Race and the workplace: 7 steps to building a diverse and inclusive workplace for all employees

Penny Hoile
Published on 5th February 2019
5 min read

Whether you refer to your diverse workplace population as black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), black and minority ethnic (BME) or whatever other labels society has coined to describe people from ethnic minorities around the world, the issue remains the same.

Diversity and inclusion are fast becoming a key priority for many businesses. However, there’s still little progress made.

There’s a global racial problem in the workplace and – more importantly – HR and People teams can do something about it.

The reality is that discrimination against black Americans in the recruitment process hasn’t decreased in 25 years. Black male graduates in the UK earn 17% less than their counterparts. In Australia, only 25% of directors of companies listed on the Australian stock Exchange are from culturally diverse backgrounds, despite making up a third of the population.

This is all in spite of diversity being good for business.

Asif Sadiq MBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at one of the world’s leading newspapers, The Daily Telegraph explains: “Diversity not only creates a richness of ideas and innovation, but it is what gives an organization a competitive edge and ensures that is has a good understanding of its market, clients and customers.”

What can HR and People teams do?

HR and People teams are the visible champions of diversity and inclusion, so what they do sets the tone for the organization.

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace goes far beyond a reporting or PR exercise. It means creating a genuinely fair and equal organization, where everyone has the same opportunities for professional development, career pathing, and access to resources.

To do this, HR and People leaders first need to understand their organization, their people and their problems, even if they think they don’t have any.

It means having a committed leadership team, difficult conversations and ultimately building trust with their workforce. Anything less and people will see straight through you.

Here are seven practical tips to get you started on your journey.

  1. View diversity as an opportunity, not a tick box exercise

Treat diversity as an opportunity to create a company that people want to work for, not a compliance or risk mitigation issue. This requires a complete review of your culture.

Farrah Qureshi, Founder and CEO of the award-winning consultancy, Global Diversity Practice explains: “It is vital not to look at diversity in a vacuum. You have to examine your culture and identify the behaviors, policies and practices which are leading to discrimination and inequality and then create strategies to remedy the situation.”

Asif Sadiq adds: “Stop putting people in boxes. Treat them as individuals and ensure that everyone has a positive experience in the workplace. Creating an inclusive environment will support those that are underrepresented, and create a sense of belonging for them.”

Debbie Danon, Co-CEO of TrustLab, a young and innovative diversity and inclusion consultancy, warns HR and People teams to beware of the diversity brochure approach. “We speak to lots of employees who are being tokenized in publicity, while their concerns about bias and inequality are not being addressed,” she explains.

  1. Establish trust with employees

Often, people from minority ethnic backgrounds don’t report discrimination for fear of dismissal or victimization. It’s your job to build trust with them. Get to know your people, meet them and cultivate relationships. Remember that not all diversity is visible.

Yasmeen Akhtar, Co-CEO at TrustLab, explains: “Some people from marginalized backgrounds have developed survival strategies which involve not speaking up or making themselves invisible. Assume it’s up to you to earn their trust, not up to them to volunteer experiences. Ensure that both informal and formal reporting structures are widely advertised and made safe and confidential.”

Above all else, believe your people. It’s hard to accept that racism is happening in your organization and your first impulse might be one of disbelief. Yasmeen Akhtar’s advice is to “Hold that impulse, and instead be curious from a place of belief. Have the courage to deal with the incident through the appropriate channels, even if this means having challenging conversations with far-reaching consequences.”

  1. Use data to understand the make-up of your workforce

Use People analytics and People Science to ascertain how many people from ethnic minorities are in your organization. What job titles and levels do they hold? How much are they paid? How long do they stay?

Also, notice who’s missing. For example, do you have black, Asian, Hispanic workers? If not, why not?

Track your progress using data. As Farrah Qureshi says, “Think of research as a MOT health check. Research can be used at any point during your journey to recalibrate your strategy. Equally, use your data to demonstrate the progress that you’ve made so you can shout about it.”

  1. Don’t sweep racial bias under the carpet

It’s not easy for employees to report discrimination; it can sometimes be difficult to prove, and employees may not want to be seen to cause conflict.

So, send an anonymous survey to all your workers asking if they have experienced or seen discrimination, bias or inequality in your organization and act on the results.

As Debbie Danon says, “When we share the results with our clients, it’s always fascinating to see who is shocked and who is nodding in sheer recognition and resignation. It’s important to bring these issues to life with empathy and humility, and to open a constructive conversation about what it will take to shift behaviors to prevent micro-and macro aggressions from happening.”

If you are struggling to talk about these issues openly, then bring in an expert to help facilitate trusting spaces.

  1. Create training programs targeting ethnic minorities

There are currently only three black CEOs of Fortune companies and it’s not because of a lack of black candidates with the right skills. It’s because black people and those of ethnic minorities can often be overlooked in recruitment, promotion and training. They tend to hit the glass ceiling way before their white counterparts do.

Start levelling the playing field by providing internal and external training programs for talented employees from minority backgrounds and introducing mentoring programs for them.

  1. Target ethnic minorities in your recruitment process

Actively seek workers from ethnic minorities by engaging with recruiters who specialize in diversity or particular ethnic groups. If your preferred recruiters are sending you the same profile of candidates, then question them.

Have a presence at career fairs at universities with a high intake of black and ethnic minority students and reach out to professional ethnic minority networks.

Yasmeen Akhtar explains: “The biggest piece of advice we give our clients is to slow down when making recruitment decisions to eliminate snap decisions that could be tinged with bias. Once you’ve shortlisted your candidates, give yourselves a chance to question the assumptions you’ve made.”

  1. Close the racial pay gap by making pay transparent

In the US, black household incomes are half of white households. In the UK, black, Asian and minorities are similarly out of pocket generally losing £3.2 billion a year in pay gap differences compared to their white counterparts.

Don’t anchor a candidate’s pay on their last paycheck. Workers from ethnic minorities may find it harder to land a job at the start of their careers because of discriminatory behaviors, so may accept lower paid jobs at entry level. This means they’re constantly playing catch up.

Pay transparency’s a big and often controversial issue which will need buy in from the top. It might not be possible in the short term but in the long term, consider standardizing pay based on the job and the skills and experience required. That way everyone gets a fair deal.

Make people feel they belong

Ultimately, in order to foster diversity and equality in your workplace, you need to make people feel they belong, they’re respected, they have a voice and they will be given equal opportunities.

At The Telegraph, Asif Sadiq says, “We want all our staff, including those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to feel like they belong in the workplace and can be their authentic self.”

People’s experiences at work matter. Find out what 3,500 employees said about what a good workforce experience really looks like. Download the research today.

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