The silent threat of unconscious race discrimination in the workplace
Having a diverse workplace with a culture of inclusivity is now recognised as being a key factor in business performance and success. However, achieving it needs some careful consideration by employers.
We consider below some simple steps employers can take to create an inclusive culture in their workplace which, in turn, fosters diversity.
A major part of fostering a diverse workforce and promoting inclusion is communication. A good starting point in developing that culture is to establish where you are now and that is best done by asking your employees what they think.
This could be done by way of a simple (ideally anonymous) survey, or by way of informal workshops and discussions.What do employees (at all levels) think about the company’s commitment to diversity?Do they feel there is an inclusive culture in the organisation?If not, why not?What, in their view, could be done to improve this?
The results may be uncomfortable, but it will highlight issues and allow you to form a plan of action to tackle them.
If leaders role-model the behaviours of valuing inclusion, demonstrating curiosity and a desire to learn about and understand other cultures, those qualities inevitably filter down to middle management and throughout the organisation.
Examples of behaviours managers can adopt include:
Celebrate the diversity of your workplace and the cultures represented within it. This could be as simple as facilitating and encouraging your employees to share information about their culture and traditions.
For example, if there is a particular cultural festival coming up – such as Chinese New Year – encourage people of that heritage (managers in particular) to talk about what that festival means, its significance, how it is celebrated, etc. This could be in the form of a short lunchtime talk, complimented by information being posted on notice boards, or emails to staff with key information and links to websites providing more information on the topic.
Even something as simple as the CEO sending a message to everyone pointing out a particular festival/significant date and conveying best wishes to staff of that heritage (maybe even in the relevant language – Google Translate is all it takes!) can be very effective in making people feel that they (and their heritage/authentic self) are valued and accepted.
Diversity and inclusion are not simple buzz words, nor is this a concept that can be achieved through a one-off training event (though training is, of course, essential).It is not a simple tick-box exercise, but rather something that is an ongoing process which requires continual commitment and attention to ensure progress is being made. Appreciate this and keep communicating with your employees at regular intervals to gauge how inclusive the culture within your workforce actually is and keep under review whether any other initiatives should be pursued.
Monitor diversity through audits and, if the results reveal a lack of diversity, formulate a plan to deal with this.
Consider signing the Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter as a way of demonstrating your organisation’s commitment to workplace racial equality. Over 400 companies from a range of sectors and of varying sizes are currently signatories.
Those signing the charter commit to its five points, which include appointing an executive sponsor for race and making it clear that supporting equality in the workplace is the responsibility of all leaders and managers.
Signing the charter would send a clear message of your commitment to racial equality, not only to your workforce but also to the outside world.
Developing an inclusive culture and fostering a diverse workplace is not something that can happen overnight. As we have seen, it is a process and one which requires effort and commitment, particularly from those in positions of leadership. However, it is critical to having an engaged and committed workforce who feel valued and is well worth the investment of time and effort. Let us hope that, this time, these matters remain high on the agenda and result in more inclusive and diverse workplace cultures.
As a firm, we have had many discussions about Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. We wanted to do more than just put out a statement of support, we wanted to take substantive action to address the inequalities faced by Black people and other ethnic minorities. Over the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of blogs from our varying practice areas highlighting what we are doing, how you can make a difference and shining a light on the issues.
Our Diversity and Inclusion group is working hard with Human Resources and the Management Team to effect change through methods such as training and reviewing recruitment practices. We have implemented a lot of change but we recognise we have more to do and we are always looking to make improvements as a firm. We all have respective roles to play in advocating for issues of inequality and we hope our blogs give you some inspiration as to how you can make a change.
Corinne is an immensely experienced and highly respected employment lawyer. She advises both employers and senior executives in relation to the full spectrum of employment-related issues. She particularly enjoys dealing with equal opportunities-related issues in the workplace and acting in relation to (often hard-fought) whistleblowing claims.
Özlem is very experienced in giving training talks on topical employment law issues and, as a member of the Employment Lawyers' Association (ELA), has participated in preparing ELA’s response to Government consultations on various issues.
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