At the CIPD we want to find ways to drive positive change, working with our worldwide community of members and the wider profession, but we can only create lasting change if we work together to create fair and inclusive societies.

Recent events have shed light on the oppression and discrimination faced by black people and in light of this we set out key principles to help organisations build diverse and supportive cultures of respect and fairness for all. We are now building on these principles with a series of activities to help navigate the challenges and tackle this issue head on. These FAQs will help people professionals start to address this issue in their workplace.

Q: What are the legal considerations when reviewing our race equality strategy?

A race equality strategy needs to acknowledge that racial inequalities arise from a variety of reasons, within and outside of the workplace (as identified in the McGregor Smith review) and seek to identify and address negative treatment and its impact when looking at the ethnic profile of the organisation.

The Equality Act 2010 identifies unlawful conduct as:

  • Direct discrimination and less favourable treatment, born from overt discrimination, bias, prejudice and assumptions;
  • Indirect discrimination, which is perhaps more covert; where an organisations’ practices, standards and requirements create disadvantage without legitimate reason or where alternative criteria or practices could be adopted which have less adverse racial impact; and 
  • Harassment where there is a hostile and unwelcome work environment and unwanted conduct based on race, or even racially offensive language or conduct;
  • Victimisation which provides protection against retaliation for those who speak up and raise concerns. 

A business’s race equality strategy needs to address overt and covert discrimination, inadvertent discrimination (such as unconscious bias) and systemic race inequality (for example, lack of opportunity and socio-economic factors). More information on types of discrimination is available in the CIPD factsheet and on the EHRC website.

Q: What do we need to consider when planning to improve monitoring and gathering data to inform or measure process in addressing race equality?

Monitoring is the cornerstone in any strategy to enable an organisation to identify progress and where further action may be needed. There is no legal obligation to monitor but there is a duty on large employers to report their gender pay gap. In the future this is likely to be extended to require reporting on ethnicity pay gaps as well. Improving or addressing monitoring is essential to ensure an employer has a clear picture of the current ethnicity make up their workforce. It is also important in order to address under-representation, set targets and establish if positive action could be taken.

In addition to ensuring GDPR obligations are met, employers should follow the ACAS Guidance on Monitoring and take steps to explain to candidates and employees why monitoring is undertaken and give assurances about confidentiality and the security of their data and declarations.

Improving self-reporting by employees takes considerable time and investment on the part of an employer who must work to address:

  • the reason for collecting such data;
  • providing reassurances around confidentiality and anonymity;
  • details about how the data will be used;
  • building confidence to encourage responses; and
  • systems, data analysis and process requirements.

Many organisations monitor race and ethnicity and a significant number of classifications can be used through their HR software systems. Self-reporting by ethnicity is complex; there are 15 or 18 ONS standard ethnicity categories which are used to identify race and 5 headline categories. The need for a range of categories and a “prefer not to say” option is important. Sensitivity is needed in deciding which classifications to use for monitoring purposes, which may be heightened where declaration rates are low. In the UK, increasing numbers of individuals are also of mixed race, which means there is a complex make up of those in the employed population influenced subjectively by how individuals identify themselves. Employers should consider the options carefully, perhaps factoring in their locality/geography and locations, in order to ensure the categories they adopt are sufficiently representative, communicating and consulting with employees where possible. Although more complex to analyse, a longer list is often preferable and it is possible to use broad groups, with subcategories to allow more granular reporting. 

An added challenge exists for global businesses. There may be existing monitoring requirements in other jurisdictions in which a business operates (through legislative requirements such as those in the USA, Australia and New Zealand) and/or global reporting in the business, which requires different categories to be included (for example Hispanic and indigenous population groups).

Ethnicity pay reporting proposals have been under discussion in the UK for some time. In October 2018, the Government issued a consultation paper on the topic. Although legislation has not been tabled yet, there is pressure for this legislation to be implemented and a petition to Parliament to introduce this legislation without delay. It is anticipated that such reporting will become a legal requirement for large employers at some point, and some organisations are already reporting on a voluntary basis. Employers should begin preparing for such reporting; this includes communicating and consulting with employees about the need to monitor and encouraging staff to declare their ethnicity.

Ethnicity pay reporting is likely to increase awareness of the issue, encourages dialogue / engagement and gain the attention of (and traction with/ sustained focus from) senior stakeholders and leadership teams. It encourages discussion about how to tackle and address under-representation and encourages focus on attracting increased talent from a wider pool. Whilst ethnicity reporting might not be the most accurate way of tackling social mobility, the link between race/ethnicity and socio-economic is such that mandatory ethnicity pay reporting will be likely to result in social mobility being further scrutinised within organisations.

