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Be an active ally against racial inequality at work

Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has been in the spotlight. Geraldine Gallacher considers how we can all ensure that we actively stand against racism at work.

Geraldine Gallacher

July 2020

White privilege exists at work and businesses are slow to address it.   A new study, from Bristol and Manchester Universities, and the National Centre for Social Research, draws on 50 years of data to conclude, since the 1970s, career prospects for ethnic minorities are improved but stifled, as a consequence of racism and discrimination.

Back in February, well before the killing of George Floyd sparked global support for Black Lives Matters, Sir John Parker, warned, “too many people remain complacent that change will come about naturally through the passage of time.”  He was referring to the snail-paced progress to increase ethnic diversity in FTSE 100 boardrooms.  Frankly, he could have been talking about the speed at which organisations have addressed white privilege at any level.  By that, I mean the way our social, political, educational and economic systems favour white people.  Maybe inadvertently, possibly deliberately.

Organisations will have to make their own weather on this issue rather than look to the government to lead.  It has sent a clear message that it intends to kick any serious attempt to address racism into the long grass, appointing Munira Mirza to lead its new commission on racial equality.  Mirza, who denies that institutional racism exists, has been asked to set up and recruit committee members to investigate racism. A decision, the former Tory party chair, Lady Warsi warns, is likely to provide its instigators with “the answer they want to hear: there’s no such thing as racism”.

Public patience for progress is wearing thin.  Where once employees looked to their employer to lead change, recent events have driven them to demand action. They are educating themselves on racial inequality in a way that has never happened before, calling it out in their organisations, and asking for truth, trust and transparency from their employer.

At the same time, investors are paying more attention to the social and environmental impact of business.  Organisations are starting to talk about Corporate Social Justice instead of Corporate Social Responsibility.   We all have a responsibility to actively drive this change as colleagues and possibility leaders. Here are five steps we can all take.

Five steps to actively address racial inequality at work

  1. Educate ourselves and our teams about white privilege and racism.  As a starting point I recommend the following podcasts, Reni Eddo-Lodge - Why I’m no longer talking to people about race, Baratunde Thurston - How to deconstruct racism, one headline at a time, Dr Ibram X. Kendi – The difference between being ‘not racist’ and anti-racist.
  2. Recognise our own privilege. Don’t take this issue personally. No one is responsible for previous generations’ actions, but we are responsible for not perpetuating them.
  3. Advocate to change policies and systems that favour white people.
  4. Listen to the experiences of our black and brown colleagues.  One person’s experience of racism should not be allowed to invalidate another’s.
  5. If we are in a position of privilege, we must develop authentic empathy with those who are consistently marginalised.  Become allies, practice reflective thinking but critically let’s take action to make changes.

Geraldine Gallacher, CEO, Executive Coaching Consultancy

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