Were you as surprised as I was when the Sewell report was launched? No systemic racism in GB was the leaked theme of the report. Like all these reports, there is more in the detail, and I would recommend a close reading. I was struck by one of the anomalies, if there is no systemic racism, then why recommend more funding to the EHRC in England?
Many of the activists' reactions reflected my sense of puzzlement as to how some of these conclusions were phrased and how much of the media handling reflected some political aspiration that a more upbeat narrative about Black and Ethnic minorities' success in society was required in the political storyline.
I had prepared an earlier draft of this article in the days before the launch of the report. To be honest, it was a bit of an outburst about the dangers that HR and Diversity specialists will face in the light of small but susceptible trends that appear in popular discourse on the question of Diversity from unconvinced individuals. These include in the USA
………….while closer to home,
These are subtle attempts to "redefine the narrative" without actually addressing diversity and inclusion problems.
While work has still to be done across the range of societal groups that need to be nurtured and encouraged, we should not lose sight of progress made to date. Gains made by brave and determined souls in the field of gender and equality, LGBTQI+, and even men as they strive to contribute to new familial role-sharing arrangements with their partners and their children should not be lost.
Employers worldwide have embraced enlightened approaches to a diverse and inclusive workforce as part of their tactics in the "War for Talent". Indeed, McKinsey's produced a report last year which reaffirmed the business case for Diversity and Inclusion.
So, what can we do to take account of my feared cancelling of the need to provide greater levels of opportunity for all sectors of our society?
The first thing is to continue to believe in the justification of the work in providing more significant Diversity and Inclusion of all sectors of our society, including employment. Be confident in the face of the fresh bouts of opposition and foot-dragging where others will present the Sewell proposition that,
"put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism."
I am sure I am not alone in being concerned about where we go next. We see an ever-growing and raucous clamour for yesteryear not only in political realms but also in the desire to turn the clock back in social and employment policy.
Given the clamour for employment de-regulation from right-wing populists who want to step back into the past, we will need to sharpen our wits and make sure as HR professionals we can sustain the business argument for the drive for more diversity and Inclusion, not just for our business but to society in general. Shortly we may not be able to rely entirely on the legal framework. We will need to trust in our professional expertise and belief that the principles of Diversity and Inclusion are suitable for businesses, the people who work in them, the economy and society.
Firstly, we will need to understand how we are positioned regarding having a diverse and inclusive workforce. Do you know where to get the data? It is in your IT systems and staff surveys; do you have the arguments ready? Indeed, my colleague Mairead Regan's recent article for Legal-Island highlights Data Analytics as a critical future HR skill, so why not hone your skills in this area now.
If you don't know the data or the research on Diversity and Inclusion's business benefits, find it! This article on the CIPD website is a good starting point, as are the McKinsey reports on Diversity. Indeed, you can find local benchmark organisations who are already embarking on the journey on the Legal-Island Equality and Diversity Gala and Awards 2020 web page
Understanding the data makes sure you know what your workforce looks like; if it reflects the society in which you operate, which is becoming more diverse each day. If not, find and engage the groups who can help understand what it will take to attract the people who are different from the status quo in the short term. Understanding the data will also help you to identify when to celebrate success.
Clear and visible leaders who practice the principles of Diversity and Inclusion are essential to success. By articulating and living a value base that does not tolerate any discriminatory behaviour, these leaders will create workplace conditions, increase Diversity in the workforce, and foster a sense of Inclusion for those from diverse backgrounds.
Train managers and staff. Ensure everyone knows why D&I strategies and plans are essential and train them on what behaviours are expected.
Connect progress on Diversity and Inclusion to the performance management system.
Ensure your recruitment processes are bias-free, not only in the written documentation but also in the interview process.
Be bold and make your supply chain more diverse. Don't think just within your own organisation boundaries. Each organisation has a supply chain, and employers need to recognise that the supply chain's effective use will also help leverage progress on Diversity and Inclusion.
A culture battle on the benefits of Diversity and Inclusion may be about to begin. Let us not retreat but move forward with confidence that more diverse and inclusive workforces not only contribute to organisation performance but contribute to better societies.
So, HR, Diversity Specialists, Gladiators, are you ready?
Clarendon Group, 12b Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast, BT1 3BG