Senior leaders and people managers need to engage in ongoing, responsive, two-way dialogue with staff to ensure that employees feel listened to and valued. Genuine communication between employers and employees provides a voice for people, and an opportunity for the organisation to listen, identify and act on concerns raised. This helps to ensure standards of behaviour are clear to everyone and promotes a culture of personal responsibility for treating people with respect and dignity. This is especially relevant for conversations around race, which require a high degree of sensitivity. We need to create open, safe environments for people from ethnic minority communities to express their views and experiences to help raise awareness amongst the many who do not have the lived experience of racism in its many different forms. This lays a vital foundation (of shared understanding) from which we can then move forwards.
Starting the conversation about ethnicity at work isn’t always easy, and some organisations simply don’t know where to begin. We know that many people are reluctant to talk about race for various reasons, whether it’s for fear of saying the wrong thing, failing to recognise inequalities of opportunity at work exist, feeling people aren’t interested, or feeling like one won’t be listened to.
- Communicate clearly, carefully, sensitively and with consistency of message. Consistency is essential for culture change. Highlight your willingness to engage and learn, to be challenged and to have emotionally charged conversations. Acknowledge that these conversations might be uncomfortable at first.
- Ensure senior leaders are involved in communication and that the conversations are two way.
- Regularly invite communication, ensuring all employee groups feel comfortable and able to have a voice, and change your approach if communication is not forthcoming.
- Ensure mechanisms are in place for employees to feel confident and safe in highlighting issues about inequality and sharing their views on matters affecting them at work. Ensure all employees know about these mechanisms, how to access them, and that they feel comfortable doing so.
- Ensure that disadvantaged and disconnected groups have access to mechanisms through which they can express their voice. For example, make issues of racism and exclusion a part of engagement surveys, with action plans set against them.
- Think about who’s communicating the message and their credibility based on prior actions.
- Acknowledge previous failings within the context of the current situation to demonstrate understanding.
- In designing your communications, identify internal stakeholders and external stakeholders – both supporters and detractors – and design your messaging accordingly. Think about the words, tone and images you use, and avoid tokenism and stereotyping.
- Live your values through your external communications and engagement:
- Reach outside of normal channels and connect with community groups to show support and learn.
- Question external conferences that don’t have diverse ethnic representation in their presenters/speakers before deciding whether to send staff there.
- Question events in which there are no ethnic minority people in the lineup of speakers or nominees for awards before deciding on sponsorship.