Black Lives Matter: how employers can engage with the conversation

Racism is an issue that lives within many organisations and employers should consider committing to making real and substantial change now, starting by engaging in the conversation with all employees, says legal expert Marilyn Heward-Mills

The shocking killing of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers in the US, which has resulted in mass protests across the US and in the UK, has once again highlighted the disturbing reality of deep-rooted race discrimination within our society.  

Although it might be tempting to confidently profess that racism does not exist within your workforce or business, that might not be the best conclusion to reach without further examination.  

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct and indirect discrimination and harassment in the workplace in respect of race (which includes colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin).   

Nevertheless, racism is an issue that lives within many organisations, and employers should consider committing to making real and substantial change now, starting by engaging in the conversation with all employees, regardless of race or background. 

Research shows that people from ethnic minority groups are often at a disadvantage in the labour market and are more likely to be unemployed and over-represented in poorly paid and unstable jobs. There is also a significant under-representation of ethnic diversity at the top of UK boards, as shown by the Government’s recent Parker Review.  

Particularly, at this time, doing nothing might be damaging to your workforce morale and your reputation, and might not be the responsible business response.   

Set out below are some practical steps that you, as a business leader, might consider:  

Acknowledge that the death of George Floyd and the ensuing mass protests has an impact on your BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) employees.  

Express your sadness and sympathy about the situation.  

Clarify and communicate your organisation’s stance and values on the subject of racism.

Declare a commitment to begin or continue the process of open dialogue with your staff about how racism impacts them and your business.

Consider ways to engage meaningfully in the conversation around racism by creating a safe environment in which individuals can share their personal experiences and learn from each other. 

Commit to listen to the concerns and needs of all of your workforce.

Commit to educate yourselves and your staff about the realities faced by BAME individuals in the work and social space, including those that you employ or transact with.  

Ensure diversity and inclusion remain top of your agenda and commit to action that will ensure you achieve your goals.  

Determine what other steps you must take to ensure racism is stamped out in your organisation and how you will build a diverse, supportive culture that is respectful and fair for all. 

Commit to leadership and action and set targets for required change.

Marilyn Heward-Mills is an Employment Solicitor at Conexus Law

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