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How Do We Blackout Racial Prejudice?

Racial equality and diversity

Awareness and acknowledgement are important steps in tackling racial prejudice in business and society, as long as they are accompanied by action. That’s the key message from iResearch Services’ new A Fairer Future report, which examines diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) including the struggles of Black employees for equality across several business sectors.

The A Fairer Future report states that businesses that put policies in place to promote racial equality throughout the organization and in the boardroom can benefit from increased motivation and loyalty of Black employees. Companies that have a more diverse workforce are well-placed to outperform those that do not and are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, research from McKinsey suggests. Diversity also helps boost innovation and agility, as Deloitte outlines.

Businesses must act on racial discrimination

A Fairer Future, which features the responses of 570 respondents from the financial services, professional services, technology, healthcare, and energy sectors in the UK and US to DEI issues and initiatives, shows that while progress has been made, there is more work to do.  While almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents said their firmshad a formal DEI policy in place, 8% had nothing at all. Race/ethnicity received the largest focus among stated segments at 35%, which suggests progress, but not enough.

Pay and career progression
Despite the focus on race by some companies, the report highlights how unconscious bias makes it more difficult for marginalized groups to progress up the career ladder and particularly to the C-Suite level.

According to CoQual, Black professionals are 81% more likely to view their companies’ career progression systems as “not at all” or “only slightly” fair. As a result, Black professionals intend to spend less time at their current companies than White colleagues.

The Being Black in the UK report from the CoQual equality and diversity think tank reveals that more than half (52%) of Black women and 46% of Black respondents overall intend to stay at their companies for just two years or less, compared to 34% of White professionals. To make matters worse, the problem is often ignored or not picked up by businesses. CoQual says, “We find that although Black employees face barriers to their career and ongoing prejudice, many of their colleagues still don’t acknowledge it. To retain Black talent, companies must take transparent action to address systemic racism, with accountability at all levels.

For Black people who are also members of other groups that suffer discrimination – women, for instance – discrimination is even more difficult to overcome. A 2022 analysis by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK shows that Black African women earn 26% less than men, Bangladeshi women 28%, and Pakistani women 31%. In the US, the issue is even more pronounced.  Black women in the United States are paid 58% less than non-Hispanic White men for doing the same job, according to data from the American Association of University Women equity body.

Kamaljit Gatore, VP – HR for iResearch Services, says the lack of DEI support can exhaust, overwhelm and drive Black women and other racial minorities out of professional careers. “It’s an issue that will continue to have an impact on employee engagement, attracting and retaining talent within the sector.”

C-Suite recruitment and retention

One way of spearheading change in larger companies is to change the racial makeup of boards to be more representative of society. In the UK in 2020, only 0.4% of the 4,266 partners in the country’s eight largest professional service firms were Black, the Consultancy UK website reports.

The Parker Review conducted a voluntary census of FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies on ethnic diversity, which set out targets and best practices for British corporations at the board level. It found that 37% of FTSE 100 companies surveyed do not have any ethnic minority representation on their board, while on the FTSE 250, 69% of companies did not meet the target.

Katy Neep from Business In the Community (BITC), a membership organization that campaigns for inclusive business practices, tells A Fairer Future there is a growing internal movement for employees to have a strong role in their voice and engagement, but that has to be backed by board members.

“Effective DEI strategies have to have that senior commitment to really embed it throughout a business. What we do see with people who have made that commitment and are implementing change, is that it is part of the culture, it is a regular item on boardroom agendas.”

Millions of people around the world have become more aware of the struggle that Black people face through Black Lives Matter and the Blackout Tuesday campaign on social media, which highlight incidents of racism, discrimination, inequality, and violence.

Blackout Tuesday was set up by US media executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang to pause all business and take a stand against the “racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard.”  It was first observed on Tuesday 2 June 2020 and attracted attention as many posters used all-black square images to symbolize the blackout.

Critics have rounded on some companies, however, which they accuse of hypocrisy for backing the campaign, while discriminating against racial minority workers by not offering equality in pay and working conditions. Awareness raising and campaigns are opening up discussion and discourse, but awareness and talk are meaningless if not followed up with action. As David Dent MBE FloD, Executive Director, Parexel Biotech, told LinkedIn recently, “I believe that you cannot criticize what you have not tried to change.”

Business leaders need to take action

Kamaljit Gatore emphasizes that businesses need to plan, promote and provide a strong lead to combat racism and discrimination at work.

“It’s positive to see the growing awareness around the importance of having a strong DEI culture within your organization, but as we head into the new year, leaders must take on the responsibility of turning this awareness into real action.

“Building in KPIs that can effectively measure the progress that is being made, auditing talent processes and policies, and driving company-wide initiatives to raise the issue of racism in the workplace, are all important steps to shift your company’s DEI agenda from a simple tick-boxing exercise, to creating a more inclusive work environment for everyone.”

As A Fairer Future points out, “Awareness is an important step, but unfair workplaces won’t fix themselves – we need to audit talent processes and policies, drive company-wide awakening to the reality of racism and discrimination, and act in a way that holds leaders and colleagues accountable.”

It is clear that both at work and in society, changes need to be made to fix unfair workplaces and blackout racial equality in society. The lesson is to harness effective planning and campaigning, decisive leadership and firm action to produce positive change.

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