As a black woman, I have a vested interest in the vision of an inclusive workplace. As an employer, there is a strong responsibility to not just appear inclusive under the scrutiny of the media gaze, but to embrace the essence of inclusivity so that all your employees, regardless of race, gender, and creed feel comfortable and can achieve their potential at work. We have managed to make some progress on the gender equality front in the UK and slowly employers are shifting their attention to an underrepresented group for which the solution is a lot less clear-cut. Making black employees feel included in the workplace isn’t a dark art, here are 5 simple steps to move forward with the inclusion and diversity agenda.
- Get educated (then shout everything you know from the rooftop)
The greatest stumbling block for making a change within your organisation is the lack of awareness that change is a necessity. The unnecessary touching of hair, five hundred questions if someone brings up something related to African or Caribbean culture, and the ignorant comments are more likely to drive an employee in search of a new job before anything gets raised with the perpetrator. Without an inclusion and diversity training programme ignorance is left to fester and minority staff continue to be subject to avoidable microaggressions. Having recently undergone training at work I can vouch that it fosters a sense of pro-activeness in acting in a way that makes others feel included. If people aren’t aware how will they be proactive in making a change? Whether it be our race, gender, age, or the rest, we should be able to celebrate our differences in work and outside of it. Don’t know where to start with getting in the know? Find all the black employees you have and start asking some honest questions. You can’t fix problems that you don’t know need solving.
- Widen team building past the bar
I am yet to work somewhere where social activities don’t revolve around drinks. Someone in the team gets promoted, someone leaves the company, someone decides it will be nice to see fellow colleagues away from the office, no matter the occasion, the destination is always the same. I myself am partial to a chilled glass of wine after a long day, however only having one way to commemorate a special occasion leaves non-drinkers excluded. Unwinding with alcohol is a pillar of white British culture but alcohol doesn’t necessarily have the same foundation amongst black and Asian brits. If there is only one thought that comes to your mind when thinking of a team bonding activity, it’s time to spare a thought for everyone that is left excluded because they either don’t drink or aren’t in the habit of one drink leading to many more. All cultures need to be embraced and that means looking a little further than the local bar for all extracurricular hang-outs.
- Question what your senior leadership looks like and why it looks that way
With progression on everyone’s mind, people need to see people who look like them at the top. If making MD means being polished and being polished means having been privately educated, it is no wonder that black employees are scarce in leadership. We have to question the process of making it to the top, and if it is truly talent that acts as a deciding factor because the old boys club mentality will always act as a barrier to diversity. This applies for hiring at the other end of the spectrum too with entry-level roles. Recruitment training is needed for everyone in hiring positions. No one is exempt from conscious and unconscious bias and it is important that we are made aware of the prejudices we might have in order to become proactive in not letting these influence our hiring decisions.
- If you don’t have an African and Caribbean network it’s time to create one
Being the only one, or one of few can be hard so it’s important to create an environment for people to come together for support and community spirit. You will be surprised what talking to people with similar experiences can do for morale. Employees that don’t feel alone and isolated are less likely to leave for a workplace where they feel included. African and Caribbean networks also provide a great platform for mentoring programmes where senior employees can pass on pearls of wisdom to those in more junior positions. Not only does this highlight where black employees have been successful within the firm, this empowers others to believe success is attainable and can be personally achieved by everyone. Mentoring provides a way around being in the inner circle and knowing the right MD’s as the ‘secrets to success’ are shared from mentor to mentee.
- Don’t assume diversity in one area covers up for your lack of diversity in another.
I will let you in on a secret: Having senior women or a strong south Asian community does not make your black employee feel like this is the workplace for them. Having a workplace that isn’t ‘pale male stale’ is only the first step to creating a diverse environment, but it is only one step. Your diversity and inclusion agenda has to focus on each group in its own right and it would be wrong to assume the same methods for increasing age diversity will work for creating an environment that allows people with disabilities to prosper. We cannot rest on our laurels because of the success that we’ve seen over the past 50 years with gender equality in employment, we need to use the same dedication if we want to a workplace representative of the country’s African and Caribbean population.
So there you have it, 5 tips for keeping black bums on seats and growing your African and Caribbean employees. Last but not least: Report report report. Report on your diversity statistics and give yourself the chance to measure what’s working and what’s not. After all, It’s better to shine the light on areas you’d rather stayed in the dark than allowing the press to do it for you.