Date: 05/06/18 | Duration: 00:26:56
The business and ethical case for diversity is clear and well established and today we’re seeing notable progress on gender. However, research shows that we’re still not seeing the same pace of change in racial equality at work. While one in eight of the working-age population is from a BAME background, this group still only holds one in sixteen of the top management positions. Despite governmental and business focus we are failing to make a meaningful and lasting impact.
So what is holding organisations back? In this episode we hear clips from an event in which senior HR professionals discuss why they believe progress remains slow and why we find it so difficult to talk about race. We also hear from television broadcaster June Sarpong MBE and CIPD’s Membership Director David D’Souza as they discuss what organisations and HR can do to support and encourage change.
View the full podcast transcript
Philippa Lamb: So welcome to the podcast and today it is the second episode of our diversity series. Now last time we looked at unconscious bias this time we’re getting our teeth into an issue that is more taboo and that is why are we comfortable talking about gender in the workplace but not race?
Now in ten years’ time nearly 20% of the UK workforce will be black, Asian or of minority ethnic origin but we have to ask ourselves how well they’ll do at work compared to their white colleagues because right now a third of black employees feel that discrimination is undermining their career progression. That is according to the CIPD’s own research.
Today we’re going to hear some views recorded at a recent CIPD forum where a range of experts got together to talk about the BAME work, and it’s worth saying at this point that that forum was conducted under the Chatham House rules and the clips we’re going to play you we recorded them afterwards which is why we’re attaching names to them.
Now I've got two guests with me to discuss the clips, that's David D’Souza, CIPD’s own membership director, and June Sarpong MBE, TV presenter and author of a great new book called Diversify. Thank you for being with us.
June as I said to you earlier I started reading your book last week, I'm really enjoying it and I was struck by a term that you coined which is ‘the others’, do you want to explain that?
June Sarpong: Yes of course. So the reason why I decided to look at the various disenfranchised groups that I look at in the book and call them ‘other’ was because I think a lot of the time we use quite extreme language when it comes to this issue and I think most people are in the middle, which is they’re comfortable with people that remind them of themselves. And everybody has an ‘other’. And so I think if we can look at it in these sorts of terms then we take the shame out of it and that way people can be honest and address their unconscious bias, address where their limiting beliefs are and then hopefully start to change as individuals.
And I think that's really important because when we use really extreme words like racism, which let’s be real does exist, I'm not one of these people that thinks it doesn’t exist, it’s real, but I would categorise racism as some of the people that we saw marching at Charlottesville. Do you see what I mean?
JS: That is what I class as overt racism. I think most people are somewhere in the middle which is just they discriminate in a way which is unintentional and in a way that they don’t want to. But we’ve all been conditioned to think a certain way, so
unless you are somebody that's exceptional chances are you have these sorts of beliefs.
PL: Well the book as I say is interesting obviously it’s a wide sphere, you cover age, power, class, it’s really interesting.
PL: It is a really interesting read, for the purposes of today we’re just talking about BAME but I think you'll be interested in the clips we’ve got and the voices you'll hear are Pamela Hutchinson, she's from Bloomberg; diversity consultant Frank Douglas and HS2’s Mark Lomas. Let’s kick off with their thoughts on why gender seems easier to talk about than BAME.
Frank Douglas: Every while man knows a white woman, which is to say that women are part of the C suite’s personal orbit. They go home, there's a wife, a daughter, a mother, a grandmother. At work women make up an increasingly larger part of the workforce. On the other hand with black and Asian, ethnic minority staff, there are very few BAME’s in professional orbit of most C suite executives and quite obviously there's probably even less in their personal orbit when they go home. That creates discomfort and that also starts enabling stereotypes.
Pamela Hutchinson: I think we find it easier to talk about gender rather than BAME diversity, well for starters I think BAME in itself is a difficult concept to even get your head around. I mean what does it really mean and who does it apply to? And I think we get so caught up in the language that we find it difficult to talk about for fear of offending, whereas gender you’ve got male and female and that's pretty much it.
Mark Lomas: How often do you walk into a room of senior HR professionals and see a black or Asian man? Quite unlikely. How often do you walk into the board and see black or Asian people represented there, particularly in the sector that I'm from which is construction, infrastructure, engineering? Very unlikely. So those are the reasons why we find it difficult, it’s because there aren’t enough of those people in those rooms to normalise the presence, to normalise difference and make it easy to talk about.
