The events of the last few weeks have challenged us all to question how we understand racism in the world, and our part in addressing it. Whilst ethnicity and difference is part of humanity and what makes us who we are, the mindsets and behaviours of racism are all too prevalent, causing hurt, injustice and division in our societies and our workplaces.
We’ve seen the anger, frustration and pain of black people, but we’ve also seen many others lending their support to the #blacklivesmatter movement. We’ve heard uncomfortable language like white privilege and institutional racism, and how many aspects of what we have been taught, or not taught, about our histories can be challenged.
There is no getting away from the lack of progress in addressing racism in all its myriad guises - visible and less visible, from micro-aggressions and biased treatment, to outright harassment, exclusion and even violence. These are deep and systemic issues in society, but also exist in workplaces and organisations, and sadly in more ways than many of us have understood.
It has been a wakeup call for us all. For me personally it has been a time of significant reflection. As a white person I can’t live the experience of a black or ethnic minority person, and despite having heard many personal stories, it isn’t what confronts me in my daily life, in my everyday decisions or in how I am treated. That is the truth of white privilege.
I’ve had discussions with black and other ethnic minority colleagues at all levels inside the CIPD, with other colleagues and friends, with other leaders, and through our external networks to understand what we as the CIPD and the profession must now do to make a sustained difference. We have championed diversity and inclusion in many ways, and for many years, and I have personally spoken on many platforms and networks about its importance. But we have not directly confronted the issue of racism in the workplace or done enough to make this an imperative and support the people profession to change, and I acknowledge accountability for that.
It takes work and persistence and a commitment to listen and learn. Inclusion of difference doesn’t easily happen by itself. Stereotypes are learned early and affect our perception of difference and threat and our own social groupings are often not diverse. It takes a deep understanding of cultures and behaviours, of processes and practices, and analysis and insight. It’s too easy to fall back into ‘norms’, the lazy biases of recruiting in our own image, one size fits all practices, or the language of ‘cultural fit’. There is a particular danger of this now with the many pressures on businesses everywhere as we navigate the economic fallout from the pandemic.
As the people profession, and as the professional body, we have a significant role to play and we need to take responsibility for action in our organisations and workplaces. Have D&I efforts to date just been scratching the surface, applying sticking plasters to wounds specifically around racism that we haven’t all properly understood? Has the diversity agenda been on the periphery and not really central to the business agenda? Or has it been a case of complacency or discomfort in dealing with ‘inconvenient truths’?
These are important questions that we all need to confront for ourselves and for our organisations.
The first thing is to commit to action and change but based on a real understanding of the issues and with some clear and achievable goals. Platitudes won’t cut it. It’s not just making statements that we are against racism, but what are we prepared to commit to in order to change things.
Let’s start by being really clear where we are. What are our ethnodemographics across our organisations from top to bottom, and across each area of business? Where are the gaps, what is happening with recruitment, progression, and the support to black and ethnic minorities, what should we be setting as goals and outcomes, and how will we communicate these? The fact is we don’t have enough of these insights. The CIPDs own surveys indicate less than half of large private sector organisations collect data on ethnicity, and only a quarter have done an ethnic pay report.
I felt that within the CIPD as an organisation we had an improving picture with almost 28% of our colleagues identifying as being of an ethnic minority, including 7% identifying as black, and we track, report and seek to improve on these numbers. We are also committed to the Race at Work charter and regularly discuss the issue of ethnicity as a workforce. However, what is clear is that we have significant gaps in ethnic balance at middle and senior management levels, and in specific areas of the business which are also areas which are more externally visible. Furthermore, what is our benchmark? What are we aiming for – our main office is within greater London which is a lot more diverse than our headline stats, and in particular we should be higher on black representation. I am making it my personal commitment to change this. We are progressing an action plan to address these areas directly, looking harder at recruitment, progression, retention and support.
Equally, we must talk openly about race and racism within our organisations, and what it feels like to be part of a minority. The last few weeks have not only highlighted challenges but how much was not being said, and how many people are suffering in silence. Often that is because they don’t feel the psychological safety to be able to speak up, or they have spoken up before but nothing has changed.
This isn’t just the responsibility of black and ethnic minority colleagues, it‘s vital that white people engage and talk about the issues too, recognising that none of us of any ethnicity will get this right all the time. When that happens, let’s try to wear the offence we may feel lightly, and seek to improve understanding. We all need to feel safe in exposing these vulnerabilities or lack of awareness. The worst that can happen is that the conversation shuts down for fear of offence.
From these conversations and dialogue, as organisations and as leaders, we must confront disconnects between stated values and the actual lived experience that people have within the organisation. Inclusion should be seen as strategic and central to business models and cultures, led from the top and understood as a leadership issue at all levels. Inclusion is not just about what happens in HR, it is the hallmark of a responsible business.
There is much work for us all to do. At the CIPD we recognise we must revisit our guidance, knowledge and learning on diversity and inclusion practices to the profession. It is about going deeper on understanding racism, and then looking hard at all our processes, policies, and practices. What interventions really work, how do we avoid issues like tokenism or this becoming a compliance issue. We are working hard now on webinars, podcasts, further guidance to help raise awareness and understanding, and we know we need to do more.
We are also pushing on wider regulation and policy. We are actively supporting ethnic pay gap reporting to force a deeper understanding of where we are, but there are other policy recommendations that have come from previous reviews such as the McGregor-Smith review on Race in the Workplace from 2017 that should be progressed.
Finally, and very importantly, we have to be honest in addressing the relative lack of ethnic diversity across the people profession. I also acknowledge this is something we have not done enough to challenge from the CIPD. 88% of CIPD members identify as white and this broadly aligns with ONS statistics for the profession in the UK. Almost a fifth (18%) of CIPD members identify as being an ethnic minority at junior/entry level but this falls to 11% at midlevel and just 7% at a senior level.
Our profession needs to be the change we want to see. If organisations want to address diversity but do not have a diverse people team that contains lived experience then this creates an organisational blind spot. The profession must be part of the solution and not part of the problem. This will take time but is something we can all be part of. As the professional body, we are extending coaching programs to support ethnic minorities progressing through their careers, we will be working with our centres and other partners to understand and encourage greater diversity in students coming in to the profession, we are planning for bursaries, and we will more actively track and encourage progress on greater diversity.
We should all commit to use this time to make positive change happen. The level of scrutiny, concern and expectation is there. We must all respond.
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