The Race and Ethnicity Workstream of The Diversity Project is committed to fostering an inclusive industry and workplace that cultivates an awareness and understanding of the value and competitive advantage that diverse talent brings to the industry, as well as the clients and communities we serve. To facilitate the debate, we recently held an event for the C-suite of our member firms on the topic of race and ethnicity in an open, non-judgmental, and honest forum. Some key themes emerged from our conversation that we believe are important to share to move the debate on.
Accountability is key
The topic of accountability is an important one. Diverse people can too easily assume that one must assimilate and understand the culture of the place, but they feel that the majority tends to take fewer steps in the other direction. The question is where does the balance of responsibilities lie if we want more inclusive workplaces?
It should not be that the burden only falls onto diverse employees, and one should not feel they are always making the concessions to learn and assimilate. This defeats the purpose of bringing in diverse employees if those people eventually become ‘chameleons’ and try so much to fit in that they lose sight of who they really are. Yes, there should always be a certain element of integrating and learning but we should all encourage diverse employees not to be afraid of being themselves, especially at work.
Expecting the unexpected during a turbulent AGM season
Leaders must take an active role
What would we like leadership accountability to look like from a race and ethnicity perspective? A leader willing to learn is not only powerful, but critical to creating an inclusive culture. Leaders of organisations can set a good example and demonstrate that the importance of discussing sometimes sensitive topics such as race and ethnicity. However, in doing so, mistakes can be made.
Despite this, actively unlearning, relearning, and confronting any biases is more important than ever. When leaders engage in networks and groups to seek to understand the topic of race and ethnicity further, it can help set the tone at the top and create that open dialogue. Employee resource groups are great networks to facilitate discussions like this, but we need to avoid the situations where employee resource groups get together and ‘preach to the already converted’ so to speak. It is vital that we engage with the people who are missing at these tables.
Inclusion on the journey
Meeting quotas and targets on race and ethnicity is a sensitive subject and one that many businesses aren’t ready to be transparent on. Choosing whether to have targets and quotas and if so how to approach them is different for every organisation, but it is imperative to communicate that this is not a zero-sum game.
The playing field has never been level and the reality is that there is inequality in the world and work ecosystem too. It’s about providing equality of opportunity and getting the best people into positions and making sure that the opportunities are available to all, and that there are not processes in place that screen out people due to biases. While doing that, we want to be mindful and strike the right balance that we do not alienate everyone else.
There was a discussion that now that we are gaining traction on this topic, some people in the majority groups feel that they are disadvantaged for not being diverse as a result. This raises the importance of ‘bringing everyone along’ on this journey and allyship is a critical part of that.
We have so far learnt a lot about race and ethnicity from our discussions with member firms, but there is still so much progress to be made. When you feel hesitant to talk about race and ethnicity topics at work, we want to encourage you to embrace those feelings and get involved in the conversations anyway. Do it with humility and curiosity.
Silence and avoidance is the worst. How are you and your organisation thinking about this topic?
Dimple Mistry is co-chair and Kelly Tran is vice-chair of the Race and Ethnicity Workstream at the Diversity Project