Racial discrimination is a problem that’s bubbling under the surface of workplaces. Full of sensitivities and complexities that have made it an unmentionable – just in the way that sexual harassment had once been – and with the same potential to become an issue on the scale of #MeToo.
In its ‘Racism Ruins Lives’ report the TUC claims that a majority of black, Asian and minority ethnic employees have either been subject to racial harassment in the workplace (65% of more than 5,000 people surveyed), or believe they’ve been treated unfairly by their employer because of their race (49%).
At the same time, the TUC found there was very little discussion of the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic employees at work, low levels of training and awareness of the issues involved.
As the harassment scandals of recent years have demonstrated, it only takes one high profile case of inappropriate behaviour at work to come to light for the essential basis of trust and respect inside organisations to be destroyed.
The biggest threat comes from the lack of a conversation. The more tight-lipped the culture of an organisation, the more closed doors there are, the greater the risk of problems being bottled up. There’s more potential for unspoken, unrecognised prejudices to be working under the radar. BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic) employees are afraid to speak up at an early stage.
So the answer is to encourage open dialogue, for any worries and doubts and suspicions to be put onto the table straightaway? Yes – but that’s not as easy as sounds. Employees across an organisation – and in particular those in people management roles – need the skills to make the open dialogue a constructive one, a force for cohesion.
That means raising levels of Conversational Intelligence. Because diversity doesn’t come from just ensuring a good mixture of cultural backgrounds but from active support for inclusion, respecting differences of experience, identity, opinions. Managers need to be curious about different views, experiences, approaches; about when we listen reflectively and empathise with a different view, and how creating a sense of safety and feeling safe to be yourself in the group leads to inclusion. Core skills include situational awareness, curiosity, reflective listening, empathy and self-awareness.