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The importance of a diverse workplace within the context of Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has triggered protests against racism and police brutality worldwide, while in the UK it has also sparked a debate about how we acknowledge our national history.

So why has the incident – Floyd, who was a 46-year-old black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, following an arrest for alleged use of a counterfeit banknote –had such a huge impact on this side of the Atlantic?

Official statistics from 2018-19 reveal that police in England and Wales were three times more likely to arrest a black person than a white one, and five times more likely to use force, while black people were also nine times more likely to be stopped and searched. When held in police custody, black people were more than twice as likely to die there.

What’s more, even prior to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Windrush scandal had dented trust and confidence in authority, while a campaign was already underway to take down the statue in Oxford of one college’s imperialist benefactor, Cecil Rhodes.

Against this backdrop, the shocking brutality of the Floyd video, not to mention the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has thrown many social divisions into stark relief, has brought people from all communities out onto the streets to protest.

Organisations across the Tech business world have been left wondering how to respond. Many have expressed support for the Black Lives Matter campaign via social media, with staff and employers encouraged to challenge racism, whatever their own racial heritage.

Using Twitter, the CIPD said: “One of our key focuses in championing better work and working lives is ensuring diversity and inclusion remains top of all organisations’ agendas.” It also urged employers to ‘check in’ with their staff, a stance which has been criticised in some quarters as being too ‘weak’ and ‘generic’.

At the same time, workers are scrutinising how their organisation reacts – one Instagram survey found more than three quarters (77%) of respondents said their workplace had done nothing to address the relevant issues.

What can employers do?

While the situation may feel overwhelming, in truth there’s a lot all employers can do:

  • Decide whether to grant leave to staff who wish to attend protests, whether that’s to be paid or unpaid, and what to do if someone has already used up their annual leave. Equally, with some events organised at short notice, employees may be asking for time off sooner than would usually be considered.

  • Review their policies on racial equality. Clearly, racism at work is already illegal, but they need to be sure everyone understands they take the issues seriously. Where they have made mistakes in the past, acknowledge these, and accept where they need to improve. Ensure everyone across the organisation understands the policy, and knows what to do if they encounter racism.

  • Promote learning on diversity by sharing lists of books, podcasts and articles so staff can understand racial issues in better detail, both inside work and outside. Hold diversity training sessions.

  • Create a diverse workforce for lasting change, rather than getting people to sign a one-off petition or holding just one diversity workshop. You may need to adjust your recruitment processes to weed out any unconscious bias or discrimination, or look at having diverse interview panels, blind screening and the like. Clearly, this needs to be extended beyond hiring procedures to training, mentoring and similar opportunities.

How we can help

At Inspired Human, we offer a broad range of diversity trainings, consultancy services and more tailored for the tech sector. Start with an hour-long, free diversity consultation. Now, more than ever, there is a sense of urgency to make Tech organisations genuinely inclusive. Talk to us today or learn more from our website.

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