Steps businesses can take towards achieving race equality in the workplace

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The Black Lives Matter movement and the recent Race Equality Week have shone a light on race inequality, including in the workplace. These initiatives demonstrate that there is increasing pressure for change.

Over 55 years since the first race relations legislation came into force in the UK, what's clear is that black and minority ethnic staff still face widespread discrimination, inequality and under-representation at work, particularly at a senior level.  According to recent Government research, a quarter of BAME staff report witnessing or experiencing discrimination, harassment or bullying in the workplace.

Many organisations have vowed to do better, but how do employers put their equality and inclusion commitments into practice?  

As with other systemic challenges, a multi-pronged approach is required.  There are many resources available to employers and a good starting point is The Business In the Community's Race at Work Charter (found here).  We summarise some of the key steps:

  • Appoint an Executive Sponsor for race and other "diversity champions" – Staff buy-in is key to implementing any diversity agenda. It is important for organisations to have visible leaders on ethnicity to make the case for action, engage with staff and to set ethnicity targets.

  • Carefully consider whether there are any barriers to diverse recruitment – Seek to remove any conscious or unconscious bias from the recruitment process; consider "institution blind" recruitment; apply a risk-based approach to whether screening for criminal records is required (some ethnicities are over-represented in the criminal system and are more likely to be screened out for unspent convictions); and consider how to broaden the potential recruitment pool, such as where roles are advertised.

  • Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress – In order to identify any under-representation or disadvantage, employers need to capture ethnicity data. They can then identify priorities and set targets. Over time employers will be able to measure progress and identify any trends in the data. However, employers need to be mindful of their obligations under the GDPR and will need to identify a lawful basis for processing the employees' personal data and ensure that they have appropriate safeguards in place for that data.

  • Encourage participation in both internal and external BAME employee networks or employee resource groups – These can help create an inclusive environment and give BAME employees a safe space to share their experiences and express themselves. But it's also very important that there isn't a "one size fits all" approach to race – experience across minorities is not homogenous.

  • Emphasise that the business is listening by giving staff lots of opportunity to give feedback about diversity in the business – For example through appraisals, surveys and questionnaires.

  • A programme of diversity training – This training should be regular and should be active rather passive where possible. The Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently held that "stale" diversity training was insufficient to establish an employer's "reasonable steps" defence to a discrimination claim. Training should not simply be an "add on" but should be part of required job training, and should be promoted by the senior management team.

  • All managers should have responsibility for supporting workplace equality – Performance objectives could include diversity KPIs to encourage cultural change e.g. assessing improved scoring for a team in inclusion surveys. 

  • Take action that supports ethnic minority career progression – Have a mentoring programme in place for BAME staff; and consider reverse mentoring and sponsorship.

  • Commit to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying – The aim should be not only to prevent illegal conduct, but also to prevent all forms of disrespectful behaviour and decisions which could contribute to a discriminatory or hostile environment for staff and customers; and to take appropriate action where any complaints are raised.  


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