More information on data disclosure is available in the CIPD's Race inclusion report: encouraging ethnicity data disclosure.

Q: What is the difference between targets and quotas, and can we use either to ensure progress?

There is some confusion around the terminology of ‘targets’ and ‘quotas’. In short, quotas, which involve a requirement to appoint or employ a specific number or percentage without assessment on merit, are unlawful. By contrast, targets are lawful, but they only help to inform an organisation and do not address where discrimination may be having adverse impact.

However, it is not as simple as merely setting targets; employers can lawfully set targets but only as part of a wider race equality strategy; they cannot favour ethnic minority candidates or employees purely so that they can meet a target. Targets must be used as part of a wider strategy of positive action measures and continually monitored and evaluated, as outlined below.

In 2017 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a report that identified that those from ethnic minorities faced barriers in obtaining work and making progress once employed. The EHRC Report called on employers to tackle prejudice and bias in “recruitment, performance, evaluation and reward decisions, and use fair, transparent processes with positive action and talent pipeline development for appointment to senior and board roles” and recommended setting targets for the UK government. 

As mentioned above, an employer can, lawfully, set targets as part of its race equality strategy but will need to ensure it does not act unlawfully by favouring an ethnic minority candidate or employee because of their race, and in order to make progress against targets. There are, however, proactive measures that can be taken, as outlined in sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act 2010. These are often described as positive action measures.

A general measure under Section 158 notes that an employer must first identify the under-representation or the disadvantage (such as few role models, educational disadvantage or lack of access to specific opportunities), and based on this evidence, an employer can take proportionate but targeted measures to address that disadvantage. This requires specific assessment and careful consideration.

Positive actions that may be permitted under section 158 would focus on levelling the playing field and encouraging participation from under-represented groups, using activities such as mentorships, work experience or outreach programmes and focused advertising.

Recruitment and promotion is addressed in Section 159, but is seldom used. Where under-representation or disadvantage has been identified, an employer can adopt what is often called a ‘tie break’ in recruitment and promotion decisions, allowing the employer to prefer and appoint the under-represented candidate where there are two or more equally qualified candidates. 

The positive action provisions require evidence of the under-representation/disadvantage, interventions that clearly address this, and the reasons for under-representation. The measures must also be constantly reviewed, such as ensuring that the under-representation still exists while the positive action measures continue. The EHRC Code explains that an employer should consider carefully if the intervention(s) is reasonably necessary, likely to address the under-representation and whether alternative options are available that will not impact others.

Organisations are likely to remain cautious about using the section 159 tie-break provision, however, with careful consideration and assessment, the more general positive action measures have real merit. Setting targets is a start (and end) point only, and must be part of a wider, evidence-based, inclusion strategy.

More information on ensuring equality of career progression opportunities is available in the CIPD's Race inclusion report.

Q: What are the risks and legal considerations when communicating with employees and encouraging diversity and inclusion on the subject of race?

There is undoubtedly heightened awareness of the impact of racial inequality both inside and outside the workplace. Recent events such as Black Lives Matter and the recognised impact of COVID-19 on black and Asian members of the population have brought these inequalities into sharper focus. Employees and businesses have been challenged to act and help address such inequalities beyond simply voicing support. Some of the risks here link to the need to ensure appropriate action is taken and that business leaders respond in a supportive manner. The topic of racial inequality, as well as racism itself, has recently become highly charged. Individuals will look to their employers to bring forward supportive and proactive measures which recognise the inequalities but, more importantly, address the urgent need for change.

Where an individual considers that they have been discriminated against, a lack of proactive measures by their employer could be a factor that weighs against the employer in any legal arena, where adverse inferences can be drawn.

An organisation seeking to address race inequality needs to consider not just their policies but also their culture. The risk of ending up with policies that are not upheld or where individuals are not held to account, undermines efforts as well as creating legal risks. If legal claims arise where practices and policies are ignored, complaints are not investigated, and issues are not addressed, it can result in aggravated damages and increased injury to feelings. 

Another important consideration is to ensure that employees recognise the need for diverse groups when an employer is communicating its race equality strategy, action plans and in related communications. There are many racial and ethnic groups. The legal definition of race in the Equality Act 2010 is broad; it covers, race, colour, ethnic and national origins as well as nationality.  Even the term that has become modern parlance -  black, Asian minority ethnic (BAME) - has been rejected by some. Which brings us to the question of language more generally, and the need to keep this both updated and sensitive.

