Why Black History Month is important for equality and inclusion

Black History Month

Black History Month is a time for us all to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the UK’s Black community and uplift those who have shaped, and are continuing to shape, our society.

It is also a time to learn more about the complex histories of the UK’s many Black communities, foster a deeper understanding of the struggles that this community faces, both in the past and present, while cementing aims to drive equality.

After the tragic events of 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement upsurge, the need to create a world where Black people are safe and able to thrive cannot be ignored and the drive to create inclusive workplaces should remain a steadfast priority for organisations. While there has been a genuine move in the right direction by many businesses, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the UK’s Black community are able to succeed in the workplace.

While businesses should foster inclusion and ensure that their Black employees are able to thrive all year round, Black History Month allows us to refocus and refresh our goals to drive change. This month serves as a celebration as much as it does a stark reminder for us all to actively advocate for others, and we can start by using Black History Month 2021 as a springboard for long-term change.

So, what can businesses do this Black History Month (and beyond) to promote better racial diversity and inclusion?

From unconscious bias to conscious inclusion

What we think, believe and consequently do is very much shaped by our experiences and ingrained stereotypes. These presumptions can manifest into biases that then impact people and the processes and systems that are set up within businesses. Therefore, it’s crucial that we root out these seemingly unconscious biases, become aware of them and then move towards adopting consciously inclusive thinking and practices.

By choosing to be consciously inclusive, you are utilising tools and methods to overcome biases that may be hindering Black people from progressing or even entering your organisation and are becoming intentional in your inclusion aims.

Of course, it’s not enough to just have a few token discussions and then park the conversation. The importance of a diverse team, as well as the need to tackle bias, must be discussed frequently to embed its significance in making change.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

A huge barrier for inclusion in the workplace is people feeling comfortable with talking about race.

In Audeliss’s recent Race Report, we found that only 27 per cent of White employees felt comfortable using Black as a descriptor. The key reasoning for this discomfort was, and still is in many cases, fear of getting it wrong.

However, despite this anxiety that surrounds descriptors and language, there was a clear willingness to be educated. 8 in 10 said that they were learning, or wanted to learn, about how to use appropriate language when talking about race. It is crucial businesses leverage this and support all employees to fully educate themselves on correct terminology as well as give a secure space for everyone to ask questions.

Lead by example

Black employees only hold 1.5 per cent of leadership roles in the UK’s private sector, according to Business in the Community. This drops to only 1 per cent in the public sector. Hugely worrying statistics which trickle further down the career ladder and into talent pools.

More efforts must be made to ensure that diversity and inclusion happens at every level of an organisation. All employees should be given a level playing field to progress, and the barriers that some groups may feel in applying for vacant roles need to be addressed. Tracking diversity data on who is applying for roles, and ultimately winning opportunities will help.

For example, if most of your current talent is being sourced through one specific channel and the data shows you are receiving only applications from White candidates but very few Black candidates, then that’s indicative that your search activity is too narrow, and action needs to be taken.  

 If Not Now, When?

To maximise your inclusion efforts, why not join a campaign? Audeliss and INvolve’s If Not Now, When? campaign is a unique community of over 80 UK CEOs working to drive Black inclusion in business. The first If Not Now, When? Report released earlier this month, showcases initiatives from organisations spanning industries from retail and publishing to hospitality and finance, and details the work that they are doing to ensure their Black employees can succeed. The campaign is a pledge backed up by reporting and the importance of accountability to ensure action occurs beyond words, and CEO signatories have access to best practice, events, and toolkits to support them in meeting their various inclusion goals.  

While businesses should foster inclusion and ensure that their Black employees are able to thrive all year round, Black History Month allows us to refocus and refresh our goals to drive change. This month serves as a celebration as much as it does a stark reminder and springboard for us all to actively advocate for the UK’s Black community.

Suki-Sandhu-featuredAbout the author

Suki Sandhu is CEO and Founder of INvolve and Audeliss.

Suki has worked in executive search for nearly ten years and is one of the UK’s leading specialists who is committed to helping businesses find diverse talent. He established Audeliss, a boutique executive search company in 2011.

INvolve is a membership organisation championing diversity and inclusion in business. INvolve is a motherbrand sitting above OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes, membership initiatives working respectively across LGBT+, ethnic minority and gender diversity. Through the delivery of events, programmes, thought leadership and advisory services, INvolve helps member firms drive cultural change and create more inclusive workplaces. In addition, OUTstanding, EMpower and HERoes publish role model lists annually in partnership with the Financial Times, celebrating business leaders and future leaders who are leading the charge in their respective diversity spheres, and securing a diverse talent pipeline for the future.

Suki is also a Stonewall Ambassador and supports charities through donating a percentage of profits to Diversity Role Models, Albert Kennedy Trust, StandUp Foundation, Dress for Success, Clic Sargent and Terence Higgins Trust.

About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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