PL: So Pamela says gender’s easier to talk about than race, just generally easier. I mean obviously gender isn’t the binary issue it used to be in the past but it’s perhaps less complicated than race and it is interesting how many people I meet and you will meet too who actually don’t know what BAME means. Do you find that?
David D’Souza: Yes. I think it’s one of these areas where unless you step towards it, unless you express a genuine interest and unless you care enough to do that it can just seem rife with complicated terms and I know that there are a number of times that people may challenge the usage of BAME I think the use of the wording around
‘other’ is a really interesting one because it helps you recognise that there is difference but actually makes it less jargony in some ways. But language is definitely a barrier to conversation.
PL: And anxiety about getting it wrong?
JS: Yeah and I think also one of the things we have to be quite honest about is that where race is concerned, if you look at the history there's been all sorts of horrific structures that have been put in place and I think the problem with race per se is you also have to look at how people are conditioned. So in western countries white people are taught to believe that they are superior to people of a different race, whether you like it or not, even if it’s not overt just because white is the standard for normal that means that's what you’re going to get. So first of all you’re dealing with the fact that people have been conditioned to have beliefs around superiority and inferiority and then the other piece which is really important, particularly when we get to the men is the fact that men of colour are seen as the primary source of fear in our society.
So that's another thing. So number one, without even knowing it when your image of a scientist, you think of scientist, you think white man. When you think of leader you think white man. When you think of anything to do with leadership, power or influence you think white man. And there's a hierarchy and perhaps next is white woman, elite white woman anyway and then it goes on and on and on. And usually people of colour are at the bottom of that.
So if we get into the workplace our idea of who is actually capable of running a business, of growing a company, of strategising and so on and so on, without even realising our idea is usually not a person of colour and I think that’s why it’s really important to start challenging these limiting beliefs. But we have to understand where it’s coming from.
PL: Yeah I mean Frank’s point about we all know white woman, I mean I was thinking about this on the train on the way here this morning and thinking is there anyone in the country who doesn’t know a white woman and there probably isn’t is there?
DDS: I don’t have the stats on that but I’d be quite comfortable going out on a line and saying that there isn’t.
PL: Which is interesting because when you think how many people do not know someone who doesn’t look like them and there'll be millions of people who don’t know.
JS: Yes we did some recent polling on that particularly issue and what we found was a third, 34% of British people do not have a single friend from a different ethnic or cultural background.
PL: That's a big number isn’t it?
JS: That's a big number. It’s probably more actually.
PL: Organisational fit is something I wanted to talk about and I was going to ask you David about this because this has been a big thing and HR has promoted this idea of bringing people into organisations who are right for the organisation, has that got a role to play here though because is that slightly becoming shorthand for low risk organisations, people who are kind of like us, people like the people we’ve already got?
DDS: If you do it lazily then absolutely, that's part of the problem. But I think if you do it mindfully and if you go, actually what are we trying to create here? We are trying to create people who are respectful of others, who want to value people’s thoughts rather than their backgrounds, then actually it’s a really positive thing because that's what you can aim for in terms of fit. But if what you say is actually we’d just like more like some of the last ones that we had, where you know if you profile…
PL: More of the same.
DDS: …if you did more of the same for the FTSE 100 you would end up with essentially entrenching some of the problems that we know we have currently.
PL: I'm interested because obviously June you talk a lot about the business case for this some sectors of employment are better than others and actually I was thinking about yours on the way here too and thinking that the media quite a long time ago got its head around the fact that they needed non-white presenters for commercial reasons.
JS: No as somebody who works in the media I think my industry talks a good game but in reality it’s terrible.
PL: Well that's what I mean because people in front of cameras you get more diversity but you walk into any broadcast organisation it’s a sea of white middle class people isn’t it?
JS: Yes I totally agree it really is.
PL: So that was the point I was trying to make really that some organisations are in the foothills of understanding the commercial imperative but they haven’t actually embraced it fully.
JS: Yes 100%. And I think also back to what David you were saying about more of the same, I think one of the things that companies need to look at, particularly B to C businesses is the talent pipeline. So if you know you are sourcing talent from only Russell Group universities straightaway you know what you're getting. That's more of the same and actually maybe it’s looking at new ways and in fact I've got an article about this on your blog, maybe it’s looking at new ways of sourcing talent. So where are we getting our talent from and where are the groups that we haven’t even tapped into and shown our industry exists? And I think that's really important for any leader, for any HR professional. It’s the thing, okay normally we look at Russell Group university students, normally we go to the same headhunters etc. you know what we’re going to throw that out of the window and we’re going to say, “We want this kind of person, come and we will train you ourselves within our organisation,” because even if you have people of colour or you have people with disabilities and they’ve still be educated in the Russell Group system that in itself is still kind of more of the same, so we also want diversity of thought.
