Watch the webinar
In the fourth of the CBI's webinars on race and equality, we were joined by Paul Sesay, Founder and CEO of the Black Leaders Network, Aggie Mutuma, Director of the Mahogany Inclusion Partners, Elizabeth Oni-Iyiola, Development Director for Inclusive Boards and Josh Hardie, Deputy Director-General of Policy and Campaigns for the CBI to discuss recruitment, retention and progression.
These were the key points raised in the conversation:
- Companies need to act on the tsunami of change created by George Floyd's death and Covid-19
- Blind recruitment is a temporary plaster
- The pipeline problem
- Leadership and listening.
Companies need to act on the tsunami of change created by George Floyd's death and Covid-19
Both the brutality of George Floyd's murder and the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on people from BAME backgrounds have stirred the sense of injustice that exists in the world. "If I think about the last four or five weeks, I've spoken more about race and my experiences and what we need to do about it than I have done in my entire life," said Aggie Mutuma of the Mahogany Inclusion Partners. "People want to understand, people are listening. It's really important that we take this energy and actually turn it into action."
Paul Sesay, Founder and CEO of the Black Leaders Network, described it as a "real awakening for organisations," who have known for a long time that they have needed to make changes. The sentiment has clearly shifted. More and more companies are asking for "hard-hitting" anti-racism training, clients are being bold and admitting they don't have black people on boards or leadership teams, and employees are willing to be vulnerable and ask for help in understanding what the issues are.
The full economic impact of Covid-19 is only just starting. "As we look at the job figures and redundancies, we know that unemployment scars unevenly and unfairly," Josh Hardie of the CBI cautioned. "Unless we take active steps as we rebuild the economy then what we will see is inequality getting worse and social cohesion being damaged."
Blind recruitment is a temporary plaster
How a company sets up its recruitment process, the language used in adverts and the interview panel itself can all contribute to unconscious bias against people from BAME backgrounds. Often applicants are assessed on their experience rather than just their skill set, locking inequality into the process from the very beginning. Blind recruitment can alleviate some of these issues allowing companies to have the right amount of information to make a fair judgement but as Aggie cautions, it's just "a temporary plaster on a big issue."
"For a leadership team, it doesn't make sense to go blind mainly because you would likely know who they are, especially for a senior director role," Elizabeth Oni-Iyiola of Inclusive Boards said. "We've seen this happen with a selection panel where they've gone and research who the applicants are. For entry level positions it can work and have certain benefits but it has to be taken within the context."
Unconscious bias training is another option to blind recruitment. "One of the greatest tricks the devil played was by letting people believe that he didn't exist," Aggie told us. "When people think racism doesn't exist it's really dangerous. Unconscious bias teaches people that we all have biases and people have to understand what biases you might have and how to extrapolate that out of decisions you might make."
There are clearly benefits to offering unconscious bias training but companies need to think about their actions and how to make it part of the wider conversation. Aggie cautioned that "just giving people unconscious bias training won't change anything. The learning and development has to be baked into processes."
The pipeline problem
Out of the FTSE 100's board chairs, CEOs, and finance directors, only 10 out of the available 300 positions are people from BAME backgrounds. "The Rooney Rule has been really hard on internal employment at a senior level because we don't have the pipeline," Josh said. The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy requiring league teams to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching and senior operation roles. "We're quite good on gender, we're much less good on BAME groups. We can do it through external appointments but it is more difficult internally."
Mentoring can play a particularly important role in making sure that everyone in a company feels they can progress and that they understand the process for progression. Companies need to be transparent and ask themselves what information they have given out. Elizabeth told us that, "As a manager, I don't know the pipeline of how to get onto a board or leadership team. I still don't know how to get there. Companies need to tell employees right at the point of induction, in this organisation this is how you get to the top." Josh agreed, quoting that over half of BAME employees feel they'll have to leave their current employer in order to progress.
Paul told us that "lots of organisations are concentrating on their black talent and expecting them to take the mantra of their organisation's black inclusion. Just because they're black doesn't mean they're experts in black inclusion. You need to get actual experts within this area to bring real change to organisations."
A good starting point is to "reflect on the top 20 people within your trusted network," suggests Paul. "Often your trusted network will look like you and have the same cultural background. Open your network up to a wider pool and little changes that you make can have a big impact on the organisation. If you are conscious about your own inclusion personally, greater change can happen from there."
Leadership and listening
Throughout the session it was clear that a lot of the issues raised boil down to whether a company has good leadership. Aggie said that leaders can help initiate change by being open, being curious, being vulnerable, and knowing that they don't know everything.
Rather than just talking about it, it's important for leaders to acknowledge they've got to actually work for this problem to be solved. "Understanding that I benefited from privilege and that privilege has come at a cost to someone else unfairly is a difficult emotional journey but every leader needs to go through that journey," Josh said. "It takes action, being systematic and being determined."
Listening to the lived experience of black colleagues can also help bring greater understanding. "George Floyd has opened up the conversation to them now and they are listening much more," Paul said. "Giving black employees a voice, setting up networks and listening groups so that they can express how they feel to senior leaders, and collating data will all help."
