The necessary, but sometimes uncomfortable conversation

As the Black Lives Matter movement swept globally after the brutal murder of George Floyd, it is clear that returning to “business as usual” just won’t be good enough. Countless companies that have never openly spoken about race have now publicly condemned racism, and yet there is an alarming increase in the numbers employees that are coming forward and calling out racism within their own organisations.

Unfortunately, the fact that improving diversity benefits everyone within an organisation is often overlooked – yet, it is a key component in not only the diversity discussion but everyday conversation.

Racial equity and inclusion efforts need to turn this premise on its head. Organisations must step forward and acknowledge the new world we are walking into. Instead of going out of the way to change people to a fit within an organisation, we must focus on transforming our organisations to include all. In the meritocracy that we strive for, all individuals need the opportunity to work with the dignity of having their life experiences and histories recognised and appreciated for the value that they bring to the workforce. This is why we built the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards), and we continue to work with organisations to highlight and celebrate Black talent. We help organisations to employ and retain the prosperous, diverse workforce we all want and need.

To move towards racial equity, organisational culture must prioritise accountability, top to bottom. This is not just about diversity and inclusion. The whole organisation, from Sales to Customer Service to Product Development to Back Offices and the Supply Chain must shift towards being more inclusive and representative of the world we live in.

Opening the conversation to these challenging topics encourages employees to comfortably voice their opinions in a way they may have never experienced before at their places of work. We need to address that these structures are deeply woven into our society. The more we talk about it, the easier it becomes to address, tackle and ultimately find the best solution. It provides opportunities to make employees feel listened to, and the chance to implement the practical and progressive activities that arise out of these conversations will build a more inclusive environment.

As a Black woman and a founder of the BBBAwards I am fully aware of the challenges organisations face with diversity. Our Talent Accelerator was established in response to a recommendation from The Middle research report that was also published by the BBBAwards in 2017, following a study involving over 30 top tier organisations. An updated version has just been published and the findings unfortunately are just as valid today as they were a few years ago. The research examined the reasons why Black and Asian middle managers are underrepresented in senior executive roles within large businesses operating in the UK, and what can be done about it.

The Talent Accelerator is the first initiative of its kind spanning all sectors in the UK. It brings Black and Asian talent together twice a year to develop collectively and in a way that no in-house programme can. The curriculum focuses on the experience of Black and Asian professionals and it blends experiential learning and inspiration to deliver a game-changing, leadership and career development programme. By involving other key stakeholders in each company, the programme is designed to facilitate culture change by engaging the organisational ecosystem.

So what must be done?

Put the uncomfortable truth at the top of the agenda. By discussing and helping everyone understand that discomfort is expected and ok and can be worked through to a successful end. Embracing uncomfortable conversations about race and diversity in the workplace is the first step to having a more inclusive working environment.

Treat diversity and inclusion as a business imperative backed with key metrics and targets that are distributed throughout all the leaders of the organisation, not just the diversity and inclusion team. Business performance, increased market scrutiny and the evolution and growth of the global workforce means that building an inclusive workforce is no longer optional but is now critical in maintaining a sustainable business model.

Whether you are coming to this conversation from an organisation, as an entrepreneur, or supporter of diversity and inclusion, it is vital to know what to do to make a start on racial equity in the workplace, how to gather support, push for momentum and ultimately show real progress. As we pivot our businesses to adapt to a post COVID-19 landscape, we must be mindful of where we are currently and where we all must head in fostering a more inclusive society.

About the BBBAwards
The Black British Business Awards (the BBBAwards) is the only premium awards programme to celebrate both the exceptional performance and outstanding achievements of black professionals and entrepreneurs in global, small and medium enterprises operating in Great Britain. Over the last seven years, the BBBAwards has grown into a powerful change agent for the wider talent agenda, creating a hub where businesses share ideas and take away concrete actions to create working environments for all talented individuals to succeed.

JPMorgan is the key sponsor of this year’s Awards and The Daily Telegraph is the national media partner for the fourth year running.