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In today's webinar on race and equality we discussed how to turn awareness into action. To speak about this, we were joined by Katherine Conway, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Aon, Lewis Iwu, CEO and Co-Founder of Purpose Union, Ife Onwuzulike, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor at the CBI, and Josh Hardie, Deputy Director-General of Policy and Campaigns also from the CBI.
These were the key points raised in the conversation:
- Representation of progression is key
- Don't just collect data, use the data
- Companies need to be more holistic about their different agendas
- Conversations with peers can drive change.
Representation of progression is key
The recent Black Lives Matter protests sparked an array of tweets from businesses hoping to send a social media signal that they stood with demonstrators. What soon became apparent was the disparity between companies saying they support a movement versus the actual structural changes being put in place to match their apparent solidarity on social media.
"Representation of progression is so important," Ife Onwuzulike of the CBI said. "People don't see a place for them at the top because they see no one at the top that looks like them. And I think that is where we have to have that honest conversation, why aren't we seeing that representation? We've seen many reports about why it's important but why aren't we seeing it in this organisation and what should be done next?"
Lewis Iwu, CEO and Co-Founder of Purpose Union, shared his own experience, "Often when I'm speaking at an event, it'll be assumed I'm a contractor or a security guard and that's happened numerous times because that visibility isn't there. Representation isn't a silver bullet at all but having a sense that actually it is possible to be a CEO of a company and be black, I think is an incredibly important signal and the beginning of a cultural change."
Don't just collect data but use the data
Since gender pay gap reporting was introduced in 2017, businesses have now had the time to establish systems for measuring and comparing employee's wages. The CBI is in favour of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting as Josh Hardie commented, "I think businesses now are in a vastly different position than they were when gender pay gap reporting was just being introduced. I think people understand the reasons why a lot more."
Katherine Conway, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Aon agreed, "it's a massive impetus to really understand what's going on in your business. The ethnicity pay gap is going to prove what we already know but it does give us that opportunity to have those conversations with leaders. The stark figures will tell us what we already know but will help us to act, create action plans, make change and create targets."
Collecting data can help companies set targets to become more diverse but Ife raised the point that it's important not to settle once a target is hit. "We have to have those targets, if you have nothing, how do you benchmark your progress?" she said. "Once we finally get to that point, we need to lift it up again until it becomes a place where everybody belongs and we see that diversity."
Lewis told us "the problem with targets is that their aspiration can get buried." Even if you do bring in a diverse mix of people, if the culture of the organisation hasn't changed to help all employees progress and feel like they belong then they will leave as quickly as they joined.
Conversations with peers can drive change
A challenge for companies can be tackling the divide between younger staff who are more progressive and those at the top who are resistant to change. "I think companies need to be a bit smarter about trying to create frames which are more likely to bring people along without diluting the message and without throwing concepts out the window but showing that actually this is quite difficult for a lot of people," Lewis said.
"And I think there is a danger that as we're beginning to see a potential backlash to all lives matter, why do we talk just about race when we're not talking about class and so on."
Josh pointed out the blunt truth that "if you can't make them progressive then that business is probably going to wither over time because they won't be able to recruit and they most likely won't be able to keep customers."
One of the tools used by the CBI is to bring peers together to talk about these types of issues. "When you have those conversations with your peers as a CEO or an executive or any other level, and you hear about what they're doing, that does feel like it genuinely drives quite a lot of change and can be incredibly effective."
Companies need to be more holistic about their different agendas
For businesses, diversity includes a whole range of issues which are often managed by different teams. "All of these issues interface with race and sexuality and identity in a very fluid and dynamic way and I actually think if there's one thing to come from this, it's whether we're being smart about the way we talk about these issues," Lewis said.
"Climate change will have a disproportionate impact on women and a disproportionate impact on socially disadvantaged groups and black communities, but I don't think we're drawing those links out."
By taking a more holistic approach and marrying different agendas together, companies can design better initiatives and programmes and create a greater impact.
Key questions we answered:
- Ife and Josh, what is the CBI doing to move this issue from rhetoric to action?
- Today we’re today launching the CBI’s Race at Work action plan. Though we already have a wider Diversity and Inclusion strategy and an Ethnicity Pay Gap action plan, we decided to create a Race at Work action plan after doing a cultural audit.
- We found there is still a gap in how our BAME colleagues compare against their white counterparts on progression, representation at different levels of the business and their sense of belonging.
