Research shows there’s still considerable work to be done on embedding diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practices in business. Despite efforts by some, many organisations fall short when it comes to hiring strategy and development.
Data by Statista, an online platform which specialises in data gathering, shows that in the second quarter of 2023 the average unemployment rate for minority ethnic groups was 7.5% compared to 3.4% for those of white ethnicity (Statista: Unemployment rate in the United Kingdom as of 2nd quarter 2023, by ethnicity). In addition, The Fawcett Society, a UK gender equality charity, highlight in their report that “75% of women of colour reported having experienced one or more forms of racism at work” and “61% of women of colour…changed their language…hairstyle [and] their name…to fit in within the workplace” (Fawcett: Broken ladders, the myth of meritocracy for women of colour in the workplace).
Often the strategies surrounding DE&I targets are in the hands of leaders. This can leave employees feeling powerless as they wait for changes to be agreed by management. But while leadership and strategy are necessary for successful outcomes, there are things professionals at all levels can do to help. Below, we explore several ways you can contribute to an equitable work environment, support your coworkers, and approach allyship.
Be proactive in learning about diverse cultures and their histories
Allyship can be as simple as taking the time to educate yourself, and diversifying media is a fantastic way to do this. Consider following diverse communities on social media, reading a range of literature and keeping up to date on diversity and inclusion campaigns that centre around relevant topics and issues. Taking the time to understand different communities, as well as their values and ethics helps people identify unconscious and conscious biases, and subsequently helps them to better support communities.
Call out biases and microaggressions
Many companies typically focus on diversifying the workplace by attracting minority ethnic groups. However, the work shouldn’t stop there. Being ready to support and amplify all voices across the organisation is essential to ensuring that individuals feel heard and valued. A key way to do this is to understand and be aware of unconscious and conscious biases and microaggressions, including what they are and how to spot them.
A report by Every Level Leadership, a diversity and inclusion coaching company, found that a whopping 66% of Black women in the United States reported not feeling emotionally safe at work. “While I wasn’t surprised by that statistic, it was profound to hear that while Black women may feel they have colleagues they can confide in, they don’t feel those colleagues will actually stand up for them when the moment calls for it,” said DE&I advisor and strategist Ericka Hines (Every Level Leadership: 2022 Black women deserve to thrive, not just survive at work). Microaggressions and unconscious biases can be difficult to spot by those who don't experience them. Through training, proactive learning and taking the initiative to understand the experiences of others, allies will be able to flag issues and catalyse change.
Create a safe space for open conversations
According to research by Amy Edmondson and Henrik Bresman, professors of organisational behaviour, diverse teams need a foundation of psychological safety for all individuals to feel comfortable and empowered to pitch risky ideas, and challenge the status quo without retaliation or judgement (Harvard Business review: 2022 research: to excel, diverse teams need psychological safety). Without this, it’s likely many people won’t feel safe enough in their jobs to call out biases, highlight inequity, and suggest improvements. Progress then stalls and engagement levels drop. Supporting everyone in the workplace can be as simple as creating a safe, non-judgemental space for honest discussions.
Learn and reflect from past situations
Be willing to learn from inevitable mistakes and past interactions that may have been problematic. Looking back at situations where instances of racism went unchecked and you may not have felt comfortable intervening, is incredibly important to address behaviour and identify where improvements can be made. To help with this, Harvard Business Review advise to reflect on what happened: “What got in your way and how can you curb that in the future? For example, if fear of not knowing what to say in the moment caused your inaction, consider short, easy-to-remember phrases to interrupt the harm, such as, 'Can we pause for a moment? I am processing what you just said'. Sometimes, this ‘speed bump’ can give those involved a chance to reflect and resolve, during or later” (Harvard Business review: 2023 Creating psychological safety for black women at your company). Being willing to reflect and learn from past situations will inevitably lead to better reactions and improved future behaviours, if ever in the same situation.
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