How to build trust with your ethnic minority employees

Do your ethnic minority employees trust you? Have you taken steps to understand their challenges and experiences? Does your public communication match your actions? Sandy Sohal, Special Project Consultant, looks at why ethnic minority employees may not trust you and gives advice on how you can build trust.

This blog contains extracts from our anti-racism toolkit, Building anti-racist cultures: a toolkit for your workplace.

The worst thing your organisation can do is make a commitment to change and then do nothing or concoct a window-dressing change.

Trust is a fundamental component of inclusion. It’s vital for ethnic minorities, who have had to deal with structural and systematic racism for generations – and faced the incivility of being side-lined by other equity causes they have helped to further. The gay rights movement became what it was through the support of black activists. And the feminist movement has long pushed aside women of colour in favour of white women. In the workplace, ethnic minority employees have endured decades of inequity, have been held to different standards, and had their abilities viewed differently by colleagues, managers and leaders.

So, it’s no surprise that employees do not trust their employers to live up to the promises they make as they begin to understand the realities of life and work for black and ethnic minority people.

Some organisations have been working on inclusion for several years. They talk regularly about how they believe their employees should be able to ‘bring their whole selves to work’. Yet many ethnic minority colleagues still feel uncomfortable doing this because the culture doesn’t feel inclusive to them.

Why employees may not trust you

In short, you need to deliver on what you promise. Failure to do what you say destroys trust in your organisation. Here are a few examples of the types of actions that break trust:

  • Organisations that publicly post their commitment to anti-racism, but put no concrete action in place.
  • Occasions when white senior leaders take public credit for the work of their ethnic minority employees on anti-racism.
  • Organisations whose public commitment to anti-racism is contradicted by employees whose personal experiences do not match the rhetoric.

Of course, personal experience will also play a part. Research from TUC tells us that 70% of ethnic minority workers have experienced racial harassment at work in the last five years. Take a look at our infographic which explores the reality of racism in UK workplaces.

Trust is fragile, and easily broken. To maintain trust:

  • Ensure that your anti-racism work is earnest rather than performative
  • Collaborate with, and give credit to, your ethnic minority colleagues
  • Ensure you work consistently towards racial equity in your organisation

How to build trust with your ethnic minority employees

According to the adage, ethnic minority people have to work twice as hard for half as much. While workplace inequities are no longer as extreme or overt as they once were, racism is still alive and well – and irrefutable when you look at the leadership of organisations across the world. There’s plenty of work to do.

This work will typically involve:

  • Talent identification and management programmes
  • Learning and development – informal and formal, including mentoring, sponsorship, formal education, coaching, and leadership development, as well as individual development and career plans
  • Work and project distribution
  • Progression and promotion opportunity and processes
  • Pay and reward, including equal pay, transparency, ethnicity data collection and analysis, pay gap reporting
  • Employee engagement data, including verbatim feedback
  • Positive action plans and programmes – such as targeted development programmes

To build trust, be transparent about your actions and the reasoning behind them – and do it with everyone, not just with your ethnic minority employees.

You should also make it clear your ethnic minority employees are empowered to speak up about their experiences of racism in all its forms within your organisation. And you must show that you are taking their feedback seriously – and acting on it. If your ethnic  minority employees are silent, this tells you something. Do they feel unsafe? Do they not trust you to fix the problems?

In everything you do, you should first run your ideas past your ethnic minority colleagues for their views. This is where employee network groups or employee resource groups can add real value.

The worst thing your organisation can do is make a commitment to change and then do nothing or concoct a window-dressing change.

Striking a balance between involving and burdening ethnic minority employees

As you plan your anti-racism or inclusion programme, work collaboratively with your employees of colour. Failure to include them in your plans perpetuates the idea that white people know what’s best.

At the same time, be wary of placing the onus for solving racism on those who experience it. Ethnic  minority people may not be experts in inclusion, and they may not want to do the work for free. And they definitely won’t want their anti-racism work to overshadow their professional area of expertise in a society in which they could easily be called out for ‘playing the race card’ or ‘acting like a victim’. The best approach is to ask your colleagues how they’d like to be consulted on anti-racism work in your organisation.

For more support on to build an anti-racist culture in your organisation, find out more about Inclusive Employers’ anti-racism toolkit, ‘Building anti-racist cultures: a toolkit for your workplace’. Our 162-page toolkit is a practical resource designed to support organisations to combat racism in the workplace, and includes a series ‘how to’ guides.