How workplaces can fight racism beyond hiring more Black and minority staff

The recent political climate has shown an urgent need for a fairer, anti-racist society – and highlighted the ways the current system is failing Black people and people of colour.

As a result of police brutality, undue scrutiny, and ongoing unequal treatment towards Black people and other ethnic minorities, many brands and organisations are now looking to reshuffle their working environments to better support them.

Many employers are attempting to redress the racial imbalance of their staff by bringing in diverse employees – which has been widely welcomed.

However, many have noted that the issue isn’t just about access, but rather making sure that ethnic minorities are in leadership roles, that they’re not subject to gaslighting or microaggressions at work, and feel nurtured in their roles.

And importantly, short-sighted diversity programmes have been known to fail.

People online have pointed out that many of the industries that are now calling for greater diversity have also been historically made up of white, usually cisgender and male employees in powerful positions.

But these isolated examples aren’t fixes for the discrimination faced by staff.

To show just how insidious the problem of racism is in the workplace, René and Adesuwa, two Black women founded nine to fives, an online community for Black people in the workplace.

They started a hashtag #BlackInTheOffice to create a space for Black employees to anonymously share their experiences – and the responses they received were overwhelming.

René and Adesuwa feel that companies merely issuing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ statement or just telling more people of colour to apply for jobs are being performative and putting the onus on the afflicted to fix the problem.

They tell ‘In order to fight racism and bias at work, organisations first need to address that there is an issue. Company statements regarding solidarity with the Black community seem ignorant of the fact they have been failing Black employees for years.

‘We need transparency here – pay transparency, the number of Black employees, and Black employees at leadership level. Releasing key numbers/ metrics helps to bring about accountability.’

To better cater to future Black staff, companies need to talk to present and past staff, they say.

‘Tailored and specific solutions based on feedback from Black employees is also necessary: Listen to Black employees, their experiences, the changes they would like to see, and use this feedback to create initiatives and solutions which address them.

‘One size fits all diversity initiatives fail time and time again because it assumes that one solution can resolve for all diverse communities which just isn’t true.’

They also advocate a deep analysis of current practices that may have been in place for decades.

‘In order to create a safe workplace for Black employees where they are treated fairly and have equal opportunities, this means many of the existing processes for hiring, promotion, pay, incident management, etc will need to be reviewed, updated, or completely dismantled and replaced.’

René and Adesuwa say that employers need to be proactive in educating themselves on race, systemic racism, what it means to be anti-racist and how to be a better all and dispersing the resources firmwide and frequently, not just because of the current climate.

‘It simply isn’t enough to just hire more Black people, not until you have taken the necessary steps to make your workplace more inclusive for them.

‘A diverse and inclusive workplace needs to be the responsibility of everyone. The unconscious bias training doesn’t account for the reality that much of the behaviours Black employees are subjected to which is very conscious and calculated.’

Brands with diversity challenges may want to dedicate investigative time to identify where they’re enabling the same type of candidates to excel.

For example, tracking successful applications, how they’re being recruited and the types of backgrounds they come from.

They may then attempt to hire from a different pool – such as from historically Black and minority colleges, institutions, or areas.

Interviewing from a wider network for entry and top level jobs while making interviewers aware of personal biases may help to weed out the problem.

The next step would be to cater work environments to minority staff who may not feel totally comfortable in the work environment.

René and Adesuwa’s sentiments are echoed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which promotes and enforces equality laws the UK.

The EHRC says organisations need to be in line with the Equality Act and show ‘due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities’.

They say to do this requires accountability, to make sure employers are actually seeing through their goals for equality.

‘A first step towards achieving this would be to introduce mandatory reporting by ethnicity on staff recruitment, retention, and promotion,’ an EHRC spokesperson tells

‘This would identify where there may be issues and help employers to tackle the barriers which ethnic minorities face within the workplace. Mandatory action plans would also help employers demonstrate how they are going to improve diversity and set targets to achieve this.’

They are saying that to truly tackle inequality, employers must dedicate time and resources to shaking up current operations at all levels, from the boardroom to the recruitment stage, working to eliminate biases.

The sentiments are echoed by the Race Equality Foundation a non-profit organisation promoting equality in social support and public services.

They tell ‘Every workplace should be actively recruiting and encouraging Black and minority ethnic staff, removing discriminatory practices and supporting advancement to the highest levels while ensuring workers at the more frontline roles have good terms and conditions.’

The REF cites research by McKinsey & Company which provides advice on strategic management to corporations.

Their research highlights the power of subconscious bias, favouritism towards people that reflect the status quo, and the mistaken belief that companies are more diverse than they actually are.

A spokesperson for the REF adds: ‘There are a number of ways to address some of these issues including removing bias from existing policies and practices, introducing stronger policies and practices on racism in the workplace and supporting colleagues who experience racism from colleagues or customers, name-blind recruitment processes, educating the leadership and the workforce in a meaningful and ongoing way and fostering a workplace environment where staff are empathetic and empowered to challenge racism.’

These are just some of the ways employers can level the playing field for Black and minority staff without being superficial

If we have honest discussions about race and the experiences of ethnic minorities within the workplace we can create an environment that allows them to achieve their full potential.

To achieve this, brands may want to do a complete overhaul on the way they do business, hire employees, and the way they continue to treat and retain staff.

Because merely adding more brown faces to the workforce without genuinely nurturing them is just not enough.

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