Part of the challenge is that it is quite wrong to treat different racial groups as one homogenous group. The negative experiences and the disadvantages they face differ, so an employer should think carefully about the impact and experiences of different nationalities and ethnic groups when thinking about where inequalities or unacceptable conduct might arise. Issues will also differ because of intersectional issues: the experiences of an Asian woman will be very different to that of a black male employee and will be different again depending on age. This means ensuring that diverse voices are heard and considered.

As part of a wider strategy, businesses may seek equality commitments from their suppliers and contractors, which helps to further embed equality. However, care must be taken if suppliers are given targets (for example ensuring a minimum number of non-white candidates are provided by a recruitment agency) that the third party does not itself discriminate. There are provisions in the Equality Act that could lead to a business being liable for giving a discriminatory instruction and being liable for its agents. Collaborative efforts must be communicated clearly, as must the requirement to act lawfully at all times.

Finally, when planning how to address racial equality and be proactive, employers need to recognise the risks attached to focusing on specific groups or subgroups to the exclusion of other others. As with many areas of diversity, there is strength in both numbers and in allies. So, for example, white employees should be encouraged to be involved and participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as network groups that are focused on race issues. To help avoid conflict, make sure the rationale for particular action and programmes is clearly explained. 

It is clear there is still much work to be done and many employers are stepping up to the challenge, although in doing so, care must be taken to ensure compliance with the Equality Act particularly when taking proactive measures.

Q: Why do we need to focus on race? What about other aspects of diversity?

Inclusion and equity for all in the workplace and wider society is the ultimate goal of the people profession, organisations and the majority of the general public.

Some of the reasons why there is a focus on race now are:

  • Significant energy and focus on gender diversity has seen positive movement in gender equality, including the gender pay gap legislation but data, the news and lived experience stories demonstrate that the same positive movement has not taken place when it comes to addressing racial disparities.
  • Reports indicate that where an individual person has two protected characteristics (Intersectionality), the individuals feel mostly discriminated against because of their race (ie black women or black LGBT people) indicating a bigger issue with race. For example, some reports have demonstrated that while shifts have been made towards gender equity, the benefit of these shifts are felt the most by white women.
  • Reports indicate that people teams find the issue of race one of the most difficult to deal with in the workplace. These difficulties stem from their lack of lived experience of a racial group different to theirs, the discomfort they face in having conversations about race and the lack of external support and guidance.
  • Recent racially motivated events have bought the prevalence of racial disparities to the forefront of many conversations. Global leaders, religious leaders, community leaders and organisational leaders alike are speaking up about the need to address this issue. The issue of race in society and in organisations has been highlighted as a significant issue.
  • In addition to many other organisations, CIPD research finds time and time again that there are disparities in the experiences of members of ethnic minority groups when compared to that of their white colleagues.

In summary the global, social and organisation contexts we are currently operating in mean that while diversity and inclusion in its entirety remains a priority, the current focus on race is required to mitigate the disproportionate racial disparities that we continue to see.

Q: How do I start a conversation around race in the workplace, especially if colleagues and leaders are not comfortable talking about it?

The subject of race has never been openly and widely discussed in society or indeed in the workplace. Elements of the western world’s historic and current context of race means that it is intertwined with oppression, discrimination, pain, suffering and guilt. These factors leak into the workplace where we continue to see racial disproportionality in pay, in voice, in progression and in representation in senior positions. In addition, the lack of racial representation in senior positions and senior HR positions has meant that there is a discomfort in talking about race for fear of saying the wrong thing. Those who might lead these conversations are not themselves the victims of societal or organisational racial disparity, so this makes the conversation harder for them to instigate. It is therefore no surprise that conversations around race have not taken place as much as they should have.

The first step is accepting that talking about race in the workplace is new for most; this means there will be discomfort, mistakes will be made and false starts will happen. Organisations need to understand that this is part of the process and they will need to sit in the discomfort as they learn how to have conversations about race with their people.

Secondly, organisations need to communicate their intention in having these conversations, recognising the wider context, the need for action on inequality at work, as well as whether it is to understand the lived experiences of its people or to give space for open sharing and conversations. Business leaders need to be open about the fact that the organisation does not have all the answers, that there will be a journey with some discomfort, and how they will work through the journey.

Recent events have been traumatic for black people, so it is important that the voices of black employees are heard and amplified. This could be through virtual groups or platforms or one-off virtual events. It is important that black employees have a forum to discuss their concerns and receive support.

However, to be inclusive it must involve everyone in the conversation and that means all races - whether it is expressing support, seeking understanding, asking questions or sharing their own experience and learnings about race, the conversation needs to include everyone. The timing and the facilitation of this is crucial as the conversation must remain safe, open and focus on how to move forward together.

