Leading the conversation on Black inclusion

The ability to have meaningful conversations is key in order to eradicate racism and dismantle systemic barriers to progression that can prevent Black people in business from succeeding. CEOs and senior businesses leaders all have varying degrees of knowledge and experience in driving conversations about race and this interview will share best practice and tools which will help more leaders to engage with the opportunity.

In this interview, Fiona Daniel, from the If Not Now, When? campaign and Alexandra Evreinoff, Managing Director, INvolve will be sharing tips and tools on how businesses can lead the conversation for Black inclusion in the workplace.

You have been working closely with INvolve and Audeliss on their If Not Now, When? campaign for Black inclusion. This campaign has now got over 80 UK CEOs to commit to long term sustainable action on Black inclusion. Could you tell us a little more about the campaign and how it is working with those CEOs?

The If Not Now, When? Campaign is focused on CEOs and ultimately the necessity to drive change from the top. It’s incredibly important to move from talk to sustainable change, and this campaign centres on action, accountability, and the role of leadership in driving change as well as the importance of measuring impact.

Our role is to support them, disseminate best practice and equip them with the tools to create more inclusive workplaces for Black employees. Often CEOs, and broadly employees, can find change challenging as it means being vulnerable and admitting that we don’t have all the answers and this campaign provides the expertise to help guide businesses by tackling the topic of Black inclusion, and race more broadly.

We support businesses to achieve five actions that they’ve committed to which include diversifying their organisation, measuring the impact of their actions, starting crucial conversations about race, and elevating Black voices within their organisation and committing to specific actions that go beyond corporate messaging.

Over the last year there has been a big emphasis on talking about race and racism within the workplace. Why is it important that these conversations take place?

These conversations are vital, because companies that are not actively talking about race are less likely to effect positive action. These conversations won’t always be easy, but we must lean into discomfort and ultimately become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

By having conversations about race readily and confidently businesses can determine where the challenges are, where there is room for improvement and scope out opportunities that otherwise go amiss. With the current focus on anti-racism, it’s vital for businesses to honestly assess their progress and what more needs to be done. Conversation is the first step.

What role do you think business leaders at all levels have when it comes to starting these types of conversations in the workplace, and when it comes to preparing for conversations about race and Black inclusion specifically, what is the best way for leaders to learn more about Black experiences – both inside and outside of their own organisation?

It’s crucial for business leaders across all levels of the business to be leading conversations about race.

One way to prepare is self-education, and there is a wealth of information and resources from books and films to podcasts that business leaders can use to help them start these conversations.

Secondly, it’s vital for businesses to look inward and listen to what their employees want, their expectations and particularly things that could be concerning them that are having a direct impact on their ability to thrive in the workplace. Connect with employee resource groups for instance, and really attempt to discern what is working and what isn’t.

Beyond conversation, business leaders should constantly ask themselves questions that ensure that they are making fair and inclusive decisions. For instance, assess who you are more likely to support and why, are you aware of your own biases and do these biases lead to decisions that negatively impact certain groups, in this case, your Black employees?

It’s vital that business leaders approach inclusion from a genuine curiosity and with a real drive for change, as we must go beyond tick boxes and platitudes.

It is also very important to approach conversations about race in the right way. What are some of the personal qualities which leaders need to bring to the conversation?

Kindness and care as well as vulnerability. By showing a genuine interest in learning and driving change leaders are creating an open, honest environment for others to do the same.

Conversations about race need to take place in a “safe environment” – what defines a safe environment and how do you go about creating one?

A safe environment can only exist within an inclusive environment, as individuals need to feel respected and heard in a non-judgemental space in order to share their opinions and lived experiences. Circling back to the point around top-down change, leaders set the tone for conversations and the level of safety that a space holds in order to have honest conversations.

Leaders should be emphasising the importance of actively listening to every voice and story around the table, suspending judgement and leaving any ego and hierarchy at the door, which is done through role modelling these behaviours. Active advocates are key to creating spaces where diverse groups can be vulnerable.

Talk needs to be supported by actions – so what are the key ways that leaders can ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to being inclusive of Black employees?

The first is to be open to different viewpoints and experiences and actively seek out Black employees to inform wider business policies and strategies by ensuring that they are at the table. The second, is to be curious because leaning in and asking questions as well as empathetically opening yourself up to learn is vital for inclusion. The third is having the courage to challenge the status quo, to speak up and advocate for others and to ensure that non-inclusive behaviours don’t slip.

Cultural intelligence, especially as we move towards a more global and outward facing world, is key. It’s important to be aware of different culture, backgrounds, working preferences, challenges faced by Black employees both in and outside of the workplace in order to best support the entire workforce. This takes work, as we must learn to check our biases, but this work is vital in order to create a more inclusive workforce.

Thanks Fiona, any final thoughts regarding the If Not Now, When Campaign?

Get signing! If you’re truly serious about making change this is the platform that will you support you to drive action. To both existing signatories and those of you who are interested, it’s vital that you are visible, present and vocal in your commitment to driving change for your Black employees.