Why UK employers need to take action in response to the US and UK race protests

Post author image. Sandra Kerr

Sandra Kerr CBE, Business in the Community Race Director, calls on UK employers to take action on racism, not only when the issue reaches the media, but at all times.

The brutal killing of George Floyd has sent shockwaves around the world. Reflecting on this in the context of 25 years of campaigning for Race Equality in the UK, BITC believes every employer needs to prioritise action on race now more than ever.

While Minneapolis may seem far away, the ramifications of his death and the systemic racism that caused it is not limited to the US.

BAME communities make up an ever-growing part of the UK population (13.8% across the UK and 40% in London) and represent one in three school children in compulsory education. Across the UK economy, BAME people continue to be under-employed and, despite a clear desire for progression, continue to be underrepresented at senior levels.

BITC is an organisation born out of the Toxteth and Brixton race riots of the early 80s with the belief that the success of business and society are inextricably linked. We acknowledge that some great progress has made, but there is so much more to be done in tackling race inequality across communities and workplaces. It can’t be a case of ‘either/or’; it must be both, in order to create a fair society and inclusive economy.

Racism happens every day, and we need advocates and allies that are prepared to
take action at all times, not just when violence reaches the media. 

Leadership

Leadership is critical to ensure timely action on issues as they arise. Unless employers proactively and consistently engage with this issue, there will be a profound disconnect between them and their communities, their customers and their workforce, particularly when COVID-19 threatens to widen racial inequality with lower pay and disproportionate job losses among BAME employees. Evidence from the last recession in 2008 shows that without concerted action, racial inequality can easily be exacerbated in times of crisis.

Employers need to show that they are prepared to be transparent on all issues relating to race, from disparities in pay to barriers to equality across recruitment, retention and progression. No company is perfect, but employers can make sure that they are taking the steps necessary to be transparent, take inventory of where they’re at, and know what steps need to be made next.

Be an everyday advocate

Racism happens every day, and we need advocates and allies that are prepared to take action at all times, not just when violence reaches the media and brings it to the front of our minds. People in every workplace need to learn about their role in ensuring their company is a safe, inclusive place for all kinds of people to work. This can be done through education, examining biases, and becoming a bystander that can intervene when racism occurs at work. Organisational culture has an important role to play when we consider what behaviours are allowed, what behaviours are encouraged, and what behaviours are forbidden.
The role of Business in the Community is to create a space where businesses can learn from each other and people have difficult conversations. That’s why BITC has published a guide to help conversations about race take place.

Work with and listen to your networks

Many organisations already have networks to represent their BAME employees. We encourage all leaders to engage with their BAME networks and ensure they are involved in the decision-making process every step of the way.

Employee wellbeing

Employers across the UK and those with global organisations need to be sensitive to this being another negative impact on their Black employees, particularly in relation to their mental health and wellbeing during a time of high levels of stress and worry because of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. These events are inextricable and exploit pre-existing barriers to mental health treatment, in particular for BAME women.

This traumatic incident and the subsequent violence has been viewed by people of all ages around the world and in the UK. Employers need to condemn racist violence and be sensitive that peaceful acts of solidarity are going to be one way that individuals will want to demonstrate support, to say that extrajudicial killings are unjust and cannot be allowed to happen in any civilised society.

Committing to racial equality

Business in the Community provides a range of resources and guidance to help companies take appropriate action. We are calling on employers to demonstrate their long-term commitment to racial equality. One way to do this is to sign up to our Race at Work Charter.