Radical change on RACE is a MUST

Radical change on RACE is a MUST

I believe that this time, in 2020, it feels different. We’ve reached a point where #BlackLivesMatter will not just blow over and be added to a historical list of short-lived campaigns, hashtags and slogans on badges and T-shirts. This time we are seeing people of all backgrounds protesting and taking a knee.

We’ve made some progress down the years. The case for diversity and inclusion and good practice are now better established among many communities, companies and public bodies. But, let’s be honest, we have only achieved marginal gains not radical change in recognising policies that perpetuate racial inequity between racial groups and dismantling them.

I believe that this time, in 2020, it feels different. We’ve reached a point where #BlackLivesMatter will not just blow over and be added to a historical list of short-lived campaigns, hashtags and slogans on badges and T-shirts. This time we are seeing people of all backgrounds protesting and taking a knee.

I see my identity as a black man, the sense of duty that I feel to do something about all the negative statistics of being black and my role as an internationally established consultant in governance coming together. It is time to finally make a permanent change to the landscape in the areas where I believe I can make real change – governance.

Here’s a list of reports and reviews that have tried to tackle inequality and discrimination at work, including my own Diversity in The Boardroom initiative.
• The McGregor-Smith Review
• The Parker Review
• Business In The Community Race At Work Charter
• NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard
• Diversity in the Boardroom
• The Race Fairness Commitment
• Sporting Equals Race Equality Charter
• Black Football Players Coalition Charter
• The Middle Research Report – BBA Awards
• UK Music – 10 Point Plan
• Commonwealth Games 2022 – 10 Point Plan
• The Diversity & Inclusion Charter

They all make valid recommendations, and in my opinion now is the time to use them as part of a robust accountability framework. It seems there is enough guidance and to this end I have reviewed all the documents above and incorporated everything they asked for into a new RACE Equality Code 2020.
Real change happens when you are able to influence leadership – the board and executive management – and hold organisations to account. So, although there are huge challenges to overcome in other areas, such as procurement and criminal justice, my focus is firmly on how we deal with race inequality in our boardrooms and senior leadership teams. We must have effective policies to put more black people into leadership roles and make organisations accountable through what they publicly report.

I have worked closely with my colleagues in the West Midlands branch of ICSA The Chartered Governance Institute to format The RACE Equality Code 2020 and it is currently being reviewed by a panel of independent experts including early adopters, academics, practitioners and representatives of organisations that have published charters and guidelines on race equality.

Call to sign up to our vision and mission
A code steering group will consider the first draft of the Code and make recommendations and revisions ahead of an official launch in October 2020. It will then be ready for immediate adoption and application.

This will be a single Code providing one set of standards, applicable to any and every organisation irrespective of size or sector, and aimed at delivering real change. Organisations can carry out a self-assessment against the Code requirements to find out what their targets should be and then put together an action plan to meet them. Finally they must report regularly on their progress.

This is not in competition with other codes and it’s not to say that other charters, pledges and recommendations have been wrong – this brings together all the best practice from down the years in one place and builds on it.

The first step, happening now, is that we are encouraging businesses and organisations to sign up to the vision and mission behind the new Code.

The vision is:
Organisations will use the RACE Equality Code 2020 to create transformational, sustainable and lasting change, to achieve a competitive and truly diverse board and organisational senior leadership team.
The Code will be established internationally across all sectors as a marker of best practice.

The mission is:
We will provide a principle-based framework and practical guidelines for organisations of all sizes and from all sectors to follow, providing concrete actions which when applied will lead to outcomes which effect real change in the area of race equality in the workforce.
Words count for little if they are not followed by actions

Recently, we have seen controversy around the leadership team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Nineteen out of 20 senior roles – including the entire executive team – went to white people. After this was highlighted, the Games’ chief executive Ian Reid and chairman John Crabtree wrote an open letter to the city to outline their plans on diversity and inclusivity.

This in turn prompted an open letter signed by 51 prominent figures across the city voicing disappointment with the response and offering to support and assist Birmingham 2022 to resolve the issue. The letter added: “Words count for little if they are not followed by actions, to which named officers are held accountable. We call on the accountable party to commit to a speedy practical process of change and intervention.”

