Watch the webinar
- Ceri Thomas, Editor and Partner, Tortoise Media (Chair)
- Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, CBI
- Justine Lutterodt, Director, Centre for Synchronous Leadership
- Raj Tulsiani, CEO & Co-Founder, Green Park
- Professor Udy Archibong, Professor of Diversity, University of Bradford
The impact of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests
According to Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, the killing of George Floyd was an electric shock to the business community. It could have been easy to see it as a US policing issue, but it goes far deeper, and is clearly systemic. As a result, many firms reviewed their D&I strategies and found them to be deeply lacking. The CBI, for example, discovered that it had a higher turnover rate of BAME staff. We’re also learning that investors and customers really care about this issue – 84% of UK adults expect UK businesses to act on equality. Our first poll found that most firms had taken some sort of action as a result, with 70% of companies having internal discussions about the issue of racial equality in the workplace. But only 49% have created action plans as a result, and we need to see this number increase. As Carolyn said, “it can’t be a moment, it has to be a movement.”
The role of business leaders
Through her role as Director at the Centre for Synchronous Leadership, Justine Lutterodt sees two different vantage points to this issue. The first is through working at the top of organisations with senior leaders, and the second is being connected at a grassroots level with employee networks. From the leader perspective, they’re seeing genuine interest in making a difference. But through the grassroots vantage point, there are a number of different reactions. Some view the actions of businesses as authentic, but others don’t. Justine adds that businesses can’t just take actions for the sake of it – real action requires being uncomfortable and facing up to structural racism.
The current environment is important, because COVID-19 is helping to bring barriers down. The pandemic is taking us outside of our own experiences and made us more open and vulnerable. But there’s more people can do. Justine refers to a recent report they published, which showed that ethnic minority staff not only face having to prove themselves as competent, but also are often unable to be themselves. Too often, the feat of being racist has shut the conversation down, and we need to step into the discomfort.
Transformative, meaningful actions
Professor Udy Archibong, Professor of Diversity at the University of Bradford, says that she sees a lot of people simply ‘acting for the camera’, and those with lived experience can see through these performances. Udy said that she encourages organisations to genuinely acknowledge the problem, but businesses need to provide the psychological space where people can talk about this issue. Another issue is that businesses can often hide behind data, often looking for the next data set. But, as Udy says, businesses need to stop using data as an excuse, because we already know there’s a problem.
Udy had some suggestions for businesses to improve their inclusivity: work with lived experiences, truly listen, be humble, and ensure you are co-creating solutions rather than imposing them.
Why are businesses not hiring ethnic minority talent at senior levels?
Raj Tulsiani, CEO & Co-Founder of the recruitment consultancy Green Park, pointed out that people often say that the necessary BAME talent isn’t out there, but that simply isn’t true. Raj said that he felt there were two key reasons businesses aren’t hiring ethnic minority talent at senior levels. Firstly, the executive headhunters that are used for this kind of work have been saying no to those candidates for years. So, the candidates won’t go to those headhunters again. And secondly, the cost of delivery to those recruitment firms is usually very variable, and so they are always driven to give what they think the client wants as quickly as possible. Raj feels that people and businesses want to change, but they’re going to the same people to do that.
What businesses should be thinking about
Justine pointed out that there’s a lot of goodwill at the moment, and we need to drive that momentum forward. So, she shared her thoughts on what businesses should be thinking about now:
- Shift your leadership style – lead by asking questions and admitting you don’t know the answers
- Take an interest in understanding the history and the deeper nature of the issue
- Connect the issue to business-critical issues, such as talent pipelines and developing people
- Connect beyond your personal and professional networks, as these are often not diverse
- Try to ensure diverse voices at all levels of your business.