Why every company should talk about Race

Business in the Community's Race at Work 2018 Scorecard Report: The McGregor-Smith Review One Year On, highlighted again that employers are not comfortable talking about race. BITC are encouraging employers to join the 148 employers who have already done so and sign the Race at Work Charter. We are also inviting people to take the Race at Work Charter survey which is open until 31 May 2019.
 
Roland Ilube Head of M&A and Commercial Finance, Downstream, Shell UK and a member of the Business in the Community Leadership team shared his thoughts on the topic.
 
"At the beginning of 2017, I was given the opportunity to represent the Shell Group of Companies in the UK on the BITC Race Equality Leadership Team. Initially I was hesitant, not because of a lack of enthusiasm for the topic on my part, but because I wanted to be sure that the organisation that I was being asked to represent was committed to making progress in this area. After some frank internal discussions, I was convinced that the organisation was behind me and I accepted the role.

Earlier in my career I might not have been so keen to step into a role such as this one, preferring instead to focus all of my energy on doing my “day job” to the best of my ability, but a conversation I had with a colleague of mine a few years ago gave me a different perspective. “Roland…” she said to me “…your seniority in this organisation gives you the opportunity to be involved in shaping the way the subject of race in the workplace gets addressed here, an opportunity which most of us don’t have, so we really need you to use it.” I reflected on what she had said and realised that she was absolutely right. Having spent the best part of a quarter of a century working for the Shell Group, I am now in a place where I can influence the debate and there are many people relying on me to use that influence for positive change. I have not really had the benefit of role models from my background to inspire me from within my organisation, but I am acutely aware of how powerful such role models can be.

So, when in October last year I was asked to sponsor the first in a series of lunchtime discussions in the Company entitled “Let’s talk about Race”, I did not hesitate in accepting. In my time at Shell, the topic of Race has never really been addressed explicitly, certainly not as much as some other aspects of Diversity and Inclusion, so I was very curious to see how these discussions would develop. Over the course of the month more than 100 people attended the sessions. They had a wide variety of motivations, ranging from feeling that at last they could make their voice heard to a desire to see what the fuss was about. Obviously, these meetings only scratched the surface – there is only so much you can do in the course of a lunch break – but I see these events as being akin to throwing a stone in a pond, creating ripples throughout the organisation.

Ripples die away quickly though, so we need to throw a few more stones in to sustain the momentum. In my view, the next set of stones for an organisation such as ours should be; setting measurable objectives for BAME representation at different levels throughout the organisation, spreading the net wider in terms of attraction and recruitment, and a two-way mentorship programme that short-circuits the gap between the top and bottom of the Enterprise. If every organisation in our sector could do these things, then we might just see the ripples become waves."