Without doubt the biggest challenge for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the workplace has been racism and discrimination.
Generations have fought for equality for centuries, not just in the workplace but in society as a whole, while many great influential figures have inspired change for the better.
As part of Black History Month, we’re dedicating this blog to this history of change in the workplace, the great influence the BAME communities have had and how we can together work towards creating a fairer and more equal workplace.
Changing legislation tells a story
Changes in law over the years tell a story of activism and a push for a fairer, more equal workplace and society.
They also tell a story of changing attitudes, and while they don’t always tell the whole picture, they do give an idea, particularly to those of younger generations, of what society and the workplace looked like years ago and how it has changed.
The Race Relations Act (1965): This was the very first legislation in the UK to address racial discrimination, outlawing discrimination “on the grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins.” The act was limited and would go on to be repealed 10 years later.
The Race Relations Act (1976): This legislation would replace the previous act of the same name but would be much more thorough in nature, encompassing racial discrimination in employment among other areas.
Both direct and indirect discrimination would be made an offence and employees now had the right to take up matters of racial discrimination through employment tribunals and the courts.
The changes within the 10 years of both acts being introduced perhaps shows the struggle to truly understand the racial discrimination experienced by many at the time. The initial legislation was quickly shown to be ineffective and swiftly replaced with new, more thorough laws.
The Equality Act (2010): The previous racial discrimination legislation wasn’t replaced until over 30 years later with The Equality Act, designed to encompass all forms of discrimination, providing legal protection for victims of discrimination and making the law much easier to comprehend and therefore more effective to enforce.
It may come as a surprise that the first legislative act to combat racial discrimination wasn’t introduced until 1965, but its introduction did mark a step in the right direction thanks to years of hard work, activism and push for change by many of the most influential BAME figures.
How the Civil Rights Movement changed the workplace and society
“It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless” – Martin Luther King Jr
The Race Relations Act of 1965 in the UK followed not long after the introduction of one of the most influential pieces of legislation ever to be introduced, the Civil Rights Act 1964 in the United States.
The act prohibited discrimination by employers in a number of areas and while there was still huge work to be done, it was a landmark change in making the workplace fairer and more equal for all.
It was just a year earlier that Martin Luther King Jr gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ public speech, one of the most famous speeches in history.
The Civil Rights Movement, beginning in 1954 and ending in 1968, undoubtedly changed not just the workplace but society for the better.
While there was still much work to be done, without the movement change may not have happened as soon as it did.
Thanks to the work of influential activists like Rosa Parks and Malcom X among others, society and the workplace was changed for the better and this would go on to be the catalyst for further change, creating lasting effects that still play a part to this day.
The challenges we face today
While the influence on the workplace of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Malcom X among others remains to this day, there is still evidence to suggest that there is still work to be done.
The Racism at Work Survey published in 2019 surveyed over 5000 people and found that 65% of BAME workers have suffered harassment at work in the last 5 years and had been subjected to unfair treatment by their employer because of their race.
The study also found that one-third of employees from a Black, Asian and Mixed heritage background reported that they had been bullied and/or subjected to ignorant or insensitive questioning in the workplace.
While these figures won’t be reflective of every individual workplace in the UK, it is the responsibility of us all to create a fairer and more equal workplace and to continue to ensure that people of all backgrounds and ethnicities are treated fairly and equally.
So, how can this be done?
How to build a more inclusive, fair and equal workplace
Creating a fairer workplace for all encompasses not just race or ethnicity but other demographic factors such as gender, age and beliefs among others.
Building a more inclusive workplace looks to tackle discrimination in all forms and is beneficial for everyone involved.
While every member of your business may feel they’re part of a fair and equal workplace, it is important to continue to promote this and maintain it.
It is also important to emphasise the importance of these values and integrate them into the company culture.
Plus, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to creating a more inclusive, fair and equal workplace.
Start by assessing the inclusiveness of your workplace
Create a bespoke survey: produce and send out a specific survey designed to get an idea on an individual level of how inclusive your workplace is. How well do employees think their voice is heard? How much influence they believe they have? How integrated do they feel?
Include inclusion questions on existing surveys: make use of your existing surveys to get an understanding of how inclusive your workplace is
Create focus groups: get employees together and give staff a chance to voice any concerns relating to inclusion
Use any existing data: compare promotion rates between different demographics and retention rates too. Are you retaining a diverse workforce?
Promote diversity and inclusion through training
Appoint a D&I champion and conduct thorough and proper training.
Ensure everyone in the workplace understands the signs of exclusionary behaviour, discrimination and ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to creating an inclusive workplace.
Having a D&I champion provides a line of communication when it comes to reporting issues or asking for advice, which is crucial to creating an inclusive workplace.
Calling out exclusionary behaviour
The whole workforce plays a role in developing an inclusive workplace.
Allyship is key and a willingness to challenge exclusionary behaviour is incredibly important. Inaction can be seen as being complicit with exclusionary behaviours and it’s important that everyone in the workforce recognises their role in building an inclusive workplace.
Encourage positive line manager and employee relationships
Treating staff with respect, including them in key decision-making and treating them equally is key to building inclusion.
Therefore, positive manager and employee relationships are crucial.
Line managers are often tasked with implementing D&I policies too, so a positive relationship also helps in this case too.
Senior leaders set the tone
Developing a culture comes from the top and so senior leaders play a vital role in developing a culture of inclusion.
Equally, if senior leaders are seen to be exclusionary, it could signal that D&I isn’t a key priority for the company.
Creating an inclusive workplace is a collective effort and needs to be reinforced consistently. The better it is reinforced and the more embedded it becomes in the company’s culture, the easier it becomes to buy into for new recruits too.
Equally, it’s important that you’re recruiting with inclusiveness in mind, ensuring new employees are made aware of the company’s D&I policies even during the interview process.
Learning from history and recognising current issues to create a fairer workplace for all
Black History Month plays a huge part in highlighting not just the struggles but the successes of the BAME communities in history. But it is important to not just recognise these during the month of October, but consistently, in order to create a better workplace and society for all.
Proactivity is needed to create a fairer and more inclusive workplace in today’s world just as it was needed during the influential Civil Rights Movement.
Learning from history, combined with a collective effort and proactive approach has the power to continue to develop the workplace for positive change!