Key questions we answered:
- Josh, why is it so important to champion diversity and inclusion from the top? And what are companies doing to make recruitment, retention, and progression fairer?
- Everyone, including ethnic minorities, should feel they can progress, and are supported to do so by their employers. But this doesn’t happen across the board.
- According to Business in the Community (BITC), 52% of BAME employees believe they will have to leave their current organisation to progress in their career.
- The culture of every organisation is set by its leaders. If you want your business to be more diverse and more inclusive, you have to take the lead – by embedding that focus across your recruitment and promotion practices, as well as the wider culture, and championing this issue from the top.
- The experiences of our Black colleagues will be different from that of our Asian colleagues. And beyond that, the experience of our Indian colleagues will be different from that of our Pakistani or Bangladeshi colleagues.
- Companies should consult their employee networks or consider running employee focus groups to understand these different lived experiences, and address the possible issues identified in recruitment and promotion processes, and the general workplace culture.
- Fundamental to ensuring a more diverse and inclusive company, is the need to tackle discrimination and bias in recruitment and promotion processes. So, what can companies practically do?
- Assess your practices at every step of the recruitment process, from job descriptions and how they are advertised, to their applications, assessments, and interviews
- Recruit from a wider pool of candidates
- Strengthen your retention and progression routes
- Review the senior roles in your organisation, then identify and start to develop a diverse pipeline of people – both within and outside of the organisation – who could take on these senior roles in the future.
- Josh, what is the CBI doing to better attract, recruit and promote BAME talent?
- At the CBI, we realised that while our pipeline and senior management were good in terms of gender representation, it wasn’t for BAME. In response, we set specific targets:
- 20% of our appointments each year should be filled by BAME candidates
- Apply the Rooney rule for externally advertised management roles
- Have at least one BAME employee on management board by the end of 2019.
- In recruitment, we started looking at who we were asking to help us recruit and challenged them when candidate lists weren’t diverse.
- We then engaged several diversity agencies to help us increase representation within our organisation.
- We also began incorporating diverse panels, so candidates could see people like themselves in those decision-making roles. However, we knew that for gender this was easier for us to achieve internally than for BAME representation.
- On progression, we continue to track how our BAME staff are faring within the CBI’s performance development review system. And where we’ve seen that our BAME staff aren’t progressing the same as everyone else within the organisation, we’ve challenged our thinking to root out the bias that could have unconsciously led to those decisions.
- We’ve ensured that inclusion is a core part of our business strategy. And, to re-affirm our commitment internally and externally, we signed the Race at Work Charter.
- We’ve still got a huge amount to do, especially around being comfortable talking about race and the experiences our Black, Asian and ethnic minority colleagues face in work and in life.
- Aggie, Elizabeth, and Paul, does this feel like a genuine moment of change?
- Aggie – The murder of George Floyd feels like a significant moment of change, as it seems to have shone a light on the injustice that exists in the world. I have spoken about race more in the last five weeks than at any point in my life.
- Paul – I think there has been a tsunami of change. We’ve received so many enquiries form organisations who want to challenge their own institutional issues around recruitment and progression.
- Elizabeth – It has been a perfect storm that have led to race and equality being brought to the forefront of organisation’s minds. There is more of a conscious effort from businesses to do something about this.
- Aggie, we’ve heard the term ‘unconscious bias’ in the context of recruitment a lot. What can businesses do to eliminate this?
- Unconscious bias, where people believe no racism exists either within their organisation or themselves, is dangerous. It leads to complacency and blind spots
- We all have biases; it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. The subliminal messages we take in, along with the environment we are raised in, cause us to make associations linked to race.
- It is important to be mindful of this and think about how those biases can be extrapolated into the decisions you make.
- Ultimately, this comes down to good leadership and being open to challenge yourself.
- Paul, what is the difference between unconscious and conscious bias?
- When you are not giving someone a job due to the colour of their skin, and in spite of their skillset, I think that is a conscious decision.
- Employers should think about their trusted network at work. Who are the people you trust on a day-to-day basis?
- When you break down the ethnicity of senior people’s trusted network, they often end up being people that look like them.
- Diversity of thought benefits organisations and these little cultural changes, such as opening up your network to different people, can drive really beneficial changes in your organisation.
- Elizabeth and Aggie, could blind CV’s and recruitment processes work?
- Elizabeth – If you are recruiting at board or leadership level, I don’t think it makes sense. You would likely know who the candidate is at that level. However, for entry-level positions, I think the practice can work.
- Aggie – I applaud the intent behind blind recruitment processes, but I think it’s a sticking plaster to a bigger issue. We need to tackle the underlying issue that leads to that discrimination. There is also a sense that people from under-represented groups do not want to hide their identity or who they are. That needs to be considered as well.
- Paul, how effective are development programmes for BAME employees?
- I think they are part of the toolkit that is needed.
- Often, BAME employees are left out of the conversation regarding progression into senior ranks in an organisation.
- I’ve spoken to numerous BAME employees who have noticed their non-BAME peers have surpassed them despite having had the same skillset.