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Racial Inclusivity: The Role of Organisational Culture

Welcome to lesson 6 of How to Build Racial Inclusivity in Your Workplace. In this lesson, we‘ll explore the role of organisational culture and how we can make it more inclusive.

Organisational culture forms the bedrock of employee, customer, and wider stakeholder experience. For employees, in particular, organisational culture impacts everything from their sense of belonging, their ability to complete their work effectively, and their ability to progress their career. Due to systemic racism – as we discussed in lesson 2 – organisational cultures in many, if not all, organisations in Western countries tend to favour white people over ethnic minorities. For example, according to the McGregor-Smith Review, in the UK, two-thirds of black and minority ethnic people surveyed had experienced racial bullying or harassment in the workplace in the last five years. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ethnic minority employees tend to have unequal access to opportunities for development due to a lack of clear information about training opportunities or progression pathways. This is compounded by opaque processes, informal networks, a lack of ethnic minority role models, and gaps between diversity policy and practice. Furthermore, according to Business In The Community, while 43% of ethnic minority survey respondents aspire to holding senior leadership positions, only 10% report being on their organisation's succession planning list. Therefore, for many ethnic minority employees, organisational culture is a hindrance as opposed to an enabler to their workplace satisfaction.

So how do we create a more inclusive organisational culture? Let's explore five things an organisation can do.

Firstly an organisation must take a zero-tolerance approach to racial bullying and harassment. Discrimination on the grounds of race is illegal under the Equality Act in the UK and the Civil Rights Act in the US. But that doesn't necessarily give ethnic minority employees the confidence to report incidents of discrimination. According to a survey in 2017 by the Trades Union Congress, 43% of black and minority ethnic employees felt unable to report experiences of discrimination to their employer, and 38% didn't report incidents of bullying and harassment. Clearly, organisations cannot rely on statutes alone – they need to give all employees confidence that their organisation will take swift action against those who engage in discriminatory behaviour. This is crucial if employees are to engage meaningfully with any wider inclusivity initiatives.

Secondly, an organisation can appoint an executive champion for racial inclusivity who's visibly accountable for achieving inclusivity objectives. They can amplify the work of affinity groups as well as help drive inclusion policies and practices throughout the organisation – particularly among middle managers. An executive champion actively engages on racial inclusivity on a regular and consistent basis – ensuring that their messaging and actions are perceived as enthusiastic and credible. Executive championship extends naturally from the character traits of inclusive leaders that we explored in lesson 5, in particular the first trait, a visible commitment to diversity. Clearly demonstrating that inclusivity is an executive-level priority can really help drive engagement.

Thirdly an organisation can remove any biases in recruitment practices. Every step of the recruitment process will need to be reviewed – from the wording of job adverts, to the diversity of interview panels, to the selection criteria used to identify successful applicants to ensure that the process is inclusive of ethnic minority employees at every stage. Inclusive recruitment practices include name-blind CVs or resumes, advertising jobs in media targeted at ethnic minorities, ensuring that interview panels are as diverse as possible and that all interviewers have completed unconscious bias training. For senior positions, certain minimum requirements can be set for short-lists – such as a minimum of one black, Asian, or minority ethnic candidate, for example. Diversifying long-lists for senior positions can help ensure that minimum short-listing criteria are met. Making recruitment more inclusive can help diversify the talent pipeline at all levels and increase ethnic minority representation throughout the organisation.

An organisation's senior leaders can engage in reverse mentoring – meeting regularly with a junior employee from an ethnic minority background they've been paired with to understand what life is like for ethnic minority employees. This helps senior leaders see the organisation through an ethnic minority lens and hence understand racial inequality in a more impactful way. Plus, it gives junior ethnic minority employees the chance to gain senior sponsors within the organisation to support their careers. A reverse mentoring programme piloted by Deloitte in 2018 has led to half of the mentors being promoted since the programme's inception. This is a powerful tool in closing the gap between senior leaders and junior ethnic minority employees.

An organisation can actively engage in informed conversations about race at work. This will help everyone in the organisation build their understanding, form connections with employees of different races and clarify everyone's role in racial inclusivity. Having affinity groups in place (as we discussed in lesson 4) and inclusive leaders (as we discussed in lesson 5) will help immensely with this. Having access to external racial inclusivity consultancies – or any free resources they provide to help structure such conversations – can also help. It's crucial that any such conversations address any anxieties upfront – particularly anxieties around saying the wrong thing or unintentionally causing offence. Providing resources that explain terminologies, such as BAME or BIPOC, and concepts such as unconscious bias and structural racism (as we explored in lesson 2) can help all employees enter these conversations with greater levels of confidence and empathy.

To recap – an organisation can build a racially inclusive culture by taking a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and harassment, appoint an executive champion for the race, remove any biases in recruitment, provide reverse mentoring to senior leaders and engage in informed conversations about race.

In the next lesson, we'll explore dealing with resistance to inclusivity initiatives. Thank you for listening, and I'll speak to you again in lesson 7.

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Written by

Andrew Sivanesan