A skilled facilitator is essential. To increase the likelihood of open conversations and experience sharing, the conversations, especially those involving everyone, have to be carefully facilitated. This includes setting clear intentions, setting ground rules, communicating that there will be moments of discomfort and giving all individuals tools to deal with the discomfort. The conversations should be framed as a safe space for open sharing, with all views expressed being respected.

Ultimately if your people are reticent to start the conversation about race consider engaging an external speaker to address your employees at a town hall (a virtual one given current COVID-19 restrictions). A speaker who is perhaps able to share their own perspectives and experiences about race, can demonstrate your intent and allow your employees to open up.

Further information and advice is available in the CIPD's guide on talking about race at work and in the Race inclusion report: Talking about race at work.

Q: Which terms are best to use when talking about race and how can I avoid causing offence?

The common terms that are used to describe people who are not white in the UK are BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic), BME (Black and Minority Ethnic), ethnic minorities and minority ethnics. The use of these terms is prevalent in Government departments, public bodies, the media and in workplace inclusion conversations but one term will not be preferred by everyone.

These terms can be problematic:

  • Each of the terms refer to people in terms of the fact that they are not white, defining different ethnic groups solely by reference to the white majority.
  • There are significant differences in the experiences of the different ethnic groups which are masked when they are all grouped together. The masking of these issues means that the individual and often more pressing issues and disadvantages suffered by some of the ethnic groups are therefore not addressed.
  • Specifically, BAME and BME are not common everyday language. Outside of the formal settings described above, people are not likely to describe themselves as BAME or BME.

People Of Colour (PoC) is a term which is prevalent in the USA and is gaining popularity in the UK. While it lends itself more to common parlance, it shares the issues of defining ethnic groups in relation to the white majority and that of masking issues.

What terms to use

As stated above, there isn’t one term that everyone will prefer; some will not mind any of the terms and some will. For example, a YouGov poll How do ethnic minority Britons feel about the term ‘BAME’? found that 64% mixed race people and 65% wider ethnic minorities do not feel that term BAME represents them. The most important point is that the conversations are taking place and action is being taken towards breaking down the barriers that people have faced because of their race. In the context of your black employees:

  • Refer to your people by their specific ethnic identity, eg, ‘our black colleagues’. It is especially important to do this if you are discussing issues which affect black employees, such as anti-black issues.
  • If you feel there are organisational initiatives that span across different ethnic groups, ask your employees what term they prefer; consider holding a vote. This allows you to have an agreed term for your own organisation.

Ultimately most of your employees will see the organisation’s desire to discuss and address the issues of race positively. Be aware and understand that you may take mis-steps but keep listening and learning from those affected by the issues you are working to address, as they will guide you.

Q: How can I best educate my workforce about racism? What resources and training should I be putting in place?

The subject of race and racism is wide and far reaching. Learning about it involves a combination of training, listening, reading of books, honest conversations and self-reflection. Organisational training can play a part in your anti-racism strategy but will not be successful if used in isolation; training needs to be accompanied by other initiatives (such as those described below). The following are recommended areas to focus on to educate your workforce about racism (but bear in mind that any training should focus on a number of these areas together, rather than simply focusing on one aspect):

  • Legal rights around protected characteristics. Understanding the protected characteristics and how to deal with behaviours in the workplace.
  • Unconscious bias. Training to help employees identify their unconscious biases, how to manage them and then move to conscious inclusion.
  • White advantage. Educate your people about white advantage, how white advantage works and how to use white advantage for good.
  • Allyship. Understanding how to be an active ally and work to creating anti-racist workplaces.
  • Inclusive behaviours. Training employees on what inclusive behaviours are and then how to demonstrate them.

Training and education are an important part of each organisations journey towards becoming anti-racist.

Q: How do we encourage personal responsibility for developing knowledge and racial literacy?

Building awareness, knowledge and competence on race, racism and anti-racism is a journey that takes self-challenge and commitment. Employers have an obligation to create an inclusive environment where all colleagues can work together and deliver their roles in a culture which is safe and free from discrimination.

