Women in Transformation: Racial Diversity and Social Mobility

For our first Women in Transformation event of 2023, we felt it was imperative to continue the conversation about the challenges surrounding racial diversity within the workplace. This is a discussion we touched on  during our event last year, but we felt we barely scratched the surface of these hard-hitting, yet highly critical topics.

We were once again joined by our  esteemed panel, made up of Anna Fleming, Pooja Bagga, Tavier Taylor and Sandra Di Vito. We also had the pleasure of being joined by Tony Sweeney, who has also previously been a speaker at our Women in Transformation events.

We were thrilled with the response and interest we received for this session, it’s such an important topic that deserves continued exploration and conversation. But this time, we really strived to get to the epicentre of why prejudices occur and what can be done to help businesses make bigger strides in their ED&I efforts.

Don’t worry if you missed it, we’ve created an overview of everything that was discussed during the event for you to digest at your leisure. Keep reading or alternatively you can watch our highlights video below…

Racial diversity still needs improvement

Since 2020, racial diversity within the workplace has grown in significance, particularly following on from the BLM movement and the murder of George Floyd.

Recent research by Opinium Research for their annual Multicultural Britain report, found that 27% of ethnic minority workers said that their employer had introduced new D&I initiatives over the past 12 months. This is almost triple the amount reported in 2020 (10%) during the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and BLM protests.

However, while a handful of our attendees echoed that they had seen real advancements within their organisations that encouraged racial diversity, the majority had seen little to no change over the past few years.

Tavier Taylor expressed her view that change is gradually happening, but there are still companies who are merely completing tick box exercises regarding their diversity and inclusion efforts. She shared:

“Change hasn’t come from the corporations, but from the individuals who have had enough.”

While many shared their support for BLM and condolences for the murder of George Floyd when they occurred, it appears that many used it as a form of performative allyship, without genuine intentions to make positive change for their teams.

In a study by global non-profit, Catalyst, a staggering three-quarters (75%) of employees they questioned reported that they felt their organisation’s racial diversity policies were ingenuine.

Sandra Di Vito expanded on this and pointed out that many organisations only started to improve their racial diversity policies once it became clear that profits could be affected, not because of a genuine desire to offer support.

‘It wasn’t the George Floyd murder that galvanised diversity efforts within many organisations. It was only when it suddenly became a business problem that many realised it was something they couldn’t fix, that people were prepared to say that we need to do something on ED&I to attract more diverse staff.”

As one of five of AXA’s female COOs, Anna Fleming shared that her organisation has started to utilise data to assist them in improving ED&I. As a company, they seem to have some great Intentions, she said:

“We use data to help, but there are still improvements to be made. We ask our employees about their protected characteristics, then we use that data to build our HR packages, benefits and look at how we can support our team.”

In the 2022 Multicultural Britain report, it was reported that more than two-in-five ethnic minorities feel they have less of a chance of becoming CEO of a large company, with 48% also reporting experiencing imposter syndrome when at work. Anna Fleming agreed with this research when she shared:

“If there’s no one that looks like you or sounds like you, then you don’t think it’s a possible path for you. And that must change. We need representation at the top to make real change.”

Diversity & education

Even though many organisations want to improve diversity within their workforces, social mobility and a lack of education and awareness in different career opportunities are potential barriers to achieving this.

For instance, the tech industry has often been reported as having lower levels of diversity, with just 8.5% of senior leaders in UK tech coming from minority ethnic groups, 16% of IT professionals are female, and only 9% of all IT specialists have a disability, according to techUK. However, while the number of women taking tech-based courses has increased by 16% since 2021, 45% more women than men leave the industry each year.

This suggests that the tech industry isn’t currently being presented as a space for women, which could be preventing more people from seeking higher education and careers in tech and therefore, making it harder to hire a more diverse workforce.

One of our attendees, who is on multiple committees for black women in tech, echoed this research when she shared her frustrations at not being able to hire someone who looked like her and with the right skillset. She said:

“There just aren’t enough young, black women being educated and skilled up because they aren’t choosing to pursue tech roles. They’re hard to find.”

The government describes education as ‘the cornerstone of social mobility’ but young people who come from lower income backgrounds are less likely to have access to career support and information. This makes it increasingly difficult to know about what roles are out there that they can aspire to.

Another one of our attendees added to this point by sharing her experience of going to speak at a local school about her career and finding that there was a distinct lack of awareness surrounding roles within change and transformation.

She explained that even though many of the children wanted people-centric careers, they didn’t understand how they could do that within her industry.

Organisations and their leadership teams should be playing a larger part in helping to provide this crucial education and support, which in turn will help to nurture a highly skilled and diverse workforce. This can be accomplished through mentoring schemes with higher education students, creating partnerships with schools and providing work experience or apprenticeship programmes.

Tony Sweeney pointed out:

"We can’t change the education system, but what we can all do is go to your local schools and help the kids understand that there are jobs out there that they’d never even thought of and show them that the people working those jobs aren't necessarily who you'd expect.”

Prejudice in the workplace

Sky Sports recently reported that professional football manager, John Yems had been suspended for 15 months by the FA for making racist remarks to his players. After an investigation, the FA found that he was not “consciously racist”, despite the evidence stating otherwise.

Research suggests that this lack of consequence in dealing with prejudice in the workplace is not uncommon. The ‘Racism in the UK’ report found that two-thirds of black employees experienced racism in the workplace last year, with 27% claiming they’d experienced racist jokes and “banter” in the workplace.

One of our attendees shared that she had witnessed and been a target for racism within her organisation.

Prejudice and discrimination in the workplace continue to be an issue for organisations in the UK. The ‘Racism in the UK’ report found that 74% of their respondents felt that racism was a problem within the workplace, with 54% saying they’d witnessed it first-hand. However, when asked about the response to claims of racial prejudice, 28.3% said no action was taken and only 22.4% reported the incident to a manager or HR.

While organisations are starting to implement zero-tolerance policies for racism that lead to automatic dismissal, this can be difficult to enforce if the victims of prejudice don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to report the incident.

During the event, one of our attendees questioned whether organisations who had a zero-tolerance policy in place, should hold some responsibility for re-educating the offender to prevent them from doing the same elsewhere. Tony Sweeney answered:

“It would be nice to say yes, but the reality is difficult. It would be great if people who said and did ignorant things understood the impact of their actions and words, but in some cases, you just need to get toxic people out of the business.”

Greater strides need to be taken by organisations to promote further racial diversity and equality within their teams. This can be done through the changing of internal policies and practices and by providing opportunities for education and support. But most importantly, organisations need to be active allies for their minority employees.

An attendee shared their view that to diversify a workforce, organisations need to ensure that there are things in place that make minorities feel like they belong, and that they aren’t just a tick box. They said:

“Having a diverse organisation is like being invited to a party, but then inclusion is being invited to dance at the party…and I want to dance. You can’t have one without the other.”

What’s next?

Whether you attended the event or are reading this round-up, we hope you learned something valuable that you can apply to both your personal and professional life. We all have a role to play in contributing to a more inclusive society, and having open and honest discussion is just the beginning of what we hope will be a more equal 2023.

If you’d like to attend one of our future events, you can visit our Networking Events page to sign up for updates.

If you’re looking to turn your support into action, why not consider becoming a mentor as part of our Mentoring Programme.

Or likewise if you think you could benefit from becoming a mentee and getting paired up with one of our change and transformation mentors, you can show your interest by signing up on our Mentoring Programme page. We’ve already had some great success stories and we would love to replicate this further.

8th March

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