PL: All right let’s move on to causes and listen to some more clips about what’s holding up progress.
PH: I think one of the things that holds back progress is that we’re not honest, we don’t have real truthful conversations. Everyone is skirting around the issue, again
because of fear of offending or being accused of being racist and so we don’t really get to the heart of the topic.
FD: The UK at its most basic is a class society and so we’re much more comfortable talking about class. I always find it interesting whenever I read the newspaper if there's ever a crime story or anything the first paragraph always has the price of the person’s home to establish where they are in the social setting. But race is something that we just are very uncomfortable with and we don’t touch it, and many C suite senior executives don’t know what to call black people, I mean I've had CEOs ask me, “Do I call them black? Is it people of colour? Is it coloured?” I've even had someone say. So they’re not even sure how to start the conversation. So it’s a muscle that they’ve never exercised. Now if you can't even start a conversation about an issue then you’re going to have no chance of addressing the issue.
ML: Two things, transparency and accountability. If you don’t understand what you’re doing and what the effect it has then you've got no hope of ever changing anything. Some of it is wilful ignorance. I just don’t want to know because then I might have to do something difficult. And when it comes round to accountability, accountability is not only you get rewarded for this, you get the stick for that, but it’s accountable for doing something different. Have you done the same thing for 20 years and it not worked? Well if you have you should do something different because blatantly it’s not working. So for me transparency is very key, accountability is key. And again those are two things at senior levels of the organisation when you talk about diversity you will see a lot of people go, “Well you’re talking about positive discrimination then.” No, no one’s talking about that. And I think one of the primary problems when you try and have that conversation is this idea that we live in a meritocracy. Actually I'm not from the UK, I'm from Bermuda and I've never seen a culture which is so interested in fairness and yet so completely oblivious to the fact that it’s not a meritocracy at all.
So that makes it very difficult because a logical outcome of believing it’s a meritocracy is that those people who are different and don’t benefit from the sponsorship, the networking etc. and don’t make it through, aren’t as good. And therefore you get into a pity model and I think that's why the change is difficult. But transparency and accountability are key to the change.
PL: That is interesting isn’t it?
PL: I mean I think it builds on the point that you’re making about Russell Group universities, this idea that we kid ourselves that we’re living in a meritocracy.
JS: Mm very much so and we’re not. And also I think it’s about valuing different skillsets and realising that actually certain groups bring something else that's equally valuable to a first or a 2:1 or whatever.
DDS: And the challenge about admitting that it’s not a meritocracy is that's a threat to the people who are traditionally successful because it means they have to admit to themselves that they didn’t get there purely on merit but actually there are attributes that maybe where they grew up, maybe the people that they knew, it may just be the
colour of their skin there determining that level of success and that is a threat to ego as much as anything else.
PL: It’s hard to believe isn’t it? And you can discuss this with high achievers and it’s the last thing they want to admit to – understandably, perfectly understandably, but it is there isn’t it and we need to look that in the eye a bit more directly?
DDS: Yeah I mean I'm regularly asked by our students how I got to be relatively successful in my career and my answer is I was born in one of the richest countries in the world, in a home county, went to a grammar school, I'm white-skinned and I'm a guy. That's quite a head start compared to lots of people and until we start admitting that to ourselves it’s very difficult to confront the challenges to other people.
PL: You were laughing when there was the talk about, “How do we refer to people who aren’t white-skinned?” So come on tell us.
JS: Yes, yes, first of all black is fine, it’s nice, it’s good, you can say the word ‘black’. A lot of people are scared to say it.
PL: Well when I was a small child you could not say that.
JS: I know.
PL: So the language changes doesn’t it?
JS: No but that was never black people that thought that, black people always liked the word ‘black’, white people were scared to say the word ‘black’. So Philippa you can say black as can you David.
JS: You've just found out you are haven’t you love!
PL: I think I should explain at this point we’ve been having a conversation about David’s ethnicity and he's discovered some interesting things about his own background.
DDS: It’s fluid, it’s fluid.
JS: He’s ethnically fluid. So where black is concerned we can say that. Also I think in terms of what to call people sometimes you just have to ask as well and I think ask without the nervousness and the guilt attached to it, just ask.
