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How Can Leadership Break Down Racism And Make Changes Now?

by | Jun 25, 2020 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Its a time for reflection, honesty and truth. Racism is headline news. Not for the first time, but still, it is headline news.

In the current climate where consistent and perpetual acts of racism have led to demonstrations all over the world, is it now time for leaders to march towards making diversity and inclusion a key component of organisational and operational processes?

It cannot have escaped notice that businesses, in the main, were slow to come out in solidarity with the ’cause’.

Many companies were reactionary, coming forward with statements to immediately distance their companies, and themselves, from any association with racism and discrimination. Some have made no statement at all, preferring to adopt a position within the assumed ‘safe of neutrality’.

Many reiterated the time honoured statements around diversity and inclusion. You know the ones!

Sometimes companies make rhetorical and reactionary statements around diversity

“We do not condone this kind of behaviour”

Or maybe it sounds something like:

“At so and so brand, we work to build a community of employees that are treated equally blah, blah, blah”

Its all been heard before.

The problem with such statements, is that they are seen for what they are by overwhelming numbers of black people; disingenuous and a blatant attempt to portray an inclusive culture.

The fact is, many of these statements, although slow in coming, fell on deaf ears.

People of black origin, have heard it all before. For generations, their experiences have been coloured with racism, at school, at work and throughout adulthood.

In fact, other than the usual copy and paste, dime a dozen, diversity statement on company websites, there has been too much not much happening around the race equality agenda.

For the majority of companies, the issue of race has been included within a broader ‘diversity’ agenda, where its importance can be neglected surreptitiously.

In every sphere of life, black people have been experiencing disadvantage, within systems of governance, which by design seeks to exclude them. This is racism.

This Didn’t Happen Overnight

This didn’t happen overnight and there ain’t gonna be a quick fix! For generations, black people have been subjugated by white power.

The institutional racism that sees black people living in the poorest housing, having access to the worst education and healthcare, have all culminated into the situation of global protests against racism, which we see on our streets today.

It is visible in our workplaces, in the absence of black people at board level positions and the over representation of black people and other people of colour, within lower level positions, across corporate organisations.

‘Its been a long time coming’, said Sam Cooke in his 1964 song ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. Penned after an incidence of racism experienced by his band members, wide and himself, Cooke felt compelled to put his experiences, as a black man, into a song.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come” is a poignant refrain in the song. These words capture the feelings of marginalisation, rejection and despondency felt by people of African heritage, across the Western world.

Black people have reached boiling point, and their allies have too.

To live in a world where racism is perpetuated at every turn, has a devastating effect on the ability for a community to grow and prosper.

To have the efforts of a community, that has contributed so much to the wealth and well-being of western societies (albeit for centuries of forced enslavement), will lead eventually to that community saying enough is enough.

The Answer Is Accountability

Racism is borne and perpetuated through the misuse of power. The lack of accountability in around race in boardrooms has led to the lack of trust of generations of black and brown people.

Who are white leaders of these corporations responsible to, if not themselves? Power relationships have led to generations of black people, missing out on the benefits of growth, within their professional relationships, because of racism.

Race equality is a corporate responsibility

Whether overt or covert, racism is the reason behind the lack of racial visibility in boardrooms. Can it be that black people are just not able to deliver at this level?

Or is it that leadership, just can’t find the right black talent?

Whilst many white people who dominate the C-suite of British and American boardrooms, will readily express anger and amazement that the world can be such a cruel place, this is not news to black people.

It has been their experience for the totality of their lives. Throughout childhood, tertiary education and professional life, this is the experience of black people.

Establishing company-wide processes to annihilate racism and discrimination, and being proactive about race and racial inequality, is the only way that leadership can change the experiences of black people.

And it is within their power to do so.

Rhetoric will not suffice, as a mask of commitment to inclusion, with no accountability or authenticity. Piecemeal diversity initiatives, that focus on promoting the inclusion of gender above all else whilst negating the importance of race, will not suffice.

Black people have had enough, and the world is not the same.

Your Company Image Is At Risk

Large companies have built their wealth on the backs of slaves and the slave trade, yet refuse to employ black people, unless it is in the most menial of positions.

Where black people are employed in a professional capacity, the chances of progressing to executive positions, is dismal. This is racism.

The slave trade has a lot to account for. It was a historical act, yet the manifestations of white dominance, appear to resound clearly to this day.

How statues of noted slave traders, stand proud in our city squares, to be walked passed every day, by those who were enslaved and have suffered centuries of murder, rape and subjugation at the highest levels?

One such statue, of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader, was ripped from its foundations in Bristol, England recently, and unceremoniously thrown into a harbour, during a Black Lives Matter protest in the UK. Such is the feeling of black and white people who protest against racism.

The hypocrisy of racism is all around us. Many of the cities buildings and even schools, are named after Colston, a historical purveyor and beneficiary of racism and despair.

Britain and America are filled with these effigies,which depict a proud past, which was built by the blood, sweat and tears of black people.

The risk to brand image is now something that leaders and business owners must acknowledge, because the risk is now very, very real.

Feeling emboldened to express and undertake actions that perpetuate racism within organisations, without consequence, will no longer be tolerated.

The world is speaking out about racism speaking, and capturing audiences around the world, in numbers that most brands could only dream of.

What is Going to Change Now?

The ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and the murder of George Floyd, has brought attention, the issue of racism. It has highlighted the disadvantage, suffered by black people in society, and in the workplace.

It has resulted in a social and media furore, which has captured the attention of every corner of the world.

A cursory glance on the professional social media network, LinkedIn, details the outcry from black professionals, and others, about racial discrimination. Many leaders, managers, and professionals are expressing horror about levels of racism and discrimination.

The salient point here is that it is the normal, everyday experience, of black people in workplaces. It happens every day in our workplaces. Why then, does it seem so shocking to leaders in these workplaces? This is not new news!

It has been happening on your watch. It is all around us. It is an everyday occurrence.

Black workers are speaking out about racism in increasing numbers

This is nothing new to the black professionals around the world. Black professionals have been using LinkedIn, and various other modes of social media for years to highlight these very issues and concerns.

They have tried to advocate, explain, and in some cases, pleaded with leadership to stamp out institutional racism.

They have been the ones who have truly recognised racism within institutions. In the main, white leaders, those with the power to take the actions necessary to rid their companies and institutions, have been negligent.

The trauma of black people around the world is palpable, and is born of the failure of those in leadership positions, to acknowledge and rectify, the injustices of racism.

As leaders, managers and other white professionals, flock to social media, take part in television interviews and podcasts etc, to publicly acknowledge, the professional and societal plight of black people around the world, let us remember that talk is cheap and action is now required.

Is Change Really Gonna Come?

We’ve been here before. The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and 80’s were defined by protests, which brought to the fore, the issues of racism that affect black people.

As racial inequality hits headlines and conversations around race and race relations, form the seat of topical debate, leadership is ready to chime in!

As has been said, “the revolution will be televised”. In the age of social media, it becomes harder for racism and discrimination to shield itself from the view of prying eyes of technology, ready to document it, for all the world to see.

After centuries of racism and discrimination, black people and their allies are ready willing, and able, to capture living proof of experiences.

We can sympathise, empathise or otherwise make comments to add to the growing debate about racism. One thing is for sure, the words of corporate leaders will be heard, and concrete actions to improve race equality will be expected.

When will change real come?

Well, I posit that the answer to that question lays firmly with leadership!

The world is watching and waiting…

Social media is ready…

The cameras are rolling….

It’s showtime!

This content was originally published here.


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