Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests kick-started conversations in boardrooms right across the UK and beyond about how organisations can become genuinely inclusive, with the realisation that there is much work to be done by all of us if we are to create a culture that fosters genuine diversity in the workplace and eliminate bias.
As our workplaces and society are coming to a deeper awareness of racism and other forms of interpersonal and institutionalised bias, employees and leaders struggle with how they can be part of the solution for change. How can they avoid common pitfalls as they work to create fairness, justice and meaningful opportunity for all?
Discrimination is often viewed from the perspective of it being a few ‘bad apples’ rather than a consequence of systemic prejudice. The perpetrators are identified and the incident is dealt with, without anyone ever really questioning the organisational culture gap that left room for discriminatory behaviour to grow.
Perhaps the question should not be ‘who did it’ but rather ‘how can we make sure our people understand what is unacceptable in the workplace and know how to challenge behaviour that goes against this’. In debriefing sessions, inclusive leaders will seek ways to communicate what has been learnt by an allegation of discrimination, what can be done differently and what the organisation is getting wrong. Is there a need for processes to be introduced to collate, say, gender and racial specific data to identify who is being promoted, developed and disciplined? Would the boardroom benefit from a report on these statistics so that action can be taken to tackle any imbalance?
Nobody would argue that tackling injustice requires strong leadership. Yet it also demands inclusive leadership and this means showing an awareness of bias, personal blind spots and flaws in the system. It means demonstrating an open mindset and an eagerness to listen and understand. Most importantly of all, it means empowering others to think openly and be empathetic to those around them.
It is to be hoped that the discussions resulting from this year’s Black Lives Matter movement will shift leadership on from addressing the question of who is to blame, to asking how their organisation needs to change if bias is to be eliminated altogether.