PL: So we did a series podcast last year about the experience of LGBTQ people in work and we did I think three or four largely drawing on people’s own experiences and that was exactly the same conversation, it was about no one knows what to call me. No one knows how to say this stuff. They're terrified of using the wrong term. And so there's this distance, this chasm opens up, even amongst people who, with the best will in the world they just are terrified of screwing it up.
JS: Yeah and I think sometimes you just have to ask.
PL: Yeah that was exactly what most of those speakers said to just front up and ask.
DDS: Yeah I think if you care enough about it you'll find a way to have those conversations. It’s almost an easy get out to say, “Well I wasn’t quite sure of the
language, I wasn’t quite comfortable so I just stayed away from it and left things as they were.” If you want to be part of the solution you have to be part of the conversation.
PL: Yeah well that's perfect actually that brings us on to what we should be doing. Let’s hear again from our experts again at the forum.
ML: That's a good question you know what works it’s really easy make a different decision.
PH: Gosh I don't think anything has worked so far or else we wouldn’t still be talking about this topic.
ML: A lot of organisations talk about mentoring. They talk about having a BAME development programme. I think the time for that has passed. That's been done for the last 15 years, has it changed anything? Maybe the power of one or two but again you walk into that boardroom has it worked? No it hasn’t.
FD: It’s not easy and so what also is happening is that people are looking for easy solutions, looking for shiny objects, let’s do blind CVs, let’s do diverse panels and let’s do unconscious bias training, and all they’re doing is focusing on the medicine without actually having diagnosed is that stomach pain an ulcer, gas, food poisoning or whatever? And the medicine part is easy.
ML: Fixing the people doesn’t work you actually have to fix the method by which you reach your decisions. And then that will change, that will change on its own. The women don’t need fixing, the BAME people don’t need fixing, the LGBT people don’t need fixing, the disabled people don’t need fixing. If all these people are finding your talent and your development and your resourcing process is problematic I would suggest logic dictates the problem is the process.
PH: But I think things that can help, I think holding managers accountable for driving ethnic diversity is critical in the same way that we have done around gender and organisations have targets and goals in place, we should feel comfortable to do similar things around ethnic diversity. I also think that unless we’re having real, honest conversations about diversity then it’s very difficult to move the agenda forward and one of the things that we’re doing in our organisation at Bloomberg is that we’re having inclusion dialogues and those dialogues are about bringing people together on topics that are difficult and uncomfortable and sensitive and challenging. And we’ve started one on race and it was incredibly successful and it spearheaded a whole load of activities off the back of it.
PL: David I wanted to ask you about this, because this is the nitty gritty isn’t it for practitioners, do you agree with Mark that the time for mentoring and development programmes is over because a lot of organisations are just getting started, they think that's the way forward.
DDS: I think the time for anyone thinking that's a holistic and effective solution in isolation is definitely over. Do I think they’re bad things in and of themselves? Absolutely not but I think it’s far too easy for organisations to select a few initiatives, put them on a PowerPoint slide and put them in the board report and not actually
deal with some of the root cause and some of the broader issues that are uglier, trickier, require more effort, energy and thought to walk towards.
PL: So the sort of things like I was interested in those inclusion dialogues that
Pamela mentioned at Bloomberg’s, what did you think?
JS: It’s great actually what Pamela is doing at Bloomberg is phenomenal, she's really leading the way in this space and they are getting results. I think in terms of what to do I don't think this stuff is difficult at all because the wonderful thing about inequality is you see what works for the few that are privileged. So we have a clear template in terms of what breeds success. So if we look at what we’re doing for elite, white men in our society that tells us, oh in terms of untapping human potential these are the steps, let’s just start doing that for everybody else. It’s not complicated, it really isn’t. We know we’re giving them the right level of education at an early enough age, we know that once they get into our universities, again they are then developing the networks. And we know that once they are in organisations that they are being promoted at a rate that's fair – well not always – but they’re being promoted. And so I think we know what works, let’s just do the same for everyone else. And I think the wonderful thing about the world of work is this is where we can get this stuff right and we spend most of our time there and actually the benefits in terms of economically are quite clear, quite quickly.
PL: So what do you want to see from employers? Do you want to see blind CVs?
