No institutional racism in the UK?

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Jessica Runicles, Head of Responsible Business Strategy at Business in the Community (BITC), expresses BITC’s disappointment with the conclusions in the recent Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, and reflects on the experiences of our Advisory team over the last year.

On the left an image of a smiling white woman on the right an image of a smiling black woman. Both employees of BITC
Jessica Runicles ( left ) and Amy Smith (right)

Alongside other thought leaders in this space, Business in the Community (BITC) wanted to explicitly express disappointment at the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report. To us, this report has been a missed opportunity to truly acknowledge the extent of structural and institutional racism that exists in the UK today. It is a missed opportunity to listen to the voices of those that have loudly asked for change, and to commit to action that would enable the UK to truly become a world leader in responsible business and racial equality.

The murder of George Floyd, and the worldwide protests against racism that ensued, has led to an unprecedented demand for support from BITC members and beyond. Employers are keen to do more to support their employees, and to ensure that their organisations go beyond paying lip service and box ticking to become truly inclusive. There is evident appetite for action from employers; with business leaders from across the spectrum now calling for the establishment of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting.

It is in this context we would like to echo the initial remarks of our Race Campaign Director Sandra Kerr, by saying it is deeply disappointing that the commission failed to recommend making ethnicity pay gap reporting compulsory. The Commission clearly saw value in ethnicity pay gap reporting as it recommends that the government create guidance on writing them.

Our approach to inclusion is always systemic, aligning inclusion to organisational objectives
rather having a separate diversity
and inclusion agenda.

We recommend for employers to read our new report in partnership with Hogan Lovells, a Guide to Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting, and urge employers to consider publishing their ethnicity pay gap reports voluntarily.

Over the last year we have seen a huge increase in demand for BITC advisory services from employers. The Advisory team at BITC works 1:1 with our members to turn our campaign colleagues’ advice into action, and we currently work with over 175 businesses in the UK, supporting them specifically on race.

Our approach
Our approach to inclusion is always systemic, aligning inclusion to organisational objectives rather than having a separate diversity and inclusion agenda. We offer advice on how to create inclusive cultures and strategies that will support everyone to thrive at work, ensuring employees can be their authentic selves.

Working through a six-step approach that equips leaders to be advocates for change, we look at organisations, processes, policies, data, and behaviours. No organisation is perfect, and our training offer will bring to organisations new knowledge, skills, and an understanding of what is best practice. We take a needs-led approach, and over the last year have been inundated with requests for training on inclusive leadership, sponsorship, talking about race, allyship, bystander intervention training and more. Our advisory team have also provided support on empowering networks, mentors, and line managers to support racial equality.

The power of employee voices
Key to our offer is that we always advise employers to listen to their employees, to hear their voices and understand their experiences. We are currently running the Race at Work Survey 2021, open to all UK employees to complete. Our 2018 survey had 24,310 responses. This gave us an accurate understanding of race in the workplace and revealed to us the many inequalities that persist in the UK, it also informed our Race at Work 2018: Black Voices report. We frequently run focus groups for organisations and usually suggest that one of these groups is ringfenced for Black, Asian and ethnic minority employees. In these listening sessions, we hear how race has affected people’s lived experience in the workplace and their sense of inclusion. It is these stories that inspire our calls to action, and it is through understanding these experiences we design bespoke and impactful solutions that enable our members to bring about substantive change.

The role of training
Inclusion Adviser Amy Smith shares how the BITC advisory team ensure its work and training is effective and impactful.

The reality is that diversity training is no quick fix to solving hundreds of years of racism. We encourage our members to understand that training provides an opportunity to hear their employees’ voices, it sets out what an organisation’s expectations are, and it gives them an idea of where they are with best practice. Once more we were disappointed with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report as it recommended for unconscious bias training to be defunded, instead calling on the government to develop new programmes created using an evidence-based approach. Our What Really Works? report has done that, it is an evidence based report written by BITC in partnership with Kings College London. The report found unconscious bias training to be a valuable concept and when conducted properly was a useful tool for furthering inclusion.

At BITC we are at the forefront of delivering training on diversity and inclusion, our advisory sessions focus on perspective taking and intergroup dialogue ensuring all feel included at our sessions. A well-designed training programme can lift the lid on serious cultural issues and process flaws, and it is these outcomes that are often overlooked by leaders.

Therefore, whilst we are disappointed by the report’s conclusions, we are encouraged by the actions our members are taking. Many of our members get the basics right, but most realise they have more to do. What has been more encouraging is to see members using this feedback to do deeper exploratory work, creating more safe spaces than ever before, and firming their commitment to being anti-racist as well as rising to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented.

We will continue to work with companies who want to move the dial on racial equality, who want to acknowledge and address the institutional racism in the UK, and we will always design our programmes and solutions as a direct response to employee experiences.
BITC asks that you act with us to turn ambition into actions:

  • Build back responsibly with us, creating collaborative action with other businesses to become more inclusive.
  • Share your ideas with us about how we can work together to change the measures of success and create a better world for all.
  • Ensure greater specificity in designing training outcomes with clear action plans.