from microaggressions to being alert and defensive against bias and stereotyping, this becomes a distraction and can detract from doing your best work.

The positive impact of racial inclusion

You may see more POC around you in the workplace and question whether there is even an issue. But how do you know that they feel included and valued at work? Or as valued as other members of the team? The fact there are often ethnicity pay gaps (where these are reported) tells us more work needs to be done to ensure fairness and value. There is more education to be done as 42% of people had not heard of the ethnicity pay gap and 40% had not heard of the disability pay gap versus just 9% who had not heard of the gender pay gap (2018). By creating an equitable workplace, everyone benefits because we are looking to de-bias all decision making so that every individual is valued, paid fairly and is able to contribute as an equal team member.

The positive impact extends to physical and mental wellness for POC - anxiety and depression reduce immunity and “everyday discrimination is a stressor that has been linked to poor health, inflammation, and premature cellular aging” (Chae et al., 2020). Imagine a workplace where every person is truly well, able to bring their full self to work and ultimately perform at a high level. Everyone wins!

Race inclusion - How not to f**k it up:

So how do you get started on this important and vital journey? We’ve outlined some key tips below to help you get started and think about how you create a racially inclusive workplace, one that is equitable, fair and open.

Embrace the discomfort

Like most worthwhile things in life, this won’t be easy. Learning never is, especially when you have to examine and disrupt your own biases. Redesigning workplaces to ensure equal access to resources and opportunities requires dedication, follow through and evaluation. This is important, ongoing work that will help you build a resilient and wonderful organisation. But it requires getting uncomfortable and acknowledging that at an individual and systemic level, you may be contributing to racial inequity.

Continue learning

Take the initiative to read, learn and understand about the experiences of POC. The beauty of life is understanding the perspectives of others who are different to us and there is so much great content out there to begin your learning. It becomes even more fascinating when we look at intersectional identities such as the experiences of queer people of colour. The more you know, the more informed you become in taking the right actions to support race equality in the workplace.

Importantly, seek to understand the experiences of POC in your workplace, not to act as educators for you but to primarily share feedback that those with power can use to make a positive difference. Allyship is a verb, which means action must follow.

Some brilliant books to begin your journey are listed below:

The Good Immigrant - Nikesh Shukla, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge, White Fragility - Robin DiAngelo, Sway - Pragya Agarwal.

#LockdownHack: Download the Borrow Box app and set it up with your library card and request the books from your local library so you can consume them in audio or e-book format.

Listen actively

As mentioned above, seek out feedback from POC in your organisation and your customers too. This can inform any action you wish to take, help you understand the barriers POC face in your organisation or when accessing your services. These conversations need to be handled with care, so consider using an external facilitator to create safe spaces that allow people to share their experiences candidly.

This requires humility and a starting position of accepting a reality that may be foreign to you. Just because it didn’t happen to you does not mean it didn’t happen. By engaging and listening in an authentic way, you can unlock powerful insights to improve the experiences for POC.

Practice accountability

Accountability is underpinned by being explicit and transparent about your commitments. This can include measuring and publishing ethnicity/race data about your people with clear plans and targets for improvement. This data can look at the whole employee experience, including career progression, promotion and retention, in addition to hiring.

Leadership commitments are powerful too, as they signify the organisation’s stance and intended direction.

And extend into new partnerships and working with other organisations to deliver your commitments. It can be overwhelming and complex which is why specialist organisations exist to help you navigate this work. Tackling structural racism will be challenging but it is the right thing to do and is good for your organisation.

What next?

You can visit our FAQ page for a wider overview of our services and key terms you might want to learn more about. Please get in touch if you’d like to see what work we can do together to build a racially inclusive workplace.

Written by Asha Harkness for colourfull


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