#BLACKLIVESMATTER – HR professionals and their role in tackling racism, and what we are doing at Thrive Law

‘In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist’ – Angela Davis

Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week, thousands of individuals across the globe have taken part in protests against widespread inherent racism and the way black people have been treated by police officers and institutions of power in the US and beyond.

We as individuals and organisations have a responsibility to ensure that no person is treated differently because of their skin, race, religion, or gender. HR professionals NEED to step up having not only the opportunity, but a responsibility to do so much more to act against racism.

 

What are Thrive doing?

We released a statement on 9 June 2020, detailing what we are doing to support the Black Lives Matter movement:

In response to the death of George Floyd and related events in the United States and elsewhere, we at Thrive Law would like to affirm our unwavering commitment to racial equality and our support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We are all taking this opportunity to learn, and grow.

Here at Thrive, we have seen first-hand that many UK workers still face unfair treatment at work due to their race.  Practical, examples include:

•                 bullying and harassment;

•                 humiliation, racist remarks, “jokes”, “banter” and insults;

•                 greater difficulty with securing quality employment;

•                 exclusion from social interactions;

•                 slower promotion and career development;

•                 lower pay; and

•                 racially motivated dismissals.

Some of the racial treatment that employees experience at work is extreme and quite obviously abhorrent.  However, the cumulative impact of less serious, subtle and sometimes unconscious, individual micro-aggressions should not be underestimated.  Neither are acceptable. Neither should be tolerated.

We, and our clients, do not and should not accept the status quo; we continue to work at improving workplace practices and behaviours.

There are many things which we can all do to make workplaces fairer and more inclusive but most important actively anti-racist. Those who are genuinely concerned by current events should take this opportunity to identify practical things they can personally do to help. We recognise that that we have to be more active in our support of the black community and use our skills where we can; we are therefore opening a free helpline at blmsupport@thrivelaw.co.uk for those who have experienced race discrimination in their employment, to obtain free advice.

Further information is available here:

UK Government’s race disparity audit (updated 11 October 2018)
Business in the Community: The Race at Work Charter
Ethnic Diversity Enriching Business Leadership, an update report from The Parker Review (5 February 2020)
Race and Ethnicity Conversation Guide by Living Room Conversations

Over the coming weeks and months, as we grow and learn we will share our learning with you.

What can you do as a HR professional?

The number of HR professionals as a whole in the UK is practically an army in the world of work that, if deployed effectively, could act to counter racism in all its forms.

In the UK, employees still face unfair treatment and overt discrimination due to their race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin, or their religious beliefs. HR professionals are the gatekeepers to their workplaces, influencing both who comes intoand who leaves organisations, as well as how people behave in those organisations from training to policy making.

Policies are shaped around rewards and benefits, development and employee engagement – given the opportunity, these MUST be designed to be more inclusive; this is your responsibility.

Having access to staff surveys, HR metrics around staff turnover, employee relations cases, exit interviews and internal appointments, HR professionals are well-placed to see the lay of the land and identify problem areas. Both employers and employees are urged to strongly challenge racist incidents in the workplace. We can create safer and truly diverse and inclusive places of work. This won’t happen overnight, for many it will require a cultural shift.  It will require everyone to be actively ant racist.

Racism prevents black individuals from having equal access to employment and equal pay. Race discrimination manifests itself in the workplace most obviously through bullying and harassment, which can be stopped by actively changing the company culture.

Dealing with such discrimination is not just about supporting workers who wish to pursue their grievance through formal procedures. The root cause of racism in the workplace lies with the actions of managers or other workers, the culture of the workplace, unconscious bias, a particular policy or the failure to enforce an actively anti-racist strategy. All of which lead to racist behaviours which are not adequately challenged.

Simply having a policy and the odd training day is just not good enough.

Challenging Racism in the workplace – Addressing deep rooted issues

Whilst many employers have anti-racism policies, it is important such policies are followed on a zero-tolerance basis and racist incidents are not overlooked or swept under the carpet.

All staff should be trained and supported on how to deal with any abuse they witness or receive, whether this be inside the workplace or from third parties. Employees should be made aware of their rights as well as their responsibilities through anEqual Opportunities Policy and an Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy.

Employers should intervene if they see or hear employees expressing or acting on racist views. Such incidents should be handled through appropriate disciplinary measures.

Employers MUST take all reasonable steps to protect employees from racial harassment and this includes outside sources such as customers and contractors. Ensuring you have a strong equality, diversity and dignity policy that explicitly includes zero tolerance for racism which is regularly reinforced is incredibly important. Employers must make it clear that they will support all staff who raise concerns about racism and act to protect staff who are subject to racial abuse, in any form.

It is the responsibility of employers to educate themselves about the different cultural backgrounds of employees in their workforce.

 

Reminding employees of their responsibilities

Employers should remind employees that it is their responsibility to ensure that their behaviour does not cause offence and to stop immediately if they are told such behaviour is unwanted or offensive and especially so if it is racist.

It is also important to reinforce that employees should bring up such issues they have witnessed in the workplace. Racism should not be tolerated amongst employees and employers should seek to ensure that ANY discriminatory or abusive remarks are completely unacceptable. The actions of employees being viewedas banter does not in any way justify or excuse such behaviour and disciplinary proceedings should be carried out accordingly.  We see this too much and tribunal’s often discount this as an argument.

An employee who experiences or witnesses racism, should be able to raise their concerns with their employer and expect that the issue is dealt with swiftly and fairly.

If they suffer a detriment in any way as a result of speaking up about discrimination at work either as a witness or due to personal experience, this could amount to victimisation, another form of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.  You must be mindful of this as often the perpetrator will retaliate.

Here are a few other things which HR Professionals and Employers can do:

 

1. Use your voice Be clear about where you stand

We need to be braver and call out racism: silence is not an option.Businesses across the world have taken to social media to issue statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. For HR professionals, it is advisable that companies take a strong, specific stance on issues of equality. Ensure that your company take a strong actively anti-racism stance.

Further, remember that taking a stand for change is not a one-and-done proposition. In making such statements, ensure that you present clearly what comes next and how you will actively make a stand to fight against racism as a business.

 

2. Have senior leaders get directly involved

Issuing a public statement is one thing, following through with it is another. Rather than defer responsibility to a diversity and inclusion taskforce, HR professionals should call upon leaders to lead by example. No matter how small, large, or diverse your company is, it is important that a statement is made.

 

3. Time off for demonstrations

It is likely that with further demonstrations being planned across the UK, employees may request annual leave to enable them to attend protests. Employers should consider relaxing the usual policies for annual leave to show support for employee beliefs.

However, employers should seek to adopt a consistent approach to employees in respect of such events and dealing with unauthorised absence. The approach taken should be applied equally and consistently to avoid claims of discrimination arising.

 

4. Words of encouragement are NOT enough

As a company, you are not limited to moral support over social media. HR teams have the opportunity to make a tangible, positive impact that extends beyond work life. Employers should consistently be acting to make a change; this is not a ‘trend’ that will be forgotten about.

As above, we recognise that that we have to be more active in our support of the black community and use our skills where we can; we are therefore opening a free helpline at blmsupport@thrivelaw.co.uk for those who have experienced race discrimination in their employment, to obtain free advice.

 

By the Thrive Tribe

 

 

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