This week the U.K. celebrates Windrush Day (22 June). A number of events have been organised to pay tribute to the Windrush generation, including exhibitions, workshops and talks.
Windrush Day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the ship ‘Empire Windrush’ to Tilbury Docks, 73 years ago. The ship brought Caribbean migrants to the U.K.
Following the Second World War, the U.K’s economy was in desperate need of repair – in response, the government recruited workers from the Caribbean. The Windrush generation and their descendants have made a vital contribution to the U.K. and it is right that we should reflect on and celebrate their contribution.
Over the past year there have been a number of campaigns highlighting inequalities and the challenges faced by Afro-Caribbeans, including in the workplace. Windrush Day offers employers an opportunity to take a positive step to celebrate the diversity within its workforce. It should also provide a chance to reflect, take stock and consider what action needs to be taken to level the playing field and remove the disadvantage faced by those from minority backgrounds.
Race Discrimination within the Workplace
Last year a report was published, following collaborative research undertaken by the University of Bristol, the University of Manchester and the National Centre for Social Research. The team analysed national census data from 1971 and 2011 and found that whilst the employment prospects of some people from minority backgrounds had improved since the 1970s, they were still stifled when compared with their white counterparts and were being held back by racism.
It is very clear that certain communities face an ‘ethnicity penalty’. Employers need to take tangible steps to remove this disadvantage. Diversity and Inclusion appears to be high on the agenda, but merely making statements is meaningless. The tide does seem to be changing and organisations are less likely to get away with inaction, particularly when consumers and service users are able to hold companies to account in a very public way via social media. Consumers and clients now expect companies to be able to actually demonstrate their commitment through tangible results.
I have set out some key steps employers should take to move towards a fairer and more diverse workplace.
Six steps to cultivate diversity and tackle unconscious bias
1. Review your Recruitment Process
- Start by looking at where and how you advertise. You should ensure you are reaching a wide audience. The photos used in your adverts should depict a diverse range of people – when individuals see someone like themselves, they are more likely to feel welcomed by the organisation and therefore more likely to apply.
- Consider blind hiring – name-blind applications will increase the focus on qualifications and merit rather than the biases that even the best intentioned person may hold.
- Ensure diversity amongst staff involved in the recruitment process – this means those short-listing and interviewing.
2. Identify barriers to Promotion
There is a real problem of those from minority ethnic backgrounds being overlooked for promotion. There are a number of reasons for this, including that inaccurate assumptions are made about them not having leadership or management qualities. This means they are underrepresented at senior levels and the problem of lack of diversity continues to be perpetuated.
- Take action to support career progression – have a mentoring programme in place for ethnic minority staff – remember, one size does not fit all. For example, those from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds may face very different challenges when compared to those from South-Asian backgrounds. So key to an effective programme is understanding what the needs of your staff are and providing support accordingly.
- Introduce reverse mentoring and sponsorship.
3. Create and Support an Employee Network
- Employee networks should be run by and for employees. They should be a safe space for staff to discuss their concerns and also provide a support mechanism for training and career progression.
- Employers play a vital role in ensuring such networks are effective. The network needs to have the support of the employer, this can include encouraging staff to join the network, promoting and supporting initiatives organised by the network.
- Networks are also a useful way for management to understand the issues and hear from diverse voices. It then allows the employer to explore productive ways to address any concerns effectively.
4. Address disparity in Pay
- Collect, analyse and publish your ethnicity pay gap data. The U.K.’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has recommended that all employers voluntarily report pay gaps among ethnic groups to identify and rectify disparities.
5. Be prepared to identify discrimination or barriers faced by staff
- Many managers are unable or unwilling to recognise discrimination. For the most part, discrimination within the workplace is not name calling or other verbal abuse – it’s more subtle, yet nevertheless damaging.
- Listen, with an open mind, to feedback you are given, whether in the course of an employee grievance or an exit interview. Adopting a defensive approach is often counterproductive. If the employee’s concerns are genuine, sweeping them under the carpet, can mean delaying the inevitable and can exacerbate the problem for the employer.
- The Pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on those from minority backgrounds. The report published by Public Health England in June 2020 identified that the group most at risk from dying from COVID-19 is black Caribbean’s. Those from minority ethnic backgrounds are not only more likely get sick, but are also more likely to have lost family and friends to Covid-19. Also, the murder of George Floyd and the injustices highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement have all had an emotional impact on staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Employers need to be mindful of this and identify how they can support staff.
6. Embed Anti-Racism into Your Values
- This means doing more than just having policies and expressing commitment to diversity. Staff need to feel that discriminatory behaviours will not be tolerated and when required, robust action will be taken.
- All staff, particularly managers should be given anti-racism training. The training should not be conducted as a box-tick exercise, but focus on ensuring managers understand the issues and are equipped to deal with them.
This is the first of a series of blogs aimed at giving guidance to employers to eliminate racism in the workplace.
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