- Our action plan has four themes:
- Culture – creating an environment where colleagues can talk openly about race and inclusion and share their stories
- Representation – ensuring diverse representation across our structures, in our recruitment, progression processes and succession planning, our engagement with external stakeholders and our policy work
- Voice – how we how we use our communication channels
- Engagement – brings it all together and includes using our data to drive change as well as training.
- We’re also looking at the CBI’s operations more broadly. For example, our commercial team launched a strategy at the end of last year to improve ethnic diversity across our events, marketing material, and the regional councils that steer our policy work.
- But we know there’s so much more we can be doing.
- Ife, what actions do you think are needed?
- The key issue is progression. BAME employees don’t see a place for them at the top of organisations, because they don’t see a person who looks like them at the top.
- So, representation and career progression are key elements.
- Lewis, companies have put out a lot of messaging to younger generations, but the required change within those companies isn’t happening. How are you helping them?
- Our polling and research found that transparency is one of the top values held by millennials and generation Z when it comes to companies.
- So, unless there is action behind the messages, it won’t work.
- Until now, we’ve spoken about diversity and inclusion and purpose in different parts of the company. Now, companies need to be more holistic about those agendas.
- There is a danger of seeing this solely through the lens of unconscious bias training etc.
- But with the platform and influence we have, we should focus on how we can tackle racism at a system-wide level.
- Lewis, have you seen companies who have worked out how to use their external and internal communications and back them up with concrete action?
- Reckitt Benckiser created a purpose council – a committee of people who have a direct line to the board to help the management keep up to speed on what is happening.
- We are interested in what the next set of issues that companies will have to position themselves on will be. Companies want to know how to position themselves for the future.
- What is our position on transgender rights or intersectionality? These are complicated but they should be tackled at a system-wide level, not just an interpersonal level.
- Businesses should have worked out their position on racism ages ago. It shouldn’t have taken this flashpoint to bring it to the fore.
- Catherine, what has worked well at Aon and what hasn’t?
- Not everything is working for us – we’re on a journey. We’re trying to focus on what is having an impact.
- Data is critical. People need to understand why it is important.
- How are we attracting people into our business and retaining, advancing and developing them? We can only monitor this with data. We are not there yet but this is an opportunity.
- Our young colleagues are asking what we are doing as an organisation. Yes, we put out a statement on social media, but people want to know what we are actually doing.
- A couple of years ago, our apprenticeship and graduate programme showed we weren’t getting the ethnicity mix we wanted. So, we launched a BAME future leaders programme to address the issue.
- Catherine, Lewis and Ife, how have you handled the issue of progression?
- Catherine – That has been a challenge. Our organisation does not look diverse at the top, so we are looking at how we can change it. We need to be intentional about running development programmes for our BAME colleagues, like we currently do for women.
- Lewis – I think the conversation on affirmative action is misleading. I think it should be called meritocratic action. It is about getting people to a point where they can compete from the same starting point and recognising there are structural barriers in place.
- Ife – Setting targets for progression and recruitment can set a trajectory within an organisation and create a journey of where you are trying to be as a business. But targets need to be backed up with teeth. For example, setting a date when you expect to hit the target by or linking it to executive pay. Otherwise, there is a tendency to bury targets. It is not a silver bullet, but having a sense that it is possible to be a CEO of a company and be black is incredibly important.
- Lewis and Josh, what do you do when younger staff are progressive but those at the top are resistant to change?
- Lewis – I think the language and tone of the conversation needs a re-think. We aren’t winning enough people around, particularly around recognising that white privilege exists. I think companies need to be smarter about creating frames that are more likely to win people over.
- Josh – If you cannot make them progressive then that business will wither over time. That change should happen within conversations. One of the roles that the CBI fulfils is to bring people together and convene different companies. Our committees are getting more diverse as well. When you have those conversations, as a CEO, with your peers, and you hear about what they’re doing, that does act as a catalyst for progressive change.
- Catherine and Josh, what’s the value of ethnicity pay gap reporting?
- Catherine – They are a huge impetus to get companies to understand what is happening within their businesses. The data will prove what you already know and gives you the opportunity to have those conversations with company leaders on how to change the reality. It will help us create targets and action plans to drive the change we need.
- Josh – You must understand why you are doing this. Many businesses may initially see this as another layer of bureaucracy. They need to understand why they are doing this. The CBI are in favour of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. We think it will drive change within organisations.