One year on: a reflection on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd

By Peter Cheese, Chief Executive and Bijal Majithia, Head of Inclusion and Diversity, CIPD

25 May 2021 marks one year since the murder of George Floyd, and the response it provoked in so many communities. Solidarity marches and gatherings took place from Sydney to Beirut to Istanbul to London to Berlin. Black Lives Matter, a slogan and hashtag coined some seven years ago in the United States to draw attention to police abuses against African Americans, trended globally on social media networks and among protesters on the streets. What made this movement even more powerful was its position in the throes of the COVID-19 outbreak, when much of the world seemed resigned to remain at home, stream television shows, and stay glued to their mobile devices rather than pour into the streets in pursuit of change.

Whilst struggling to overcome a once-in-a-century pandemic, people around the world came together in a potent mix of fear and solidarity. The event gave a strong voice to the Black Lives Matter movement and the demand for action and real change. It was a seminal moment and the very real pain it caused amongst the black community in particular was visible and heartfelt – that genuine sense of enough is enough.

Like ourselves at the CIPD, we are sure that many of you will be reflecting on what has changed over the past 12 months, and what the plans of continued change look like to combat racism and inequality within our organisations and more holistically, in society.

And whilst there is more visibility and more awareness of all the forms of racism that still pervade too much of our societies and organisations, has there genuinely been much sustainable change? In our conversations with so many people in business, in policy, and in the people profession, we can see more focus on the inclusion agenda and recognition of its importance, but the complexities and the sensitivities still hold us back.

Of course, there are many dimensions to what we must do to make enduring change, from our practices and policies, the training and support we provide, to our behaviours, mindsets, and cultures, but it is vital that leaders everywhere show commitment and intent. Starting with engagement with their organisations, giving voice to the concerns, sharing and understanding people’s lived experiences, and encouraging ‘speak up’ cultures.

Leaders include all those in positions of influence, from the first levels of management to the highest levels of government. The tone has to be set from the top which is why the recent UK Government report on race and ethnic disparities which appeared to minimize the existence of institutional racism concerned so many.

Whilst race and prejudice has been in the limelight across the last 12 months, what remains unclear is the distinction between structural racism and racial acts. To see effective levels of individual and structural change we need to see shifts at the social level alongside a systemic approach to tackle policies, processes and practices at both a micro and macro level. 

Over the past 12 months at the CIPD we have worked harder to understand how we create a genuinely inclusive organisation – we started with an honest appraisal of where we are and opened the discussion with our people about lived experience and what really needs to change to ensure an inclusive culture. We have publicly committed to driving change through our profession, and the content and campaigns we have focused on in putting an end to racism have been accessed thousands of times. We know we can and must do better for our colleagues, members and our wider network. Our profession should be at the forefront of making change happen in organisations everywhere, and our profession itself also needs to show it can be more inclusive.

We have learnt important lessons about the deep-seated roots of racism, and we remain committed to driving diversity, equity and inclusion across our network though we recognise that we have much work to do.

This is a sombre day and one for deep reflection. As we look to the future, we are committed to ensuring that the CIPD does its part to contribute to a more just and inclusive society. We remain devoted to learning and evolving both internally and with the HR profession

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