Race in the Workplace
Article written by Monica Mwanje
Prior to submitting my first draft, I mentioned to a colleague that October is Black History Month (BHM) in the UK.
Throughout the year, I have been joyed to witness companies supporting e.g. Pride month, International Women’s Day, Trans Visibility day, World Autism Awareness Day amongst others.
Whilst all of these topics (and others) should not just be limited or compartmentalised to their respective day or month; acknowledgement of the day or month can act as a starting point to open up dialogue to initiate and enable change and the breaking down of barriers.
When my colleague suggested I write a short piece on the topic of race in the workplace, I admit I was a little reluctant. Despite the fact that racial diversity or lack thereof is blatant, it is treated somewhat as a hidden topic that is hesitantly discussed, if discussed at all. It is considered by some to be somewhat taboo. For some, an uncomfortable conversation ensues.
Prescribing constructive and nuanced conversations around race are a necessity. Discussing how racial discrimination can and does show up in the workplace, the impact it has and more importantly how it (racial discrimination) can be combatted are required. These discussions are prerequisites to building a desirable, inclusive and diverse working environment. Likewise, working relationships and connections with the communities / greater societies we serve, can only be enhanced if we have better understanding of each other.
Where to start?
“Racial inequality is under-discussed. Nervousness, denial and lack of vocal role models are contributing to a serious diversity problem organisations need to start talking about.”
This is the opening statement from the May 2019 article ‘HR and race in the workplace’. The article presents statistics and delves into the complexities associated with discussing race. It also suggests some practical starting points for organisations. Reading the article is a great place to start if you are wondering where to begin.
Understanding we don’t always know what to look for…
In October 2019 England’s Men’s football team’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was halted and warnings were issued to Bulgarian fans about their racist behaviour. This overt and extreme behaviour could easily be identified as racist and unacceptable. It was swiftly and widely condemned.
However, in other workplaces / work environments racism, racial discrimination doesn’t necessarily manifest in such visible ways.
Key steps in this journey involve learning and understanding the behaviours and legacy systems that perpetuate racial inequality in the workplace. Simply put, if you don’t know what to look for, you will not be able to acknowledge its existence and in turn you won’t be able to tackle it. As human beings, we don’t necessarily always want to admit when we don’t know about something. However, in this case, not being open about what we do not understand can potentially be very damaging.
In recent years gender equality / gender parity work has opened up dialogue about the ways in which gender stereotypes and systems have inhibited the progress of women in certain workplaces or contributed to the lack of women holding e.g. senior leadership roles. As a society we are going through an education curve to understand what actions can be taken to improve/ increase opportunities for women in the workplace. This work has involved, moving past discomfort to start these conversations. It has also required listening and understanding the experiences of numerous women to understand barriers they have encountered, so that these insights can be used to inform and shape approaches moving forward.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
There needs to be a willingness to accept some level of discomfort when discussing the topic of race. However, if there is a genuine desire to reduce racial inequality in your organisation, a genuine desire to recruit from wider sections of the community, a genuine desire to access talent and bring different thoughts, ideas and perspectives to the table, then you need to get over the discomfort.
Start where you are, with regards to your team/organisation. Create safe spaces and begin having the conversations you need to have with regards to the needs of your team/organisation. That way you can identify and understand the steps to take to improve
- Determine a baseline position for your team/organisation. Create safe spaces and begin having the conversations you need to have with regards to the needs of your team/organisation. That way you can establish the baseline and identify and understand the steps to take to improve. It will also enable you to actively track and monitor progress.
- Be prepared to be uncomfortable during this process. Be open and willing to push past the discomfort to enable meaningful progress.
- Seek out resources and keep learning. There are resources named in this article and in this newsletter. We also regularly share articles and reports via the DIN social media feeds. The Equal Group and Better Allies are two examples of many organisations that share some great information and guidance with regards to reducing racial inequality in your organisation.
This article was first published in the Diversity and Inclusion in UK Nuclear December 2019 newsletter. The newsletter can be read here: Diversity and Inclusion in UK Nuclear – December 2019 Newsletter
Monica is the co-founder of Diversity and Inclusion in UK Nuclear. Visit www.dinuclear.com to find out more about this initative.