Building anti-racist cultures in the workplace

Our Special Project Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, Sandy Sohal, tells us why she hopes 2022 will be the year we see real change and how our anti-racism toolkit can help you to build anti-racist cultures in your workplace.

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I see 2020 as the year that sparked a shift in how we view and talk about racism in this country. 2021 has seen the support for the antiracism movement (and other social justice matters) solidifying as we continue to speak out and work on anti-racism in our businesses. I hope 2022 will be the year where we see some palpable and sustainable change for the better.  

I’ve been working with Inclusive Employers over the last few months to develop a toolkit to support organisations to create anti-racist cultures. I’ve spoken to lots of companies about where they are and where they’re heading on their anti-racism journeys, and it is evident that everyone is at a different stage. One thing that is clear is that commitment, resource and effective, exemplary leadership are as essential as the need for some practical help.

The toolkit I’ve been working on is very much intended to help with the latter; as well as facts, information and food for thought, there are useful tips and some step-by-step guides.

‘Celebrate, Commemorate, Educate’

We have recently celebrated the second ever national South Asian Heritage Month, that ran from from 18 July to 17 August. I remember hearing about its launch last year and being surprised that we had never had one before – especially given that South Asians are the largest ethnic minority group in the UK (though of course, far from a homogenous group). There are lots of events centred around its motto “Celebrate, Commemorate, Educate”.

This message is a necessary one. South Asian culture has enriched the UK in many ways, but its contribution is rarely celebrated or acknowledged. The challenges faced by South Asians are often swept aside as we seek to simplify the complex and nuanced subject of racism. Our cultures are often othered and/or appropriated (yoga, anyone?), names regularly mispronounced (or changed), clothing negatively judged (and even legislated): these incivilities abound even in 2021. There remain well-documented disparities in healthcare, policing, education, and workplaces.

Though racism manifests differently and to varying degrees for every person affected, it is real and is influenced by other factors we do not choose, such as our gender identity, social class, sexuality, disability status and so on.

Understanding racism and speaking out

Recently we saw the horrific, and unsurprising to many of us, racist abuse directed towards the Black members of the England football team.

For me, the ensuing national discussion articulated an important and rarely discussed point: the feeling that Black footballers are English only until they make a mistake. Then, they are Black, not English, and they do not belong. What a toxic environment in which to perform at your best! I’ve been reflecting on this point a lot; many Black and Brown people experience something similar at work, albeit often less overt and public – being held to different standards, treated more harshly if they make a mistake, etc. It may be more subtle than the abuse and hate speech faced by the incredibly mature and talented young men representing us on the global stage, but that does not mean there is not a problem in workplaces.

Many people and organisations denounced the abuse (as they should), and it is good to see them continue to speak out publicly. It will be better still to see real action. Understanding racism and speaking out against it are incredibly important. What’s even more important is doing whatever is within your gift to make positive change.

Building anti-racist cultures in the workplace

On that note, we are really pleased to launch the Inclusive Employers anti-racist toolkit – Building an anti-racist culture: A toolkit for your workplace on 29th September 2021. The toolkit contains a suite of ‘how-to’ guides to support you to build an anti-racist culture in your workplace. You can find out more here.

If you’re interested in understanding where your organisation currently sits on all things inclusion, our Inclusive Employers Standard is a great way to understand and benchmark your starting point and/or check your progress along the journey. You can get in touch with the team on [email protected] or find out more on our webpage.

What I’m reading: a very interesting exploration of British rule in India.

What I’m listening to: Advancing Racial Equity 4.0 with Shereen ‘The HR Conversationalist’ – Shereen Daniels has launched a podcast. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.

What I’m watching: Sophie Williams’ TedxLondon talk ‘The Rigged Test of Leadership’, exploring the senior leadership experience of women from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.