In the context of knowledge building around matters of race and racism, employers can support their people by:

  • Providing clarity around the importance of anti-racism for the organisation
  • Providing education which raises awareness, supports self-challenge and delivers education on race, racism and anti-racism in the workplace
  • Putting frameworks in place to support the highlighting of and reporting of any occurrences of racism 
  • Developing, communicating and providing training on policies which support anti-racism
  • Ensuring that education programmes include an invitation for participants to connect to their personal values and how this aligns with anti-racism 
  • Providing clarity on expected behaviours when engaging with each other 
  • Providing all stakeholders with clarity on dispute resolution measures that will be followed if things go wrong.
As stated above, the work to gain high levels of competence around race, racism and anti-racism takes time and commitment. While employers can certainly play a role in supporting individuals on their journeys, this work needs to be driven at a personal level. Organisations can encourage and support these personal journeys by taking the steps mentioned above as well as some of the following:
  • Setting up book clubs where colleagues can get together, discuss their learnings and share perspectives
  • Developing an online library 
  • Developing action learning sets on anti-racism
  • Encouraging and supporting social learning
  • Arranging for regular talks from experts which include Q and As
  • Encouraging self education via various mediums with curated content (such as videos, podcasts, blogs and articles).
Ultimately, there is a limit to how much an organisation can take individuals on their personal journey towards anti-racism. Organisations need to develop, encourage, communicate and build processes which support a culture of inclusion and anti-racism. The deep work, the crucial work needs to be done on an personal level, often starts with the awareness raising and education which is done in the workplace.

Q: How should we handle people who derail anti-racism activities?

To create a truly anti-racist workplace it is vital to have all colleagues and leaders engaged and active and acting as allies. Sadly, it will not always be possible to engage everyone in anti-racist activities. There will be some individuals who don’t engage for various reasons and as organisations are a reflection of our society, there will be, at times, individuals who hold discriminatory views.

While the reasons for derailing anti-racism activities may vary, to minimise this impact this, organisations can take the following steps.

Provide clarity on the importance of anti-racism for your organisation
Having clarity on why anti-racism is important in your organisation is vital. It is important for organisations to explore, determine and them communicate how justice and equality connect with the organisation’s purpose and values. It is vital that that there is clarity for all stakeholders and that they understand that this is an important part of engaging with the organisation. Where all stakeholders are clear on the importance of anti-racism in your organisation, the likelihood of individuals actively derailing efforts is reduced.

Ensure leadership engagement and support
As with any strategic endeavour, leadership support is important as organisations seek to become anti-racist. It is vital that leaders are engaged and support anti-racism strategies and activities. Leadership buy-in and vocal support for anti-racism will set the stage for team support and therefore less derailment. Where there is active leadership support for anti-racism in your organisation, the likelihood of individuals to actively derail efforts is reduced.

Educate your people on anti-racism and what it means in your organisation
Engage in an awareness and education program across the organisation to raise awareness of race and racism in society and understanding of racism as a current issue. This needs to be supported by an education program which educates on the history and current prevalence of racism. This will help your people to recognise and give them the tools and confidence to address racism should they come across it, counteracting any attempts to derail anti-racism activities.

When things go wrong
Explore each case on its merits, taking the time to understand the reasons for the derailment. At times it is a lack of awareness, understanding or perhaps discomfort. Take the opportunity to support individuals with further awareness raising and education. Ensure that the support available has been clearly communicated and education has been delivered.

In the cases where colleagues repeatedly refuse to engage or display discriminatory behaviour, options can include dispute resolution processes. Where the severity or frequency of the derailment dictates this, organisations should apply their dispute resolution processes as appropriate (more information on this is available on the dispute resolution topic page).

Q: How do I set up a reverse mentoring scheme?

Mutual mentoring (or reverse mentoring) can be a powerful strategy to lower barriers to progression for people from under-represented ethnicities.

Mutual mentoring is effective in providing entry and mid-level talent precious time with senior leaders, raising their profile and giving them valuable insights into the operation of the organisation at executive and board level.

Mutual mentoring is also beneficial for senior leaders as they insights into the lived experiences of people in their business – they gain an understanding of how their organisation operates on a practical level and insight into how their strategies and policies impact their people.

As with any endeavour, to reap the benefits of a mutual mentoring programme, it is vital that it is set up for success, with the right leadership support and resources.  

Steps to take

1. Set the purpose and intentions
It is important that the intentions for a mutual mentoring programme are established and agreed at the offset. Be clear on the intended outcomes of the programme. Ensure that with your senior leadership team you answer questions such as: 

