Anti-racism: Are you having the right conversation?

3D colourful people with talk bubbles isolated over a white background

We are at an important moment in time when it comes to diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace (and in society more generally). On some days it feels like the BLM fervour never happened and on some days it hits you in the face. The flurry of D&I roles and intent over the past 2 years definitely feels like more ebb than flow and there is an inherent danger in this. When we are facing systemic issues that are embedded in our institutions, simply taking your ‘foot of the pedal’ for one moment can not just slow the progress but can be retrograde. The weight and momentum of institutional and structural systems are often persistently pushing back to a status quo that has been embedded and entrenched for centuries. It is the familiar, it is the comfort zone, it is the ‘safe place’ for the many and the structures in place are there to maintain that, and that solely. So, what now?

Before you embark on any meaningful conversation in the workplace about ‘moving the dial’ of anti-racism, decide on which conversation do you actually need to have. This needs to be an intentional decision as it will help focus the efforts at the right level, with the right people, and most importantly, with the right ‘tone’.

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Photo credit: Anchor – created by photonut


‘We want an inclusive workplace for all our staff…’

A CEO somewhere

The ‘why’ conversation of this work is critical. It is the ‘anchor’ that helps establish why this work is so important to either the organisation or the individual. Establishing what the ‘why’ is and whether it aligns with what you think it should be, will enable you to have the right conversation.

Essentially, if the ‘why’ aligns with your values, don’t focus your efforts on this aspect, it’s already in the bag!

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Photo credit: Clarity Consultants


‘We know we are not representative in our senior leadership team…’

A Director somewhere

The ‘what’ conversation is where you establish where the focus is needed to satisfy the ‘why’. If the lens is already focused in the right direction, why would you keep having the ‘what’ conversation?

Quite often, the ‘what’ is not the issue, the failure to create the desired change lies elsewhere. That’s where your efforts needs to be.

Man pushing a large Newton's Cradle

Photo credit: Freepik


‘Let’s introduce a fast-track programme for under-represented groups…’

A Senior Leader somewhere

If the anchor is visible, aligns with your values, you’re satisfied about the area of focus, the ‘how’ focuses on the actions that are needed to move in that direction. Remember, without action, there is no movement… things don’t just change by themselves.

The ‘how’ conversation is where there is the most challenge, mainly due to the fact, there isn’t a blueprint, only a few really good case studies, and every organisation being unique. The ‘how’ is the first conversation where £££ becomes the biggest factor. If the ‘why’ is there, the ‘what’ is agreed, the ‘how’ is normally when the work starts to become challenging. IF this is the issue, this is where the focus needs to be. Systematically unpicking the barriers, building an army of allies, raising awareness of this as a priority… essentially making the need for this high profile through structural and institutional levers.

However, if the ‘why’, the ‘what’, and the ‘how’ is agreed, why focus on this? You got it… your efforts are needed elsewhere.

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Photo credit: Clear Sky Recovery


‘There’s been no change in the past 24 months, so we need to do something else?…’

A Line Manager somewhere

The ‘when’ conversation is quite often the most underestimated aspect of this work. When everything else is in place, it’s normally the pace of change that causes the frustration. That can be for the organisation or the individuals leading on change.

The role of ‘patience’ is the conversation that should be encouraged. Again, there will be many examples of where there are passionate, enthusiastic, and committed organisations or individuals that have everything in place, and due to patience not being considered, will question the ‘why‘, ‘what’, and ‘how’… feel pressured to change and modify, when in reality, the right time has not been given for change to be ‘seen’.

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The ‘seen’ aspect is a crucial aspect to build patience. What we value as evidence has definitely got to be part of the conversation, agreeing the right way to measure progress is key and quite often existing ways are ‘shoehorned’ into this work without considering whether they are fit for purpose.

‘So what are the numbers for that?…’

A Board Member somewhere

Essentially, impatience can unravel all the work that has been done. Focus your conversation on the ‘when’ if everything else is aligned.

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‘Our D&I lead is responsible for that… ask them!’

A Colleague somewhere

The ‘who’ conversation is the most polarised. Is it the ‘EDI lead’, the whole organisation, the senior leadership who is accountable for this work. There is an inherent danger in each but essentially there does need to be a level of accountability to drive the work forward. Again, you got it, if everything else is in place and the impact is not being felt, this is where the focus needs to be.

Essentially, if there is a shared or individual responsibility, with no clear accountability, why would the work be prioritised?

Establishing the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘who’ of this work will enable any individual or organisation in this work to focus their finite resource at the right level, with the right people, and most importantly, with the right ‘tone’.

Final note: most people want to do the right thing, for the right reasons, recognising where their barriers are, enables the right conversation.

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