Let's talk about Race

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I dialled into Matt Dean’s second roundtable race conversation last week. It was great to hear from so many different people and get some real insight on people’s experience and thoughts for taking meaningful action – thank you to all those who attended and shared, I learned so much. Some of my personal and immediate takeaways were: 

  1. We are allowed to get things wrong – Fear of causing offence, getting it wrong and using incorrect terminology stops dialogue. I need to remember that it is OK to speak up, ask genuine questions and make mistakes in conversations. It is also OK to be corrected and challenged. It is not OK to avoid talking about race because doing so is uncomfortable. What a (white) privileged position I am in to find conversations about race just uncomfortable and not a lifelong battle. That minor and temporary discomfort should not (and will not) stop me engaging.
  2. We need to not use Black and BAME interchangeably – Yes, there are shared struggles and challenges but histories and experiences are very different. We need to do more for all BAME communities. As someone at the session said: there is no hierarchy of protected characteristics but right now, at this time, race needs to be the focus and within race – black lives and experiences need to be at the forefront.
  3. We need to talk about White people – Like others I have found it uncomfortable saying White in the same way I have found describing anyone’s ethnicity uncomfortable. But I am White. It is my race and it is not neutral. 
  4. We need to be in this for the long haul – The BLM movement has to be here to stay. This is not a fad or something that can have a quick fix/tick box solution. It is a lifelong/generation spanning challenge that we all have to face. Many White people have only just woken up to the cause and are energised and enthusiastic as a result. That well-meaning energy needs to be channelled to prepare for a marathon not a sprint. Daily training is needed and it impacts all my choices – from what I say to where I shop. Many BAME people are emotionally exhausted from years of having to personally deal with individual and structural racism. White people need to support their BAME friends and colleagues with this: holding them up, taking the baton where wanted and needed, spending the time doing our own research and learning and not expecting to be given an easy ride. Racism is not a Black issue or a BAME issue. It is a human issue. 
  5. We need safe spaces – People need to be able to feel truly psychologically safe to speak up without judgement (but with parameters to stop offensive language and behaviour). The roundtable felt like a great safe space and we need more of them. The more we talk the easier it gets and the more we can achieve.
  6. We need action at all levels – We discussed whether action such as safe spaces need to be at the individual or organisational level. I came away thinking it needs to be at both. We all have individual responsibility and accountability. Organisations also need to lead on this (particularly when politicians don’t) but I also think we need it at the industry level. Comparisons were made with the NHS and the aviation industry which actively encourage people to speak up to create safer places as a result. They share challenges and learning points to raise the bar across the board. We now need action on race to be beyond the realms of comparing and competing businesses and beyond tick box exercises and muddy statistics that have had a marketing spin. Action needs to cut across organisations. By analogy with the #metoo movement, real change only happened when the whole film industry had to wake up and take notice.
  7. We need to give power to formal networks – Many businesses have accountability groups and formal networks but few have managed to achieve real change. Why? Because they haven’t had any power. Senior (often White, male) leaders need to be prepared to listen to networks, trust what is being asked for to drive change, provide it and take the reins to steer businesses in the right direction because it is the right thing to do. Dare I say it (yes I do) they also need to consciously hand some of that power they have been sitting comfortably on for too long over to people who don’t look like them and not just in the workplace. The workplace is a good place to start though and many of us can do more now in the places we work and the people we work with.

 If you want to discuss how you can drive real change in your workplaces and if you are interested in attending any of Matt Dean’s future round table conversations on race, please let me know.

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