I agree that words count for little without action. That is why I say that the RACE Equality Code 2020 is more than ‘just another code’. This Code, and its accountability framework, is designed to provide organisations across all sectors and sizes, with the opportunity to address a very specific challenge. This is shown by its four key principles:
• Reporting – Organisations must report on what they are doing. On their websites and in their annual reports they must report on their progress towards RACE initiatives. Openness and transparency with all stakeholders must be actively pursued.
• Action – It’s time to act. Lasting and meaningful change will only happen if we agree measurable actions and outcomes and detailed plans of how we achieve them. It would be wrong to think that focusing on race equality would be detrimental to other protected characteristics, such as gender. Action on one area results in a ‘targeted universalism’ that benefits all groups. Focusing on policies and not people
• Composition – The percentage of black people who should be on the board and senior team of an organisation will depend on the type of organisation and its sector. The Parker Review in 2017 asked for at least one person from an ethnic minority background in the boardroom of every FTSE 100 company by 2021. An update report published in February 2020 found that that 37% of the 96% of FTSE 100 companies who replied to the survey still did not have any ethnic minority representation on their boards. Targets will identify different ethnic groups to drive focused activity.
• Education – You can’t just send someone on an unconscious bias training course and think that’s it, you have completed the education of your staff. Perspectives need to be challenged. Prejudices and systematic and institutional practices must be acknowledged through a robust education framework. We have to move the conversation on from not being a racist to being actively anti-racist and examining white privilege, white fragility, diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging and wilful ignorance.

The Must, Should and Could elements
What makes the Code unique is its ‘apply and explain’ approach to examining the main principles identified above. Organisations will then be guided through a series of ‘Must’ ‘Should’ and ‘Could’ elements. They will be shown what they MUST do; these requirements are essential. The things that they SHOULD do to meet good governance standards and if organisations do not meet these requirements they must explain why. Finally there are COULD items, which not all organisations will be able to apply, depending on their size, sector and structure.

The drivers for change behind this Code show why this is an essential step for our society – not tokenism or a box-ticking exercise:
• Diversity – It has long been accepted that boards need to be sufficiently skilled to be able to make decisions effectively, but how is diversity considered when looking at the composition of the boardroom and senior leadership team?
• Responsibility – The responsibility to tackle inequality does not sit with one individual or department but is organisation wide. The tone is set top-down rather than bottom-up, and it is the board that should promote and demonstrate that there is a ‘no excuses’ attitude towards discrimination and racial injustice.
• Integrity – The integrity of an organisation is raised by transparency in processes and reporting and ensuring that its objectives are reviewed, monitored and re-evaluated over time.
• Values – Black leaders are not a novelty; increasing the proportion of black representation is not tokenism. Recognition of ethnicity as a key diversity component will have a positive and sustainable impact on every organisation. Adopters of the Code must value different life experiences and look to integrate and provide space for perspectives, thoughts and practices that may be different but should never be underestimated.
• Equity – Introducing policy around race inequality is more than just a moral imperative to do what is ‘right’. It is about working towards the creation of a level playing field where, in the context of merit, black people are not only fairly recruited but thrive.
• Reality – Regular, meaningful public reporting will be crucial to transparency, ensuring that a balance is met between maintaining the impetus for change and allowing for a proper period of assessment. Transparency requires both an acknowledgement of successes and constructive criticism of shortcomings.
• Society – At a time when there are so many questions about the exercise of power, it is for boards to ensure that they are exercising their duties in a socially responsible way that does not shy away from the key issue of equality and diversity and seeks to redress the balance with fairness and transparency.

No more excuses – the talent IS there
In conclusion, it is no longer good enough to say you are not racist, you have to be pro-actively anti-racist. Ideally, the percentage of black senior leaders in an organisation should have a target based on mirroring the percentage in the population that it serves.

I have been working with the football authorities and black footballers for a number of years. I’ve been able to train, support and provide experience to ex-professional footballers so they can enter the boardroom after their playing days end. Approximately 30% of my graduates have had board appointments and experience. This is just one sector and the same will apply in other areas of business.

This is an initiative that must span the private, public and voluntary sectors. There is no excuse for saying that the talent is not there to put more black people into senior roles; it is there and we will all benefit if we come together to finally achieve lasting and transformational change.