Explore the UK legal position and main issues employers face when dealing with race discrimination in the workplace
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.
In response to recent events following the death of George Floyd 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.
The recent events have shed light on the oppression and discrimination faced by black people and in light of this we have put together these FAQs to help people professionals start to address this issue in their workplace. These are based on requests that members and other people professionals have asked the CIPD to address. These questions start by addressing the importance of a diversity and inclusion strategy overall and then focus in on racial equality and inclusion and specifically black equality and inclusion. We will build upon these FAQs with more content looking at developing an anti-racism strategy and addressing inclusion more broadly.
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.
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.
The Race Disparity Audit in the UK recommend the use of ethnic minorities rather than the terms BME/BAME because such terms highlight particular groups while others are omitted – for example, it includes Black and Asian people but not people of a Mixed ethnicity.
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. 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.
- Privilege. Educate your people about privilege, how privilege works and how to use privilege 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: 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.
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.
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 own privilege to create opportunities for those less privileged. Allyship is not only standing up for what’s right, but acknowledging that, as a part of the privileged group, you have probably benefited from the 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. As part of the privileged group, allies can influence many members of the privileged group, sharing their learning and reflections with them. By virtue of the fact that allies can reach the privileged group in a more significant way, without effective allies, the disadvantages of the underrepresented group are more likely to continue for longer.
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 privilege 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 privilege 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.
- 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?
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.
Explore our related content
Explore the CIPD’s point of view on race inclusion in the workplace, including actions for Government and recommendations for employers
Offers insight, support and guidance for employers and examines barriers to access and progression within their business context