This year marks 35 years since Black History Month was officially recognised in the UK. This got me thinking about the original aims of the month and why we celebrate it. 

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo the architect of Black History Month in the UK

Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a Ghanaian activist and Special Projects Coordinator for the Greater London Council, was instrumental in bringing Black History Month to Britain. In an interview, he recalled how in the mid-1980s, black children suffered from an identity crisis where they denied their heritage in order to fit in their environments. Interestingly, Black History Month was, in part, created to empower black children and adults to embrace their authentic selves. 

Today, Black History Month remains an ongoing success in the fight for an equal future for all. But, unfortunately, this message remains unfulfilled in some areas of society – for instance, in the workplace. Many black and ethnic minorities do not feel empowered or feel they can fully be themselves at work. The issue of ‘code-switching’ bears out this reality for many black people. 

And that’s why, when you look at some industries, such as tech, financial services, and public relations (PR), there exist challenges in attracting and retaining talent from a wider pool of candidates from different backgrounds and races. For instance, according to a 2021 discussion paper by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), fewer than 1 in 10 management roles in financial services are held by black, Asian, or other ethnic minority people. 

Clearly, there is no room for complacency.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

For me, the issue of diversity goes back to the original aims of Black History Month to create an environment where we can all be our authentic selves at all times. 

Modern businesses understand that diversity is critical to a cohesive and productive workplace. Fostering an inclusive culture that encourages individualism, respect, and appreciation is even more important than basic diversity metrics in hiring. Getting DE&I right can be difficult. But, businesses must get it. 

Here’s why

It is the right thing to do for your business, your employees, and yourself. And, the business case is overwhelming too. 

Companies with an inclusive workplace have employees that feel respected and praised for their differences because it’s what makes them unique individuals. But, having an inclusive workplace culture can benefit your organisation. According to Deloitte, diverse workplaces are:

  • Twice more likely to outperform non-diverse organisations
  • Twice as likely to outperform financial performance goals
  • Six times more innovative 
  • Eight times more likely to achieve positive business outcomes

In my experience, it is not possible to have a high-performing organisational culture without robust DE&I values.

So, how do you create a diverse and inclusive culture together? Here are some of the critical things you need to build an inclusive, welcoming culture. 

1 – Let’s get leadership buy-in: 

Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DE&I) workplace is nearly impossible without the support of key decision-makers in the company. Because business leaders control the budget, strong leadership support for DE&I is crucial if there is to be adequate financial backing to invest in comprehensive inclusion initiatives and programmes. Additionally, their influence can help accelerate progress and wider employee receptivity. 

2 – Let’s open the door to difficult conversations:

It is often the case that some workplace environments shy away from speaking openly about difficult issues because they fear damaging team morale. However, this is not the case. It is essential to have uncomfortable and challenging conversations in safe spaces where employees can feel empowered to share concerns and work together to find a way forward. 

These moments are great opportunities for signalling to the workforce that the business is committed to DE&I. Furthermore, it can help close the trust gap that exists between black and ethnic minorities and their employers.

3 – Let’s integrate DE&I into our core values:

Has your business been around for a long time? Have you considered if your values have evolved? It is important to ensure that your core values reflect your commitment to DE&I. Your values are a window into your business and its priorities. DE&I values make it easier for employees, clients, and other external stakeholders to engage with the company in ways that encourage a diverse culture.

For employers, hiring a diverse workforce is only part of the equation. With DE&I on the minds of employees, customers, and industries, staying silent or ticking boxes will no longer cut it. 

So, what good is Black History Month? In my opinion, it is essential. And, the business case is clear. 

So, now is the time to stand up, listen and act.

Do you work in tech? For more information on improving your company’s equality efforts and attracting new talent in tech, check out our blog on how purpose-led tech brands will dominate the talent war

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