  • What do we want to achieve with the mutual mentoring programme?
  • What challenges have we seen in our organisation that the mutual mentoring programme will address?
  • How will our current culture and practices support mutual mentoring?
  • What existing frameworks or activities in our business will this support?What does success look like for us? Consider KPI’s and business outcomes.
2. Set the membership parameters and expectations of participants
Continuing on the principle of clarity, it is vital that consideration is given to membership of the mentoring programme. Leaders and people teams need to establish who the participants of the mentoring programme are and include the following in their decision making:
  • Which roles, seniority and length of service considerations will support the delivery of the purpose and intentions for the programme?
  • What behaviours and competencies are important in establishing and maintaining the mentoring relationships?
  • What are the expectations of the parties and which roles support this?
  • What are the time expectations and for what duration (ie 1 hour a week every fortnight for 6 months)?
3. Train the participants to set them up for success
Mutual mentoring can be a very powerful tool in the context of managing racial equity in the workplace. As participants are entering into conversations that may involve new knowledge and sharing experiences of racism, is it vital that both parties are supported and educated. The following should be considered as part of the education programme:
  • Targeted awareness raising and education, especially about race and racism 
  • Creating psychological safety
  • Having effective conversations about race (see the guide on how to talk about race at work for more information)
  • How to hear and respond to feedback and lived experience
  • Coaching and support for both parties.
4. Provide support for the relationships
While the most effective mentoring relationships work because both parties get to know each other and can intuitively work together, it can take a little time for some mentoring relationships to find their rhythm. You should aim to provide some structure which will help those that require the framework and guidance. The following may help: 
  • Consider the length of the mentoring relationship
  • Consider the frequency and rhythm of the meetings
  • Provide a mechanism for agreeing who takes the responsibility to set up meetings
  • Provide a loose meeting structure with tips on how to begin and end the meetings, with agreed follow up etc.
You can also consider providing some suggested conversation topics. These can include:
  • What’s new in the company
  • Lived experience
  • How it feels to work in the company as a person from an ethnic minority background
  • Things the company does well
  • How the company can support less represented groups
  • How to build trust.
Essentially it is important that the mutual mentoring programme is supported by the leadership, the culture, the processes and practices in the organisation. This requires effective consideration, support and governance before, during and after the programme. This will ensure that challenges are identified and rectified and consistent support is provided for all parties.

Q: What advice can you give on setting up an employee network or affinity group around race?

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) can have many positive effects on organisations including reduced turnover rates, increased employee engagement and increased productivity. In the context of the recent racial events, ERGs can be a safe space for open conversations about race and for employees to share their lived experience.

Steps to take

Set the intention for the ERG with your executive team

To ensure its success, it is important that the intentions for the ERG are established and agreed upon at the offset. With your leadership team be clear what your ERG is for, for example:

  • Giving employees from different ethnic backgrounds a voice
  • Getting feedback on lived experience in society and the organisation
  • Getting feedback on lived experience in the organisation
  • Creating a safe space for sharing and support
  • Presenting a (not attributable) view of diverse ethnic experiences to the organisation
  • Acting as another source of feedback and temperature check on organisational initiatives.

It is important to be aware that organisations can run the risk of misusing ERGs and putting additional pressure on them. There is sometimes an expectation on them to resolve organisational issues or develop policies, both of which are beyond their professional remit. It is also important to be clear about what ERGs are NOT for, this can include:

  • Teaching the organisation or individuals about ethnically diverse experiences
  • Giving the organisation answers to organisational issues
  • Presenting solutions for racial disparities in the workplace
  • Developing HR policies
  • Speaking at events if they are not able/willing.

Recruiting the membership of the ERG

Engage a board executive to sponsor and support the ERG. Executive sponsorship ensures that the ERG has influence and a voice at senior levels within the organisation.

Ask for volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds to join the senior executive sponsor to form the ERG. While it is beneficial to have allies in the group, who are not ethnically diverse but want to support the group, it is important that a significant majority of the group is made up of ethnically diverse employees. This will allow employees in the ERG to feel they are in a safe space to be truly honest about the challenges they face in the workplace with no judgement.

Promote the ERG

Make all employees aware that the group has been created including positively promoting the group’s goals and support from senior leadership. This can be done through the organisation’s intranet or internal newsletter or any of your usual communication channels.

Review and continued support

After you have successfully established the ERG in your organisation, it will be useful to review the goals you set out at the offset. What is working and what could work better? Has the focus of the group changed?

Quantitative data from ethnically diverse employees since the ERG was established such as retention rates, employee engagement scores, promotion rates as well as anecdotal feedback can be a measure of change. Also consider the behavioural change within the organisation and anecdotal evidence of an increased sense of belonging amongst ethnically diverse employees.

Ask the ERG what further support and input they require from the business.

Further advice is available in the guide on how to set up an employee resource group for black and ethnic minority employees.

Q: What can HR professionals do to make a difference day-to-day in fighting systemic racism in the workplace? What processes and policies should I be looking at first?

Systemic racism is, by definition, ingrained and built into the system; in the context of this question it would be the organisational system. This means that the organisation would need to look at the entire business, sales, operations, customer management and people processes to review and seek out practices that potentially disadvantage people based on their race.

