Beyond the hashtag – addressing racial diversity

Diverse group of stylish people standing together. Society or population, social diversity

Article provided by Dr Yvette Ankrah MBE

The Black Lives Matter protests have brought racism and racial inequalities into the spotlight. In this article, I highlight steps that corporations can take to address racial diversity in their organisations.

Every change always starts with awareness.

The Black Lives Matter protests that have happened over recent months are not the first. The issues raised are not new and the solutions for change have been discussed in many different forums. However, currently, there seems to be an increased awareness of the issues and there’s been a change in the language used to discuss racial inequality.

As well as a coach and consultant, I’m an academic who specialises in race, class and identity. Phrases like ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white privilege’ which have been used in academia, have now entered mainstream discussions. Many corporate organisations have realised, but they have not done enough (or in some cases anything at all) about addressing these issues and are now considering how they move forward and make a difference with regards to racial inequality. It starts from the top – directors and senior leaders need to be committed to change and move beyond policies.

What gets measured gets focused on

Often the work on gender pay gap is shown as to how a company is managing diversity. However, the statistics that are often shown and discussed in the media are focused on white women. If, for example, we were to address equal payday in 2020, that day for white women was 31st March. For Black women it was 13th August – these dates mark the time it takes for women to earn what the average white man did in 2019.

Organisations need to look at the diversity across all spheres. By looking at the ethnicity across the organisation, the roles held by different people, you get an idea of the true makeup of the organisation. If you are not monitoring the salaries, roles, promotions etcetera and including ethnicity as a variable, how can you implement policies for change?

What is the culture of your organisation?

Every organisation should be reflecting on their values and ethos and within that, looking at the type of organisation they wish to be and the culture they foster. This will extend to employees as well as customers, partners and suppliers. Has space been created that is welcome to all and treats diversity and inclusion as more than a tick box exercise?

If you have non-white employees are they client-facing, or do they hold roles which are in the background? Are people are joining from a range of backgrounds and not moving up, or leaving?  Are many people from similar backgrounds – e.g. education, social or racial? How easy is it for somebody who is not from those backgrounds to get into the organisation and/or to feel comfortable whilst they are there?

Is your approach an intersectional one?

The problem with so much that happens in diversity is that it is done in silos – a single focus on ethnicity or gender can ignore multi areas of discrimination. Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989). It’s about those that are at the crossroads, who fall through the gaps. From a legal background, Crenshaw’s paper explored legal cases which highlighted these issues. In one, a Black woman took her employers to court for discrimination on grounds of race and sex. As there were women in positions of authority her claim was dismissed. There were white women in positions of authority but no black women. Without looking at things from an intersectional perspective, many voices are not heard.

What’s in a name?

Understanding the importance of name bias is also something that organisations can do. We still have an issue where people are willing to change their names to get through on job applications. Time and time again studies have found that those with non-white sounding names do not get called to interview. The studies are conducted using fictitious applications but identical CV’s and cover letters, the only difference is the name used. One of the most recent studies conducted by Oxford University in 2019 found that only one in four CV’s with non-white sounding names received a response. By using name-blind applications, a difference can be made.

Change starts with you

If diversity and inclusion are truly important to you as an individual start by raising your awareness. Look around you – look around your offices, see who’s on the virtual calls and who is at the networking meetings. As a woman when you are in a room you might be very conscious if you’re the only woman. If you’re a white woman in the room are you conscious of there being no women of colour in the space? In the case of racial inequality, understanding that it is not enough to be ‘not racist’ but engaging in anti-racist practises is needed for that to be true change. John Ameachi explains the difference between being not racist versus anti-racist simply and beautifully – it is about action.

Now is the time to continue the momentum and ensure diversity and inclusion initiatives are owned by organisations, that black colleagues are engaged and supported and move beyond the hashtag.

Dr Yvette Ankrah MBE purple dressAbout the author

Dr Yvette Ankrah MBE is a transformational business coach, consultant and recovering overachiever! She works with high achieving women in business to get success without the burnout.

Yvette is passionate about ensuring women have the optimum environment, tools and skills to thrive in business. She believes that this starts from the inside and working in a way which builds sustainable and profitable businesses without overwhelm, stress and burnout.

Too often looking after yourself is an after-thought or only happens once there is an impact on health and well-being. Yvette wants self-care to be a priority and for self- care plans to be just as important other plans!

She has over 20 years of business experience and is an accredited NLP coach. She won a Microsoft/O2 award for business in 2013, was shortlisted for Best Coach at the Best Business Women Awards, 2015 and was awarded an MBE for her work with women in business in 2017.

She has a PhD and is a sociologist who specialises in the areas of race, identity, class and education and writes on race and racism in Britain.


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