This blog post invites us all to move into uncomfortable zones: black people are very often uncomfortable living in the structures of societies in the UK, Europe and the US.
All of the media coverage of Black Lives Matter, following the death of George Floyd, has highlighted again the fact that black people are often in a position where they do not feel comfortable or relaxed at work, or out and about leading their lives, because of structural racism. This is nothing new.
Structural racism is built into how our institutions like health care, policing, and education operate, making them biased against people of colour. BAME people often experience the same at work.
So what do we do to contribute to changing this? We, who have privilege and power to change things for others, can get used to feeling uncomfortable and work on changes to long-ingrained patterns of behaviour – to call out out-of-date practices and ways of being which may make black men and women feel uncomfortable at work and stop them from progressing.
(If you are unconvinced about the structural racism that exists in white dominated workplaces, read Renni Eddo-Lodge’s book ‘ Why I am no Longer Talking to People about Race’ (which focusses on the UK in particular) which gives a multitude of evidence.)
Francis Frei and Anne Morriss’s new book about leadership, ‘Unleashed’ , offers a dial for leaders of organisations – it looks like this:
They say aiming to be a fully inclusive organisation is managing to achieve a feeling of being cherished for all employees working there. The organisation may have been successful for example in improving the opportunities for women in leadership but not have looked at the experience of black women and men and their chance to contribute and progress in their careers.
We can all commit to making changes happen. A gay white man said to me recently that he saw himself as a minority in a leadership role – and he has certainly felt exposed and uncomfortable in coming out at work. This doesn’t change the perception of others – black women and men and other women – that he is a white man in a leadership role with power and responsibility. Does the fact that he is gay, let him off the hook for making change happen for others? Frei and Morriss would say not – inclusion only happens fully if the workplace offers a sense of being cherished to all its employees and it is the business of all leaders to focus on that.
I recently listened in to a webinar from a leading business school about creating a sustainable future for businesses – so building environmental goals into future projects based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The session was interesting, run by two white men. It could have incorporated clear advocacy for improving equality at work for women, black and white and all people of colour based on the other Sustainable Development Goals – Governments have an opportunity to require businesses to change how they recruit, reward and develop their workforces to wipe out systemic racism and open up opportunities for a better life to all. It didn’t.
I am not saying this is a simple change to bring about. We can start to improve things by looking at all we do. We can open up an honest dialogue with black employees in our organisations – this will be uncomfortable for us if it’s a useful conversation. Get the CEO to lead this. Make yourself listen with careful attention and ask open questions. Allow time. Believe what they are saying (you do not have the same experience). Take notes. Ask for ideas and suggestions for change. Create space for the dialogue to be continued on a regular basis. Commit to real actions and involve the whole work community in making changes. Look at processes like recruitment, your talent pipeline, how you develop people and who.. (Don’t load all the responsibility for change onto your black employees).
Frei and Morriss’s book has practical to do lists for making change in our organisations, to be inclusive and a place where people are valued. In it Sheryl Sandberg is quoted saying that if you design working practices to make black single working mothers feel cherished then you will be on the way to being truly inclusive. There are many other books and guides available. Read the advice and act upon it.
I recently read research about Cumulative Advantage Theory – the idea that the course of someone’s life is impacted by a positive and privileged start and that advantages multiply from there on ( think, young British white men educated at Eton and Oxford in the UK – they advance fast because of their connections, the socio-economic advantages they have, how they are perceived and privilege, not always because they have talent).
The reverse is true. And the social divides are accentuated as life goes on unless something unusual happens to disrupt the pattern.
A black person starting in a structurally biased society will have to fight a lot harder to complete school, graduate from university and get a good job because the bias multiplies the disadvantages all the way through. Eddo Lodge’s book gives clear statistical evidence of the structural biases working against young black men in the UK as they try and build a life.
We have it in our power to take away these biases, reverse the cumulative disadvantage, and open up pathways for all the potential BAME employees who want to build a better life for themselves and their families.
As well as engaging to change things at work, we can open up our minds and experiences to new things in our free time, challenge our habits, embrace books, music, dance, theatre and films presented from a very different viewpoint from our own. Seek out the unfamiliar – get used to being curious, comfortable with challenge and difference, and open to new experiences.
What do you suggest? Share your ideas in the comments.
More reading is here : https://leanin.org/black-women-racism-discrimination-at-work?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklywrap
#diversity and inclusion. #blacklivesmatter #structuralbias #learninganddevelopment #leadership