Article by Sophie Chandauka, Chair and Executive Founder, the Black British Business Awards.
It is entirely possible for businesses in the UK to meaningfully progress minority groups in the workplace – the amazing work that’s been done over the years to shift the numbers around women in the boardroom is testament to that.
However, when it comes to the race agenda, what we have seen over the past ten years is an articulation of good intentions – businesses pledging support, followed by government-backed targets – only to end up with results that barely move the needle, or worse still, slide backwards.
We know that achieving measurable and sustainable change is no mean feat, but why is it that the words of businesses seem to be hollow when it comes to the race agenda?
The second edition of our report, ‘Progressing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Talent in the Workplace Through Collaborative Action’, (The Middle) in which we interview key stakeholder groups who play an essential role in creating an inclusive environment, has helped to demystify the issue.
The ethnic minority agenda cast aside
Those surveyed for our study expressed concern that gender and LGBTQ+ initiatives, such as increasing female representation at senior levels, are undertaken at the expense of a focus on ethnic minorities – this view was particularly expressed by HR Directors who are amongst those who suggest gender and LGBTQ+ programmes frequently edge out race issues.
There is consensus amongst all stakeholder groups that organisations find gender and sexual orientation agendas ‘easier’ to manage than the ethnicity agenda, which is perceived to be more complex. There are many issues with this unhelpful notion, not least that these agendas are regarded as competitors for limited time and resources, potentially by HR teams looking to present positive results to leadership, rather than expose areas for improvement.
How to empower your workforce to protect the ethnic minority agenda
Businesses must avoid sidelining the ethnic minority agenda in their attempt to advance other diversity strands. I recommend that organisations form a collaborative taskforce dedicated to addressing organisational challenges with racial and ethnic representation. The aim of the taskforce is to bring together the unique contributions of the different stakeholder groups and to leverage them into a unified strategic solution.
Here I share six ways organisations can go about creating a taskforce which can deliver meaningful impact with regards to advancing the ethnic minority agenda:
Understand your data
Trends from engagement surveys alongside progression and retention data can provide useful insights into pressure points and levers for change in the business. Use these data points, together with any lived experience data, to identify the overarching goal of the taskforce.
Addressing racial disparities falls within the remit of HR and D&I professionals. However, the perspectives of minority ethnic professionals who do not occupy direct positions of power can provide a valuable sounding board for potential solutions and how they will land in the business. Consider which formal roles must be represented in the taskforce and who should be invited to the table for the unique and important perspectives that they bring. The taskforce should comprise a diverse group across roles, levels of decision-making authority and racial and ethnic identity. Diversity and scope to challenge, as well as a safe and respectful space, will mitigate against groupthink.
Mission statement and terms of reference
Use a mission statement and terms of reference to set parameters and expectations. The terms of reference will clarify the overarching goal of the taskforce, which should be aligned to the organisation’s data and agreed across the stakeholders represented. The terms of reference should identify secondary goals such as building trust and credibility, acting with transparency, and improving formal HR processes. If the secondary goals require specific efforts, these should be identified as strategic pillars with their own goals and resources. The terms of reference should set out the composition of the taskforce, frequency of meetings and length of term.
Leadership and accountability
To establish structure and accountability, spell out roles and responsibilities clearly. The taskforce should have a chair, deputy chair and co-ordinator, each with clear roles and responsibilities. If strategic pillars are identified, the taskforce should be split into smaller interest groups, each focused on addressing one of the strategic pillars. Each interest group should have a chair, deputy chair and coordinator. Interest groups should operate as a subgroup taskforce and representatives of each interest group should report on progress to the wider taskforce as per an agreed meeting schedule.
Use a progress monitoring tool to ensure that agreed actions are delivered to schedule. Using a standard template across interest groups and the wider taskforce will facilitate comparison, bring home the message of accountability and inspire groups to succeed. Share progress at regular meetings of the wider taskforce to encourage cross-group learning, share good practice and learn the lessons of successes and challenges.
Report progress to the broader organisation
Keeping the wider organisation informed and engaged will help maintain accountability, momentum and transparency. Hold open forums to share plans, report on progress, encourage questions and offer answers and information. Share success stories widely. Communicate progress and share data. Continue to consult stakeholders from outside the taskforce. Throughout the process, the taskforce should leverage available channels of communication to stay connected with different parts of the business. Good channels may include the intranet, quarterly townhalls or communications from senior leadership.
The approach must be united
The notion that there is a finite amount of attention and resource to go around, and that there simply is not enough of it to address all equity issues, is not helpful. It casts these various agendas as competitors. In addition, organisations need to ensure that their executive leaders, who have an organisation-wide view and remit, co-ordinate effectively with stakeholders managing ethnic minority advancement and other programmes in gender and LGBTQ+ to deliver sustained and strategic interventions.
About the author
Sophie is Chair and Executive Founder of the Black British Business Awards. She is the Global COO of Shared Services and Banking Operations at Morgan Stanley. Prior to this, she served as Head of Group Treasury (Legal) at Virgin Money, where she led execution of corporate finance activity, including a lead role on the flotation of Virgin Money and other deals in excess of £13billion. Prior to this, she was a Senior Associate at global firm Baker McKenzie, advising clients such as Nike, The Body Shop and Alliance Boots. Sophie is a member of The Executive Leadership Council (ELC), Ambassador of the 30% Club, and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow. She has featured in publications including Management Today, Brummell, the Financial Times and Sunday Times and is a recipient of many business awards. Sophie has served on several philanthropic boards, including Sentebale, founded by the Duke of Sussex, then Prince Harry, to support children affected by HIV/ AIDS in Africa. In 2018 she was recognised by HM Queen Elizabeth II for her exemplary contribution to the Commonwealth.
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