Author and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge said race issues often intersect with other challenges
The CIPD has vowed to address its own diversity issues as it supports the HR community to build more inclusive workplaces.
Speaking at its Annual Conference & Exhibition – broadcast virtually this year – chief executive Peter Cheese said “we know we have more to do”, and acknowledged that the professional body needed to help members better reflect their customers and communities.
He said the murder by a police officer of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests in May had been a “trigger point for anger and concern” for many, calling out “issues that so many of us had not understood well enough about racism in our communities”.
“It created a challenge in terms of how organisations should respond and how they show they are taking action,” he added. “We have to create a safe environment where people can be called out for what they say, but also be prepared to be called out themselves. For that we need trust in each other, and share and educate each other in what the issues are.”
Cheese said that the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic had placed the HR profession firmly in the spotlight, and encouraged delegates to be “proud of what we have done as a profession”.
“We’ve never worked harder. And this creates opportunities for the positioning of the profession going forward.”
“Homeworking has been a way for us all to understand how we can work in different ways. Leaders have had to show compassion and connect with people in different ways than before,” he added. “Even once we have a vaccine and are looking to return, we will still look at these ideas and ways of working. We know that not only can we be more productive, but we can give people more choice and it helps their wellbeing.”
The CIPD also announced today that it would launch a new charitable trust to support its volunteering programmes as well as help more people into the profession by offering financial support. The trust would also boost initiatives to get more black, Asian and ethnic minority people into HR, said Cheese.
“Inclusive businesses can attract more talent and skills.,” he added. “[The pandemic] is an opportunity for businesses to step up and show they are part of society. But that must start with open and honest conversations.”
These sentiments were echoed in today’s keynote session, a conversation between director of creative diversity at the BBC June Sarpong and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
Sarpong noted how much easier it was to name organisations that were “getting it right” on other aspects of diversity such as disability, gender or social mobility, than it was to identify those who were successfully addressing race issues.
You cannot adequately respond to the needs of your organisation if you’re not getting it on race.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
“Anti-blackness means that often people are so uncomfortable with addressing issues of racism at work,” said Sarpong. “So a lot of HR professionals have not got a clue what to do but know that they need to do something. But sometimes the conversation is had in a paternalistic way, ‘we’re doing a nice thing for these diverse people’.”
Eddo-Lodge said it was important to acknowledge how race often intersects with other characteristics. “You can be working class and black, and disadvantages interact with each other,” she explained, recalling being invited to a group interview for a newspaper internship where almost all of the other black candidates went to Oxford or Cambridge.
She added: “There’s a knock on effect – the job you have affects where you live, where your kids go to school, your life chances. I’ve heard stories of people being in workplaces for years and juniors being promoted above them; there was a ceiling beyond which they could not progress, as well as more egregious racist incidents.
“People can start to internalise it and think there’s something wrong with them, and it’s not good for people’s mental health. You cannot adequately respond to the needs of your organisation if you’re not getting it on race. ”
The CIPD conference takes place today and tomorrow, 11 and 12 November.
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