In our last blog, we covered a summary of the key terminology often used in discussions around race. We highlighted that the last year has been one of reflection, and many organisations have discussed the need to tackle racism. Despite the findings from the Sewell report, there is increasing recognition that all institutions suffer from system racism. The McGregor-Smith review highlights that in the UK, there is a structural, historical bias that favours certain individuals. In the workplace as well as in other spheres of life, people from ethnic minority backgrounds experience racism and prejudice that are not faced by their white colleagues. Employers undeniably have a role in all this, with the power to engender change, to empower their workforce and to build a workplace that is free of racial discrimination.
Why should an organisation carry out a race equality review?
The McGregor-Smith review found that there is no reason why every organisation in the UK should not have a workforce that proportionately reflects the diversity of the communities in which they operate, at every level.
A race equality review enables an organisation to better understand the demographics and culture of their workforce, to understand how employees’ experiences at work vary and what challenges are faced by employees from different backgrounds and to identify what changes would be needed to enhance the equality of an organisation and to ensure that it is diverse and inclusive.
Broadening the diversity of an organisation’s workforce can only bring positive outcomes for employers, with heightened creativity, innovation and empathy and input from a heterogenous group of people with wider perspectives and experiences. An organisation which accurately represents the society that we live in, will be an attractive one to work in. By undertaking a race equality review, organisations can send a powerful message to staff (and job applicants) about their workplace culture, and how they are striving to build a truly anti-racist culture, where all ethnicities thrive.
What would a race equality review cover?
Below are some suggestions for what a race equality review could cover and the types of questions organisations may consider when reflecting on race equality.
Collecting meaningful data is essential as it enables organisations to set targets, prioritise their agendas and track progress. Data gathering would help organisations to tailor and monitor their equality and diversity strategy, to underpin a strategy will improve diversity and inclusivity, and to prepare for the potential ethnicity pay gap reporting. Organisations should consider if data is gathered to assess for example, how different groups are recruited, how their careers progress, remuneration, who participates in training and development, incidents of bullying, harassments and other complaints, grievances and disciplinary action, and staff turnover.
One in three ethnic minority workers say they have been unfairly turned down for a job, compared with just one in five (19 per cent) white workers, according to research by the TUC. Discrimination and bias starts at the point of recruitment, and organisations should examine their recruitment practices and how bias can be eradicated at the point of recruitment. They should consider, for example, if name blind CVs used? Are diverse interview panels used? Are the job specifications inclusive? We have written previously about how employers can take positive action in the context of recruitment and training.
Alongside looking at the culture on the ground, organisations should consider if their policies are inclusive, or whether certain policies may impact employees from ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately. Do the organisation’s policies refer to their aspiration to be anti-racist environments? Do the policies and processes promote diversity and inclusion, and celebrate differences? Do they refer to zero-tolerance against racism? Are policies clear around what sanctions apply to people who engage in racist behaviour (whether they are other members of staff, or clients?). Does the culture of the organisation reflect its policies?
Career progression and leadership
There is a palpable lack of racial diversity at the top of organisations. Leaders at the apex of an organisation are the main influence on an organisation’s cultures and values, and role models for more junior staff in an organisation. Lack of diversity in leadership can be a progression barrier to employees from ethnic minority backgrounds where there is a lack of role models. Seeing other people like oneself progress, and a greater diversity of people at senior levels is a career enabler and motivator for staff from ethnic minorities. For sustainable change, organisations need to have talent pipelines that are racially diverse and should examine the potential barriers to career progression for those from ethnic minorities and how they might be overcome.
Talking about race in the workplace
Facilitating conversations about race within the context of a race equality review is a way to collect qualitative data and importantly can connect staff and help them to understand the historic and current context of race. In her 2017 report, Barnoness MCGregor-Smith highlighted that “too many people are uncomfortable talking about race. This has to change”. Having conversations about race will enable organisations to have a deeper understanding of how staff feel and, may uncover that staff may feel uncomfortable talking about race, because of a fear of saying the wrong thing, or of offending, or of not being listened to. Organisations could therefore examine these issues, and ask how comfortable staff feel talking about race in the workplace? Is there are fear of using the wrong language, or “saying the wrong thing”? Are different cultures and backgrounds celebrated and appreciated?
Examining experiences of race discrimination / prejudice
In asking staff to share their experiences of race discrimination or bias, organisations will be able to obtain a picture of their culture, and to identify where improvements can be made. Organisations could consider if staff from ethnic minority backgrounds feel that they are treated equally in comparison to their white colleagues? Do they feel that they face obstacles to accessing opportunities that their white colleagues do not? Are concerns they raise about racial discrimination / prejudice taken seriously when they are reported? Do they feel heard? Do they feel that they have to censor themselves or change their behaviour in the workplace in order to fit in?
Mentorship provides an opportunity for networks to build and grow and can open doors to new relationships that can impact a career trajectory. Organisations could ask themselves if they could offer a reverse mentoring scheme? This is an effective way to build genuine awareness of the barriers faced by ethnic minority staff. It can challenge established hierarchies and foster a culture where all experiences and skills are valued, regardless of status.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of themes organisations can focus on when considering race inequality in their workplace. Many organisations may in fact already have different initiatives underway and it can be a helpful exercise in the first instance to pull together what is already being done across different areas to identify gaps and coordinate activities. Reviewing race inequality will need to be approached in a way that is tailored to the culture of the particular organisation and executed in a way that achieves maximum buy in from staff. Organisations should also be mindful of how vital authenticity is around the diversity and inclusion agenda. Performative allyship is disingenuous and can have the effect of losing trust in employees, who will look to the actions of an organisation, not just its words. Addressing race inequality in a genuine, transparent way will instil a sense of confidence that not only are these important issues being taken seriously, but that the organisation is committed to effecting change.
Our next blog in this series will focus on creating an effective diversity and inclusion strategy.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, June 2021