BAME Livelihoods Matter – Taking Positive Action
The issue of race and ethnic diversity has come to the fore in recent months following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in America and the increased attention to the Black Lives Matter movement it triggered. Although that was a particularly shocking incident, the truth is that systemic (often unconscious) race discrimination remains pervasive in society and in the workplace.
Discrimination in the workplace can be (and often is) in the form of micro-aggressions which, although subtle, are no less serious or acceptable, as they play a huge part in sustaining systemic racism and must be called out.
People are often reluctant to speak up for fear of being seen as a “troublemaker” and being subjected to victimisation as a result. The workplace culture and environment may be one that does not encourage people to come forward with concerns regarding race discrimination, or to have open dialogue about such matters. This fear is compounded by stories in the press of people being subjected to unfavourable treatment for speaking out. Stories such as those involving Munroe Bergdorf – L’Oreal’s first transgender model – who was dropped by L’Oreal in 2017 for comments she made on social media about racism (although she received an apology and re-joined L’Oreal in June this year).
People may therefore try to ignore issues and leave the place of employment without explaining the true reason for their departure, resulting in lost talent for the employer. Ultimately, the failure to speak up means that issues involving race discrimination can go unnoticed and not be addressed.
The legal framework for tackling discrimination in the workplace is in place. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct and indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment on grounds of race. Those who speak up and raise complaints about discrimination are protected by the anti-victimisation provisions (which prohibit subjecting someone to a detriment because they have made allegations of discrimination) and whistleblowing laws (which prohibit subjecting a person who has raised concerns of wrongdoing to a detriment).
The issue therefore seems to be about implementation and the statistics show that we are a long way off where we should ideally be. In June 2020, it was reported that just eleven of “Big Four” accounting firms' 3,000 partners are black. It was also reported that a survey by Business in the Community (BITC) found that 1.5% of senior managers, directors and officials in the UK are black. Employers must do better.
Here are our practical suggestions for employers and managers to facilitate speaking up about racism and move towards eliminating racial discrimination in the workplace:
In summary, tackling race discrimination in the workplace is not an easy matter. Neither is talking about race. However, both must be done if we are to improve racial diversity in our workplaces and stamp out racism. Kingsley Napley has a wealth of experience in assisting employers in drafting and implementing workplace policies and procedures and can advise and support you in addressing the matters highlighted above.
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.
Moira is an experienced employment solicitor. She has successfully represented both employers and employees at the employment tribunal. She regularly advises clients pursuing and defending claims for unfair dismissal, discrimination and whistleblowing
Özlem is a Professional Support Lawyer in our Employment Team. She 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.
Professional Support Lawyer
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