Taking Action for Change – Answering Difficult Questions in the Workplace
After a great session celebrating the change that black leaders have made – it is also important to create a safe space to ask and answer some questions that some may find difficult to ask. Alicia Richardson, DEI and Talent Partner at SyncD explores more.
What is your experience of being a black person in recruitment?
Goodness, where do I start, a rollercoster. Firstly before getting into recruitment, it took me about 15 interviews, and still then I wasn’t accepted into recruitment, I had to start off in sales and pitch myself over the phone to finally get an opportunity. The common issue I found, is that I was told I wasn’t a great ‘culture fit’ or they had concerns about how clients or candidates would respond to me. I even had one Director tell me in an interview that I belong at a gentleman’s club (which is more of a sexist comment). However the most of the other rejection reasons seemed to be because I was black, especially because on the phone companies would love me and then when they met me they thought of every excuse under the sun not to hire me. I landed into recruitment as the person interviewing me felt that I could add something different and perhaps connect with candidates they haven’t managed to connect with. Ever since that role my journey has been even more interesting. I’ve had experiences where hiring managers have requested no people of color for a role over a call, not knowing I was black, or rejected candidates based on their name, accent or even the areas they’re from. Recruitment opened my eyes to discrimination in hiring, and in the workplace, if I could rewind and go back I would have corrected each person who made a biased comment and helped with changing perspectives for more inclusive hiring earlier.
How can we be better Allies?
Have an open mind when speaking/meeting with anyone new, and get to know them for who they are. What makes them smile? What are their strengths? How can you compliment them as a colleague? Ask where they’d like to go for a social outing don’t assume it’s where you would like to go, in meetings champion an idea they may have shared with you in private, and call someone out for any inappropriate comments ( even when the person you’re being an ally to isn’t there). Being an ally is a lifestyle change, don’t switch it on and off when you’re working, embed it into your lifestyle and you will naturally see how easy being an ally becomes.
What improvements could be made immediately to your experience? What can companies do to make black people feel more included?
Arrange a one to catch up with me / black employees, lets get to know each other, and if we live nearby lets have lunch / dinner or something. I think when we build genuine relationships, trust is built, and that adds massively to my experience at work, working with people I have good relationships with makes work a safer and happier place to be.
One other thing to add is thinking about other cultures for social events, for example our music, food and social activities are slightly different, so how can we merge it with what we currently do? For example instead of suggesting a pub meet up after work, ask me where we should go and I’m likely to suggest a shisha lounge or afrocaribean resturant, that way we can all have drinks, enjoy Caribean food and listen to multi cultural music. We can switch it up in between social meet ups, and mix and match what we’re doing so it adds to my experience.
Can I (as someone who identifies as a person of no-colour) attend black networking events?
YES PLEASE DO! We need you there in fact, otherwise our networking events will only go so far. You attending would be a great opportunity to build new relationships with black professionals, learn directly from us and share opportunities with us. We really appreciate all types of people coming to our safe spaces, and having a willingness to learn, please come along. I have also been to plenty of black networking events and met allies, if you’re unsure about a particular event then reach out to the organiser, but as for Black Create Connect events, you are all welcome.
Is turning violent the only way to get heard and is it ever acceptable?
I personally believe in peaceful protesting, I do understand the anger and rage off the back of racial attacks, and sometimes when we are too diplomatic with our approach, change doesn’t happen fast enough, and this can lead to us running out of patiende. I think violence and hurting others is unacceptable but protesting and making noise is okay, especially if it’s the only way we can be heard quickly enough
How can we hold clients/organisations accountable?
Have an open conversation, don’t attack or blame them for having a bias, instead assume they are not aware of the damage their actions can cause, and blame it on ignorance. Simply explain the knock-on effect bias behaviours can cause. Some effects include reducing workplace morale, overlooking someone who can contribute massively to the company, and having a negative effect on the other person’s mental health. Remind them of the equality act, and also remind them that we’re all humans and you must not discriminate based on protected characteristics. It’s usually best to have this as a private chat, however, if this is something you’re struggling with, gather your examples of what needs to be addressed and ask a DEI expert (like myself) to support you with the conversation or you can suggest a training/workshop session.
Which terms are best to use when talking about race and how can I avoid causing offence?
This is much simpler than you think, just use kind words, and don’t say things like ‘You people’, ‘blacks’ and ‘BAMES’… instead, keep it personal… ask someone, ‘as a black man, do you struggle with conversations about race in the workplace vs ‘do black people. Remember we can’t speak for everyone, hence why I have a network and podcast, to learn about new perspectives, because although we are all black, we come from various countries, cultures, and classes and we are all different, so keep the conversation polite and personal.
Is workplace racism ongoing? Any patterns or themes in how racism occurs?
Most definitely, and very subtly as well. Racism shows up in promotions, recognition, compensation, hiring, and company social settings. I do remember a few years back when I was at a company, I was sitting with some friends at lunch who all happened to be black and the CEO of the business asked us to separate, and said we can not sit together, and we looked like a ‘gang’… completely unacceptable, I was in shock, that was direct racism. Other ways we experience racism is by an employees saying our natural hair isn’t professional, or sometimes indirect racism where I’ve been completely ignored by someone or overlooked on an opportunity I deserved. As a black woman, I’ve learnt to identify these trends, when I compare how I am treated in comparison with my colleghaues. I pick up on if other black employees have experiences similar things, or if non-black colleagues have had more opportunities. In a long / short way – Yes racism still exists, and we feel it in the workplace more often than you could imagine.