Anti-Racism: Make it your business to act
So often, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing means we say or do nothing. For marginalised communities, this silence and inaction can feel like violence in itself. Anti-racism is more than not being racist. It is about actively opposing racism whilst resolutely striving for the societal change needed to attain racial equity.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu
Anti-racism requires constant self reflection and a concerted, consistent effort to make equitable choices every day.
Beyond being the ‘right thing to do’, anti-racism is huge for the financial health of our businesses and the wider economy. If we don’t give it our attention, we risk undermining the inclusive workspaces we know provide better results.
The CIPD’s Race Inclusion Report shows that discrimination and unfairness in career progression are a major barrier for ethnic minority employees. As an organisation, commitment to anti-racism means going further than statements of support. Often, businesses are seeking a quick fix. But as Robert Livingstone says in his article for Harvard Business Review, this is akin to a doctor prescribing pain medication without investigating or addressing the underlying health condition. So the disease persists, springing up again and again.
In the workplace especially, the existence of racism is easily denied. Many people associate the word ‘racist’ with strong and deliberate actions, motivated by hatred. But racism is not solely informed by intent. Microaggressions and unconscious bias can show up time and again in the workplace and may go unnoticed, whilst quietly undermining the confidence and belonging of marginalised groups. You only have to look at the studies – like one by Lean In and Survey Monkey which showed 80% of white employees viewed themselves as allies, while just 45% of Black women felt they had allies in the workplace – to find proof of the disconnect between intent and impact.
You may have noticed the media and organisations in the line of fire for racist practices adopting the phrase ‘one bad apple’ to justify their approach to tackling issues, where individual bad-actors are singled out and punished (or fired), whilst denying any organisational responsibility. In quite a significant and unintentional ‘self-own’, they continue to forget how the rest of that saying goes:
“One bad apple spoils the whole barrel”
Racist acts in the workplace – and indeed in wider society – are mitigated not by blaming failings on isolated events, but by taking an organisational and systemic approach to anti-racism.
The Time’s Up Foundation recommend particular actions in the pursuit of an anti-racist position.
- Assess the demographic of your staff, mindful of protecting their agency when it comes to disclosing their identities
- Analyse the intersectionalities present within your workforce, ie: recognise the systems of oppression some staff will face due to their race, gender identity, ability and sexuality
- Establish goals that can be measured over time and investigate the effects of your external actions on marginalised groups – particularly on women of colour
- Offer resources that actively improve the lives of marginalised groups, including training to combat racist behaviour and programmes led by facilitators that specialise in equity
- Hold space for employees of colour to gather, support one another and raise issues. But also create opportunities for the whole staff to come together to share and evolve
- Practice empathy and understand the barriers faced by marginalised groups in the workplace, ensuring extra efforts are made to reach out to team members
- Uplift BIPOC voices, but don’t rely on them for your anti-racist education. It’s important to ask for input without tokenising them or assuming they wish to contribute
- Empower all employees to stand up to racist behaviour, promoting a culture of transparency
- Evaluate the ways racism shows up in your organisation and plan to combat it
- Tackle racism in your hiring processes to increase representation across the board
For the sake of your organisation, for the sake of our society, and for the sake of every individual who feels both the insidious and catastrophic effects of racism in their everyday lives – make it your business to act.