Network of ‘allies’ needed to address racial prejudice at work


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‘Big conversations’ are needed to develop effective ‘allyship’ and agree actions to address racism and racial prejudice in organisations, according to a major report on the experiences of black employees.

Workplaces should develop a network of allies who are willing to educate themselves on the issues of anti-racism and privilege and collaborate on solutions that will help their organisations be more inclusive of their black colleagues, Business in the Community’s Black Voices report says.

Allies need to approach conversations about black colleagues’ experiences at work with “curiosity rather than scepticism” and should not be offended if they are challenged.

The report sets out three priority areas for the business response to the Black Lives Matter movement: leadership, allyship and connecting to employees and communities.

Under the leadership pillar, it calls on senior leaders to actively sponsor black talent in their workplaces. According to the results of BITC’s Race at Work survey, 31% of black employees wanted a sponsor compared with 12% of their white colleagues.

David Lammy, Labour’s justice secretary and author of the Lammy Review, says in the report: “To make a real change, we need leaders of integrity, allies willing to show their support and sponsors in our businesses who can challenge the status quo. We need the job of those in power to be breaking down barriers for those who come next.”

The report also urges the government to implement mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting for organisations with more than 250 employees to highlight the pay disparities between ethnic groups.

It notes that around 66% of black respondents to a YouGov survey on education and qualifications had a degree, masters or PhD – and for the black African ethnic group alone this stood at 91% – but this had not resulted in their career progression, promotion and representation at the top of business.

It therefore reiterated the call for employers to set targets to increase representation of black people at senior levels, something that was recommended in the independent race in the workplace review that was led by Baroness McGregor-Smith in 2017.

Other recommendations for businesses put forward in the BITC report include:

  • demonstrating their commitment to diverse supply chains by asking suppliers show how they are including black enterprise and service providers within their own supply chains
  • signing the Race at Work Charter, which has been signed by more than 400 employers – around 100 of which signed up within six weeks of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests earlier this year
  • encouraging employees to participate in the 2021 Race at Work survey.

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said the report offers some practical steps that will “make a difference” to the experiences of black employees.

We back the call for the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, which is something the CIPD has also been advocating. And as a signatory of the Race at Work Charter, we will be highlighting its value to members and providing further detailed guidance ourselves on how to boost racial equality and combat discrimination and injustice,” he said.

“The report’s recommendations, such as the need for employers to set targets to increase the representation of black people at senior levels, the importance of allyship and the need for senior leaders to sponsor talented black employees, provide a template for meaningful change.”

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