As a profession we have a responsibility to actively lead organisations on their journey towards becoming inclusive workplaces. A first step that HR professionals can take is to table and discuss this with their leaders, working with them to commence a business wide review and action plan to build an anti-racist organisation.

As an HR function, the focus and immediate sphere of control will be the entire employee life cycle. Review your people data, from attraction and recruitment right through to succession and attrition. What does your data tell you about the experiences of different employees by race in your organisation? Review the employee flows by race, are there areas where representation starts to drop. Does your data tell you that all races are equally recruited, engaged, developed and trained? If not then you know you have issues to address.

Then, take action. For each area where your data demonstrates an issue, build a strategy then take action. Many organisations begin with recruitment then move onto development but the employee journey requires a strategy.

As gatekeepers of the employee experience, most of the areas for systemic racism are in our sphere of control. It is vital that HR teams review and de-bias all people processes, seeking external support if required.

Further advice is available in the guide on developing an anti-racism strategy.

Q: As a white HR professional, how can I best show allyship?

An ally is a person who speaks up for or champions underrepresented groups while not being part of that demographic. They use their white advantage to create opportunities for others. Allyship is not only standing up for what’s right, but acknowledging that, as a part of an advantaged group, you may well have benefited from systemic racism, and then using that knowledge to make efforts to address any of your own ingrained beliefs. Allyship is important as allies have a voice and influence that allows them to be heard in ways that the underrepresented group cannot. Allies can influence many members of the advantaged group, sharing their learning and reflections with them.

Allyship is not about taking over or coming to the rescue, the actions allies take should be agreed by the community they are serving. Allyship is about recognising that resolving the issues benefits everyone and then working alongside the underrepresented group to address the issues.

Being an ally to black people

In the context of being an ally to black people, being a white ally involves:

  • A lot of reflection and discomfort as you learn and challenge yourself. Initial questions to reflect on include, “what are my motivations for being an ally”, “why am I doing this”, “is this about my ego or about making things better for everyone”?
  • Learning about the black experience, historic and current, understanding how systemic racism continues to impact black people globally and in the UK. Learning about white advantage and how it has benefitted you as a white person. Asking yourself as you learn how you can use your knowledge to teach other white people, how you can learn more and how you can continue to be a better ally.
  • Being an ally also involves taking action. Actions include amplifying black voices, using your position and white advantage to listen and challenge power dynamics, especially those in your organisation. This means actively using your voice to stand up for the rights of black people, even when it feels uncomfortable.

Key ways to demonstrate effective allyship:

  • Listening with an open mind, learn about issues that affect black people
  • Learn about black history and the lived experiences of black people
  • Share your own thoughts and learnings with other white people
  • Confront your own biases and prejudices, even when it is not comfortable
  • Speak out against statements or jokes that diminish black people; these are harmful. Let your family and friends know why they are wrong and that you find them offensive.

Being an effective ally takes consistent intention, deliberate action, accountability, partnership and humility.

Q: How do I facilitate a safe space and environment for black colleagues to be heard?

Recent events mean that race and more specifically the black experience are being discussed in an unprecedented way. The conversations have been cathartic and liberating for many black people, and shocking and illuminating for many people who had not previously deeply considered race or the black experience. As organisations have begun these conversations internally, it is vital that the conversations continue in a way that increases understanding and breaks down barriers.

Practical steps

  • Communicate the organisations’ intentions to create a safe space for black colleagues to speak and to be heard. Communicate the reasons why and what the outcomes will be. Setting intentions is vital as it increases feelings of trust and safety in your black colleagues as they share some personal and potentially painful experiences.
  • Be clear that this is optional. It is important to understand that the desire to engage in speaking and sharing will vary between your black colleagues. Some colleagues may not want to engage, others just want to speak to express their feelings but may not want to share these feelings outside of the black community in your organisation yet; or ever. Others will be willing to engage in speaking and sharing experiences with the whole organisation. If they do offer you their perspective, recognise that this is extra emotional work and should not be expected from all.
  • Put the structures in place. Set up the structures so that there is a space for the conversations to take place. That could range from physical spaces (as appropriate post COVID-19 lockdown) to setting up virtual meeting spaces and virtual teams to allow a free flow of information. Invite your black employees to take part, letting them know it is on their terms. Set the expectation you have – whether that is that there is no expectation of your employee or that you would like to understand the black experience in your organisation.
  • Get help. The conversations with your black colleagues and their experiences will be sensitive and uncomfortable at times. They will be uncomfortable for your black colleagues and for the business to hear, understand and then resolve. An external party can help you to decode and digest the feedback.

