4 minute read

Five ways you may be unintentionally excluding your Black staff

Black people are underrepresented in senior positions, earn less as graduates than white graduates and face recruitment discrimination. Author and award-winning coach Jenny Garrett shares how to avoid unintentionally excluding your Black employees

Black staff being excluded

In today's workplace forward-thinking and modern organisations are striving for diversity, equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging for all  their staff.

Organisational data often groups people from underrepresented ethnic groups together; this approach can mask issues. Even when the organisation has diverse representation at all levels, one group, such as Black people – people of sub-Saharan African ancestry and the indigenous peoples of Oceania – can be experiencing exclusion.

Despite the efforts to promote inclusivity unintentional exclusion remains commonplace. Black people, in particular, often remain vulnerable to the unintentional exclusion that happens in the workplace.

According to UK government statistics (2021), the experience of Black people in the UK workplaceis lagging:

  • Black graduates earn about 23% less on average than white graduates and are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as their white peers a year after leaving college.
  • Black people are underrepresented in senior positions. There are no Black executives in any of the top three roles in FTSE 100 companies.

And a recent report by the Runnymede Trust found that the experience of women of colour is more negative than their colleagues:

  • Locked out of progression: 28% of women of colour (compared with 19% of white women) reported that a manager had blocked their progression at work, and 42% reported being passed over for promotion despite good feedback (compared to 27% for white women).
  • Recruitment discrimination: 52% of women of colour experience discrimination – such as being asked for UK qualifications or English as a first language and being asked for ethnicity information outside of monitoring processes.

Here are five ways you may be unintentionally excluding Black people in your workplace and how you can avoid doing so:

  1. Not considering diversity in recruitment

When recruiting new staff it is crucial to ensure that the candidate pool is diverse. Inclusive recruitment is one of the essential components in which you can challenge the status quo, although inclusion is what will retain your colleagues. Inclusive recruitment requires that you remove the bias in your recruitment process.  A common issue is that degree qualifications from particular institutions or from other countries may not be valued highly, even though they are equal according to the awarding bodies.

Organisational norms are reinforced in recruitment, you may convince yourself that the best candidate got the role, but what about the process, language, and interactions that made it better for a particular candidate?

Including inclusion questions in interviews shows its importance and makes it foremost in the minds of your candidates too. You could ask: Tell me about a time when you advocated for diversity and inclusion in the workplace or can you give me an example of how you make your direct reports feel a sense of inclusion, belonging and equity on a daily basis?

Ensure that a percentage of the candidates for your roles are Black and ensure you have diverse recruitment panels with equal decision-making power.

  1. Failing to create an inclusive work culture

Failing to consider the needs and perspectives of your Black colleagues can make them feel excluded in the workplace. For example, you may have a uniform policy that requires colleagues to wear a hat that does not work with dreadlocks or a veil. Or you may organise a lunch without considering those who don't touch alcohol or eat certain types of food.

You can counteract this by making a point to understand and address any barriers to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and by fostering a culture of respect and understanding.

  1. Ignoring the impact of microaggressions

Microaggressions are subtle behaviours, remarks or actions that communicate negative messages about individuals who are Black. These behaviours are often unintentional, but they can have a significant impact on others' performance, morale and well-being. Recognise these behaviours and hold your team accountable for creating a work environment free of microaggressions.

Microaggressions can look like the 4 Ds below. Here’s how to challenge them and as a result reduce the instances of their happening in your workplace:

    • The double takes – Assuming that the Black person is the least senior in the room. “This meeting is for grade x only, you must be in the wrong room.”

What would make you question their grade; the meeting invites  the people who should be in the room?

    • The doubting – Doubting the Black colleague's education and intelligence. ‘You’re really intelligent aren’t you, what university/school did you attend, you’re so articulate’.

Everyone here is intelligent, we only recruit the best, if you want to give your colleague a compliment let’s make it constructive.

    • The dismissals When someone from an underrepresented group shares an experience of discrimination, and they receive the response I don’t think that they meant to exclude you, ignore you, undermine you ...’

I am sorry to hear about your experience, that must be tough, let's talk about what we can do here.

    • The domain Your environment illustrates that certain people succeed there, illustrated by the books on the shelves, the photos of past post holders on the wall and so much more.

We seem to only buy books from certain authors, are we inadvertently saying that wisdom only comes from one part of the world? How can we change this?

Reducing microaggressions is a step toward enabling organisations to recruit, manage and promote differently, resulting in more inclusive, productive and profitable workplaces.

  1. Lack of opportunities for professional development and advancement

Black people are often less likely to be offered the same career advancement opportunities as their white counterparts.

Research has shown that the most effective way for a company to advance Black talent depends on executive sponsorship. 65% of Black employees are more likely to climb the career ladder successfully when winning a sponsor. However, only 5% of black employees succeed in winning career sponsorship. This figure pales in comparison to the 20% of white employees that do.

  1. Not considering the potential impact of your words and actions

Many professionals are unaware of the impact of their words and actions on their colleagues. Ensure that you're mindful of your language and actions, particularly in interactions with people of different cultural backgrounds.

You may use jargon or exclusive language which can make team members feel excluded, especially if they are not familiar with the terminology. Someone from a different background may be unfamiliar with the idioms and sayings that you refer to.

You can counteract this by using clear, plain language that everyone can understand, providing a glossary of terms and explaining any idioms that you inadvertently use.

To promote inclusivity in the workplace, you must take deliberate steps to identify any actions that could be excluding Black people. For everyone to win, no one has to lose. The actions that you put in place to support your Black colleagues will benefit everyone because they will result in a more inclusive organisation for all.

Jenny Garrett OBE, pictured below, is an award-winning career coach, leadership trainer, speaker and author of Equality vs Equity: Tackling Issues of Race in the Workplace

Jenny Garrett

Published 10 May 2023
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