Hello. I am a middle-class, White, British, Heterosexual male who is Single with no known children. I’m doing a part-time Masters in Human Resources Management at Kings College London, while working in Human Resources. I have dyslexia but outside of this disability, I am highly aware that I personify privilege in society.
On the 26th July 2020, I had a conversation with a friend about Black Lives Matter and ongoing diversity and racism issues in Britain. Since that day there have been protests, statues toppled and personal investments by many however, there has yet to be any formal Government address in the UK on what we as a country should be doing to counteract the multiple injustices faced by Black people. From a Human Resources standpoint, I believe that there are many challenges, questions and concerns when dealing with race-related issues in the workplace, that need to be addressed. Mainly regarding how Black people are failed by Human Resources when dealing with racial discrimination and reporting racism, and how Diversity initiatives rarely meet objectives, if they have any at all.
The first failure comes in the form of Diversity initiatives. Changing a company email image for Black History month doesn’t make employees more aware of Black history and can be seen as merely performative. It is not an action which properly meets the vision a Diversity and Inclusion policy should aim to achieve. Offering platforms and opportunities for individuals to openly discuss and address race-related issues is seemingly a better course of action. Discussions can equally become listening opportunities. Opportunities to learn how Black people unfortunately experience the workplace differently. These discussions are not comparative exercises. This difference is paramount. Often when White people, who often set up or chair these discussions, are challenged on their beliefs, they immediately respond with arguments to mitigate, undermine, or explain away elements of Black people’s account. If this happens, the diversity of their experience isn’t accepted, believed or allowed. This immediately excludes Black people and thus prevents inclusion. Without inclusion, any effort of diversity is futile.
My personal experience of this knee-jerk reaction of arguing against a Black experience happened when I first heard of ‘White Privilege’ in Reni Eddo-Lodge’s 2017 book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. It felt like an attack on who I am. That, because I was White with all the characteristics of privilege that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I was immediately better off, despite the merits I possessed or seemingly achieved. However, the more I listened, the more I understood. Indeed, I was better able to acknowledge the systems which existed and how many elements in this were rigged.
When certain systems and practices are biased or discriminatory the importance of policies should be at the forefront of any mission in achieving greater diversity and equality. Policies are only as strong as those who govern them and are willing to enforce them. Words without actions serve little to empower those disenfranchised by their diversity. CEOs, Managers, and HR need to uphold these policies and amend them when they fail to work appropriately with frequent reviews. Therefore, when allegations of discrimination or harassment occur, it is the due diligence and responsibility of the company to fully investigate the accusation and execute appropriate reprimands. If allegations aren’t taken seriously, then employees are likely to disengage from their work, and potentially adopt counterproductive work behaviours, or leave the company altogether. Too often those in power have had the ability to ignore incidents or silence allegations made by Black people, which may hurt their own agendas or image. If those in power demonstrate such abuse, then a culture of racism and abusing power is bred, and so the cycle continues with employees now adopting negative practices. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link”, is a phrase, true across many mediums; and it applies in this situation too. It would be a fatal blow to any diversity plan if those in power choose not to champion the policies and standards they apply to Black people in the company. This means all allegations of racism need to be investigated and followed up with the utmost urgency, diligence and respect. To synthesis the point, the magnitude of the action is what counts.
When examining the approaches to inequality among protected groups in the workplace, businesses might argue that implementing structures to assess the scale of the issue can be difficult however, the biggest challenges tend to arise when the evidence of the assessment is not actioned or utilised for change. In April 2017, the UK Government introduced a mandatory report for employers with 250 or more “relevant” employees, to openly share and report on the salaries and the differences between men and women with Gender Pay Reporting. To date there are no official sanctions in place for those companies which demonstrate a large disparity in their numbers, and though these reports do spark conversations on the topic which prompt social recognition and action, there is no mandate for companies to change. With such a report already in place, having another report on race and salary is very plausible but the struggles with sexism are probably the tip of the iceberg in comparison to race. There will undoubtedly be fallout and the status-quo will be shaken, but that is a small price to pay for an effective Diversity and Inclusion policy to achieve true equality.
In conclusion, as a White, Male, Christian, Heterosexual, Single, Dyslexic, I have not been the direct subject of many of the prejudice systems which exist in the 21st century but I am in a position to make positive change alongside my colleagues. We are different, so we can learn from one another. The acknowledgement of that difference will lead us to appreciate the merits we all can bring to the table, as we strive to achieve that ideal of a meritocracy.
Part 2 of this blog post will look into what changes can be made to tackle the issues in HR that I have highlighted.