Another consideration is that confidentiality is important. Given the experience of the black community, it is likely that your colleagues may fear unwanted consequences from directly sharing their thoughts with internal HR or leadership teams (much like the rationale behind confidential employee engagement surveys). Be clear on the steps you will take to protect confidentiality if desired.

Lastly, it is important to ensure that the onus of sharing is not placed on your black colleagues, this could be adding pressure at an already difficult time. If your black employees are not comfortable sharing their experiences personally, engage an external black party to communicate the feelings, experiences and proposed solutions that your black employees have. Consider hiring a neutral party who is sensitive to black issues and can facilitate the conversations and feedback to the business candidly.

Bear in mind that given the current restrictions resulting from COVID-19 many of these measures will need to be carried out virtually and you should explore options to do so as it’s vital that these conversations take place.

Q: Where do I start with building a D&I strategy?

Promoting and supporting diversity in the workplace is an important aspect of good people management - it’s about valuing everyone in the organisation as an individual. However, to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce it’s vital to have an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. While UK legislation sets the minimum standards, an effective diversity and inclusion strategy goes beyond legal compliance and seeks to add value to an organisation, contributing to employee wellbeing and engagement.

A D&I strategy should be shaped and delivered in a way that aligns with an organisations’ culture, ways of working and business goals - there is no ‘one size fits all’.

The starting place when building a D&I strategy includes:

Reflect on where you are now

What has your activity been to date on diversity and inclusion? What positive gains have you made and what have you learnt along the way? What do your policies say and what is your track record on achieving this? What data do you have around diversity? What does your data tell you? What is your industry doing, how do you stack up against your industry norms and benchmarks?

Set the inclusion intention for your organisation

In the context of your reflection, set clear intentions for your inclusion journey with your leadership teams. What are your ambitions? What are the outcomes you want to achieve for your people and for your business?

Your inclusion strategy

Your strategy is the journey between where you are now (your reflection) and achieving your inclusion intention. Map out the steps you need to take to make the journey. The steps depend on the organisation but include:

  • Tracking data across the employee life cycle, recruitment, progression, promotion, pay, retention and exit. Consider what your data is telling you; where do you have disparities? What are the patterns?
  • Gaining feedback from your employees on their experience of your organisation.
  • Review your people processes, looking out for instances that could be discriminatory, directly or indirectly. What is happening and what will you do to address this?

Take action

Start to work on the areas identified. Have clear outcomes in mind and assess how you are delivering against them.


As you progress on your D&I journey is important to continually assess and review that you are delivering against your intended outcomes. Review your data and use this to ensure that you are on the right track. Refresh your strategy if you need to.

Get specialist help

Depending on your organisation, you may need to consider getting specialist support to take you through the process.

Q: How can we reach a more diverse candidate pool? What can we do, especially if we are constrained on budget and need to use free job boards?

Attraction and recruitment are the beginning of the employee journey and often (for the majority of organisations) the first time your candidates have come across your business. Any diversity and inclusion strategy should include attracting and recruiting a diverse workforce. There are many ways to do this and approaches range from those requiring significant budgets to low cost and effective approaches.

To reach a more diverse candidate pool with a limited budget consider the following:


How you communicate to your prospective colleagues during attraction is important. This is your opportunity to tell your passive talent pool about your organisation, the culture and why they should want to work for you. Take this opportunity to communicate your positive culture and be honest about where you are with diversity and inclusion. While you may be on your journey towards your inclusion ambition, it is important that you speak about your inclusion ambitions. Diverse candidates would be encouraged to apply if they know you have an ambition to be inclusive, even if you are not there yet.

Use your job site, career pages, job adverts to state that you welcome diverse candidates; this will be a good sign for prospective diverse candidates. Ensure this message is included in websites, blogs, linked pages and any employer marketing you use.

Your candidate sources

Advertise your jobs through diverse channels; there are plenty of recruiters and job boards which specialise in attracting diverse candidates. Explore websites and forums visited by and dedicated to underrepresented groups. It’s also important to ensure that the images and language you are using are inclusive and that you are using fair and consistent approaches to recruitment and selection.

Ask your employees. Be direct and ask your existing employees for diverse referrals, explaining your ambition to recruit employees from underrepresented groups in your company.

Consider partnering with schools, colleges and universities with a diverse pupil pool. Explore the use of apprenticeships, internships and work experience placements.

Attend diverse networking events and career events. Use professional networking sites to join diversity focussed groups and to advertise your vacancies.

To summarise, while a healthy budget is helpful, there are a number of effective avenues to explore that do not require large budgets.

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