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How can leaders eliminate racism in the workplace?

Institutional racism has always been present. The recent Black Lives Matter protests around the world have exposed different types of racial discrimination many of us were not aware of.

Now more than ever people have started to question their behaviours and attitudes and are willing to listen, learn and take action.

Offices are starting to open after the Covid-19 pandemic and organisations must not slip into old habits. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce changes in the workplace to help eliminate racial discrimination.

Research states in the last 6 years in the United Kingdom 70% of racial minority workers have experienced racial harassment at work, 60% say they have been subjected to unfair treatment by their employer due to their race and 40% of racist incidents have either been ignored or identified as a “trouble maker.”

The sad truth is in UK corporate culture, black men and women censor themselves at work and can’t be themselves and have to act a certain way for various reasons.

After doing research and speaking to several black employees in a variety of industries about experiences they faced in the workplace, I have come up with practices senior employees can implement to eliminate racism in the workplace.

1. Have open conversations with ethnic minorities. It is important to find out the difficulties they face, to put systems in place to avoid it happening again. Every company and workplace environment is different, by creating a comfortable environment encouraging open and transparent conversations, this will allow senior employees to understand the problem.

2. Look in the mirror. Senior employees should look at their company. Ask questions and look into any previous incidents to understand the company’s stance and what measures are already in place. Speak to HR staff and investigate past problems and the outcomes. You may be faced with difficult truths but at least now you are ready to tackle them.

3. Educate employees. Most racial discrimination that occurs in the workplace is indirect, subtle or unintentional. Some employees genuinely do not know what they are saying is causing offence. Companies should aim to create awareness of unconscious biases to educate employees on what is inappropriate.

4. Review company policy. See what measures are already in place. Are they successful? After conducting the points above, you will know. If they are unclear or unsuccessful it is time to change them. If there is no policy in place it is time to create one. Having a strong company policy is not enough, employees must be familiar with the policy and understand racial discrimination will not be tolerated.

5. Discipline employees. It is the responsibility of senior employees to create an environment that challenges racism. However hard this can be racism must not be tolerated in the workplace and any sign of it must be dealt with. Even if it is the company’s top salesman or longest-serving employee. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

6. Be consistent. Racial discrimination has always existed, yet very little has been done to improve the situation. Now it has become popular everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon. If you genuinely care and want to make a difference, be consistent and follow through.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” – Angela Y. Davis


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