The murder of George Floyd in the United States and ensuing Global focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has forced many people to re-address diversity and inclusion in the organisations they work for and with.
Racism and inclusion can no longer be viewed as purely an individual or wider societal issue, but as an embedded part of hierarchical structures which needs to be acknowledged, challenged and rooted out. There is increasing pressure on Governmental and organisational systems to seek and expose racist practices and eliminate them. But alongside this, there need to be examples and models of best practice of how this can be authentically achieved and evidenced by organisations.
The Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business in collaboration with Professor Trehan at the University of York Centre for Women’s Enterprise, Leadership & Diversity [WE LEAD] invited academics and business leaders to take part in an equality and diversity webinar. The invited speakers had expertise and lived experience of the challenges faced as leaders in their professions, and advised on how to lead businesses through these challenges and start the conversations to create positive change within their organisations.
Professor Kiran Trehan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement and Director of Centre women’s Enterprise, Leadership & Diversity [WE LEAD] at the University of York opened the webinar, stating:
'The desire for more inclusive workplaces has never been in such high demand. Black Lives Matter, Brexit, the financial crisis, the shifting political landscape, and disclosure in business and public services are highlighting the consequences and impact of a lack of diverse leadership to business success. Diversity and inclusive leadership as a motto for various policies seems to be ever present in the public sphere of many businesses, local communities and public life. Underpinning these reforms has been a desire to create a diverse and inclusive workforce which reflects the society we live and work in. Over recent years there has been increasing interest in understanding the importance, relevance and impact of developing a diverse workforce, particularly in relation to organisational effectiveness. The message advocated is that diversity can enhance performance and make the workplace more socially inclusive.
'However, contrary to such rhetoric, creating a diverse workforce continues to be a challenge for many businesses. My research highlights that inclusion is much more than simply increasing gender, ethnicity, or LGTB representation, [and] recruiting and retaining more people from traditionally under-represented identity groups. The focus on economic and social benefits is equally important. Inclusion matters but requires a move from the current rhetoric to ‘changing systems’ through isolated or episodic initiatives to collective institutional action. We need a new approach to looking at what has created and continues to perpetuate this problem and find actionable ways to change and address the inclusion crisis.
'Inclusive leadership is not just about diversity quotas or numbers on boards, it’s about ensuring staff, regardless of background, are included in decision-making, strategy and operations. In short, there is now an economic and business impetrative for greater leadership inclusivity in addition to the frequently cited social impetrative for greater equality.
'And so today we want to move from talk to action. We've often talked about how tiring it is to keep having the same conversations, so let's tackle the issue of race, head on.’
Yetunde Dania, Partner at law firm Trowers and Hamlins, gave an impassioned and considered answer to the question of what opportunities and challenges this moment presents for business: ‘I'm a solicitor and I've been qualified for about 20 years. And yes, I had a very tough time trying to get a job, but I got one. But in that time, it's usually been just me. In meetings, it’s either just me as the only black person or me as the only woman. Throughout my career, I have been campaigning for increased representation and with the murder of George Floyd, this has really been brought to the fore. I ask myself whether we've been here before. Yes, we have, time and time again. In terms of what's different now, I think it's that young people are really driving this.
‘Business needs to change. Why does it needs to change? Well, you come back to the economics, everything has to have a value. And yes, there is a massive economic benefit from a diverse workforces but not only that, it's the right thing to do. You will look at me. I am a black woman. Does that mean that I shouldn't have the same rights of opportunity as everybody else has? Would you deny me or somebody who looks like me that opportunity to succeed? I very much hope the vast majority of you, if not all of you would say of course not. And so if that's the case, why do we have this situation?
‘At the moment, we’re looking at audit. So look at yourself. It's not going to be easy. These conversations are not going to be easy. We're talking about hundreds of years of systemic racism.
‘So talk to your staff. Collect data. At the moment, these conversations are not happening. Look at your recruitment procedures generally and in particular, where do you advertise, what language do you use? It's not good enough to say, well, look, I've now got five black people in my company, isn't that a great tick in the box. We can do better. We want to do better. Don’t be under any illusion that this can happen overnight. It's about investing in this. It will take a long time. But I think we can get there.’
Nick Bailey, Research Fellow at the Centre for Responsible Business and Actor, drew on his experience as a black actor to speak about embedded racism in the entertainment industry: ‘I sit before you as an actor, also as an academic. I have 25 plus years professional acting experience and I've been privileged enough to make my living for 25 years that way. I would say, the simple answer is yes there is systemic institutional racism within the entertainment business in theatre, within TV within film, etc. I've navigated it, I felt it.
‘For me when you say black lives matter, you're saying to me, my life matters, and I believe that, but I don't see evidence out there. As a black actor, I was told, even while I was at drama school that my opportunities to realize my potential as an actor through merit were drastically reduced because there are a handful of black actors already out there in the business doing well before me. I was told, I'd never do a restoration play. I was told I probably wouldn't play leads in Shakespeare. I mean, I'm a Shakespearean actor. That's what I trained to do. And I've had ups and downs.
‘I think we need to get beyond lip service now and say it's not just about throwing money around. It's about saying, where are the black voices at board level? Where are the black voices making decisions? We need to reflect society and get beyond the tokenism that exists in the entertainment business. This is a moment that we cannot let pass and I see it dying. I see it slipping away, the sands of time are flowing and I think we've got to grab this moment. And we've got to make something of it.’