JS: No I don't think blind CVs are the way. I think what I want to see from employers is first to understand why this is necessary. Secondly to make sure that their organisations understand it too, because usually it’s the mid-level that you get the problem, you’re able to get the BAME talent through the door and then something happens at the mid-level and they hit a glass ceiling. So you really need to identify what’s going on there or how do we change that so that those people are able to progress and we’re actually able to retain that talent.
PL: What about sponsors higher up the organisation?
JS: That's important but the problem is usually the leadership isn’t always the problem, usually the leadership wants to get this right, it’s the mid-level that the problem happens at. So I think of course the leadership is important but you've got to make sure that the rest of the organisation also understands that it matters.
DDS: I suppose my only challenge to that is that quite often leaders set the tone for the organisation. So if leaders genuinely show that they care, and they care enough not just to deal with it at a superficial level, or express support, but actually to go and then sort out the challenge at that middle level that's where you'll really make a difference.
PL: Let’s talk about regulation; because we’ve just had the audit on gender pay and the gap there, which produced fascinating results, well certainly fascinating from the point of view of a woman, should the government make it a statutory requirement for employers to publish data in the same way on ethnicity?
FD: I think we have to just not leave it to the best wishes and intentions of the organisations of what they’re going to do. I think that we have to mandate that the ethnic pay gap is also published because unless we expose that and shine a light on it, it’s not going to be addressed.
PH: I absolutely believe that the government should start to make it a statutory requirement to publish data on ethnicity; I just can't see how else we’re going to move this agenda forward. Organisations will be stuck in this space of feeling uncomfortable unless they are forced to do something about it.
ML: I'm not sure that would make a difference. If we were to do a race pay gap report it would just look worse because there are far less ethnic minorities at the top of organisations than there are women. Are companies going to rush to sign up to that? I don't think so. So I'm not sure that that is the solution. The solution will come from the customers, the clients, the external focus, who say we want to know or we’re not buying your service, we’re not using your service. That's when you will see real, real change.
PH: We just need to do something because frankly I fear that my children will come into the workplace and we will still be in the same place.
PL: That is a really grim thought isn’t it, Pamela saying there that her kids are going to get to working age and it’s going to be just like it is now. So she says yes we need mandatory reporting, so does Frank, Mark says no it’s going to put employers off, what do you think?
JS: I think we definitely need that. I think we need mandatory reporting in terms of pay but also in terms of progression because I think where BAME is concerned progression actually is an even bigger problem. So I think we definitely need that, we have to.
DDS: I think the attention that gender pay gap reporting drew to a systemic sustained issue that was almost a scandal that we understood but didn’t pay enough attention to, I think there's a similar thing happening here but actually probably on a more profound level. So I would wholeheartedly support it, I haven’t actually checked out what the CIPD stance on this is yet.
PL: We know what your stance is though!
DDS: So apologies to anyone else in the organisation that I've now committed to it. But I absolutely think that the only way that you get attention paid to some of these things is to show the stark reality of them and it will be a good mechanic for that and I would actually like to see the reporting dealt with in a slightly more thorough and nuanced way than we had with gender pay gap reporting as we..
JS: That's a good point.
PL: What do you mean?
DDS: So I think there were certain quirks with gender pay gap reporting, including things like people excluding partners or actually media, self-employed contractors, things like that.
PL: Which is the bulk of the industry of course.
DDS: Absolutely. Let’s genuinely look at who the people that are being employed by organisations and what’s the breakdown in payment for them and let’s get right to the heart of those issues and also let’s not let companies off the hook if this happens to be the case year after year. So there are challenges around from an HR practitioner’s point of view, how some of those figures are put together but actually I think the more detail that we get so there is no question and there is no gap that an organisation can step into and go, oh but it’s not quite like that, get people to publish it so we know it is quite like that and it is unacceptable.
PL: And you think that data will drive the sort of societal change that Mark was talking about, contractors, consumers, clients saying, “Well what are you doing about this?” to the organisations they interact with?
DDS: The media has a role to play and I think we saw that with gender pay gap. It made good headlines; good headlines make for good conversations and in fact having something, to use your word ‘other’, having actually slightly remote concepts of it that you can talk about the fairness of makes it sometimes a bit easier to have the conversations then and how they apply to your immediate surroundings.
JS: That's so true, very true.
PL: We’re out of time but a really good discussion. Thank you very much indeed. David D’Souza, June Sarpong. Our thanks also to Pamela Hutchinson from Bloomberg, Frank Douglas, diversity consultant and Mark Lomas from HS2 for their really excellent insights too. Thanks very much for listening.