What companies can do to support the Black community and address racism
The Black Lives Matter movement and recent coverage of the murders of Black people in America have sparked global protests and outcry about the state of institutional racism in the US, as well as here in the UK. Companies represent society and have real power to affect it, so we all have a role to play in combatting racism and anti-blackness. As employers and companies, we have a responsibility to stand up for the Black community and protect our Black colleagues.
“organizations are in society, not apart from it.” Stella Nkomo
Whilst there has been an outpour of support on social media for the Black Lives Matter movement, many companies have posted in solidarity. But the work cannot stop at releasing a statement or posting a black box on instagram for #blackouttuesday. Racial discrimination in the workplace is rife, and a part of supporting equality must include looking inwards to create an environment where racism has no place. Here are some of the ways we can support the fight for equality and show solidarity to the Black community.
Put your money where your mouth is
Companies of all sizes have taken to social media to express their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this gesture is regarded as performative and empty by many unless it is backed up with real action. Businesses must be careful to not use social issues as PR strategies to build up their reputation. In the age of social media, there is now greater transparency, and companies are now being held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof.
Showing solidarity with the Black community means supporting and facilitating change on the ground. Companies can show real support to the Black Lives Matter movement through donations. Here are just a few ideas of places to donate to:
- Black Lives Matter fund and other civil rights and anti-racism organisations
- Various freedom funds for protestors being arrested
- Fundraisers for the families of the victims
Encourage action and support non-Black staff in becoming anti-racist
Companies have the power to enact positive social change through guidance and education that they can give to their staff. Show your commitment to anti-racism by shaping training programs around cultural sensitivity, understanding institutional racism and inter-personal training. Giving your staff the awareness and tools from which they can combat racism in the workplace is vital if company policies are to have any meaningful impact.
In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are several petitions that we can sign to demand action for the murders of Black people. Encourage your staff to take some time out of the workday to sign petitions online, or educate themselves about the situation at the moment. Ignorance and silence is compliance, and showing solidarity with the Black community means educating ourselves about these issues as non-Black people.
Address diversity issues within your workforce
Despite laws such as the Race Relations Amendment Act of 1968 and the Equality Act of 2010 making it illegal to discriminate against people in the workplace, racism is still rife in the workplace. A study has shown that the majority of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) have experienced racism in their places of work in the last five years.
It starts at the top
Dismantling racism within the workplace must be a priority for companies and managers if they are truly committed to supporting the Black community and other people of colour. And it starts at the top. Companies must have strong, thoughtful leadership that starts conversations about Black people’s experiences and hears and acts on their concerns.
Take PwC, one of the Big 4 consulting firms who has long been a leader in the fight against racism in the workplace. Their UK Chairman, Kevin Ellis, recently issued a company-wide message showing solidarity with Black colleagues and reaffirming their commitment to anti-racism with their numerous initiatives. This makes Black team members feel seen and cared for and lets them know that their concerns are not only valid, but are being addressed.
Address unconscious bias
Unconscious bias exists everywhere and lives in the internal structures of businesses. Even the most progressive of companies will have work to do when it comes to recognising and acting on unconscious bias within the firm. In order to address this, we must look at areas such as the hiring process, company culture and training and development schemes.
Once you recognise racism as an inherent problem in the workplace, you can put procedures and policies in place to address issues and protect the wellbeing of all staff. On the HR side of things, make sure there is a transparent, straightforward policy for reporting incidents that doesn’t victim-blame BIPOC colleagues, and a disciplinary policy that holds staff accountable for their actions. And when it comes to company culture, create an environment where everyone feels seen, valued and heard.
Invest in diversity & inclusion initiatives
Many companies have diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives in place. In fact, D&I has become somewhat of a business buzz word in recent years. But simply having a D&I policy doesn’t mean that it creates positive change. The reality is that many D&I initiatives are under-funded, in terms of money and time, often falling on the shoulders of BIPOC to do alongside their regular workload. Showing a real commitment to these initiatives means putting time and money into them so that the concerns of Black colleagues can be actually met.
Look out for the wellbeing of Black staff members
Wellbeing programs and initiatives are commonplace in firms nowadays, with the aim being to help support the health of staff and therefore boost productivity. According to the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), the main risks to employee health are now psychological, with mental health becoming a priority when it comes to wellness programs. Studies have shown that racial trauma is inextricably linked to mental health, so wellbeing strategies must include support for BIPOC colleagues too.
During this time, you should check in on your Black colleagues, and support them in any way you can. It’s crucial to remember that as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 global pandemic is disproportionately killing BIPOC too. This includes relaxing annual leave policies so that staff can attend protests, or even offering leave for Black colleagues who may be emotionally and mentally struggling with the weight of these events. We must remember that before work, productivity and profits, companies must be human.
Black Lives Matter cannot simply be a hashtag. Companies must be drivers of change in society, regardless of their size. We spend so much time at work, and everyone deserves to work in an environment where they are safe and valued. And we cannot achieve that without showing up for marginalised groups.