On Wednesday the 2nd of June, I attended the first in a series of I&D events being hosted throughout the month by the City & Guilds Foundation. This event, which was focused on the topic of race inclusion, featured an insightful and thought-provoking conversation between speakers Frank Douglas (CEO of Caerus Executive and C&G Trustee) and Sophie Williams (anti-racism advocate and author of Anti-Racist Ally and Millennial Black).
I wanted to share a quick summary of a few key messages that stood out to me. (Note: all of the points made in this post are originally from Frank and Sophie, who are the experts in this field, not myself; I’ve simply tried to capture them here accurately.)
Inclusion & Diversity in recruitment
When considering candidates for a position, there’s a temptation to focus on hiring someone who’s a ‘good cultural fit’ for the team. However, this kind of thinking is open to bias and runs the risk of creating a homogenous workforce.
Instead, we should be looking for people who will bring a wealth of different experiences, viewpoints and knowledge with them to the role, who can help us to identify organisational blindspots by challenging the status quo.
It’s also worth remembering that, although we have an obligation to make our teams, work spaces and practices more diverse and inclusive, there’s no such thing as a ‘diverse’ individual, since people are only diverse in the context of an otherwise homogenous space.
Creating a culture of respect
It’s not enough for someone from an underrepresented or marginalised community to just be in the room – they also need to be free to express themselves and be respected. Being ‘the only one’ in your team, discipline, level of role, etc. can be very isolating and highly pressured, which is another reason why true inclusivity is so important.
Businesses that hire X percentage of Black, female, etc. employees but don’t allow them to be themselves and instead expect them to assimilate or conform to existing initiatives, processes and organisational values aren’t going to benefit from that apparent ‘diversity’.
One point called out by the speakers is that we tend not to be as comfortable talking about race in the UK compared to the US, but we need to move past this discomfort to create more opportunities for authentic, respectful conversations. In this way, we can all try to recognise our differences in lived experience and learn from each other.
Privilege doesn’t mean that everything in your life has been easy. It’s not about having extra perks and benefits, or being given anything for free – rather, it’s the absence of certain obstacles that other people are forced to experience because of an aspect of their identity, which can be harder to perceive.
To make it even more complex, people can be both privileged and marginalised at the same time, because our identities include multiple facets like race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
In order to be an effective ally, it’s important to recognise that your privilege can be a responsibility and an opportunity. It means you have access to spaces that other people don’t.
Allies have a responsibility to use their privilege to open up these spaces and advocate for people who face different barriers. Challenge yourself: how can I bring these people in? How can I amplify their messages and viewpoints when they’re not here? How can I help to break down these barriers?
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