We didn’t ask for this.
I am not surprised by the recent report from the government’s Commission on Race Ethnic and Disparities (CRED) when you consider why the Chair and Commissioners may have been chosen and the underlying mission with which it seems to have started out i.e. let’s prove that institutional and structural racism doesn’t exist and let’s find a new way to explain the many inequalities and racism faced in so many areas of society. I am not surprised because many of us from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities have been saying for a long time now that we are tired of investigations and commissions, of reading reports and then waiting to see changes; only to find that these are delaying tactics, meaning that the dial on racial inequalities in so many areas is not moving fast enough, across as many areas as we would expect either substantively or radically.
Even in the face of many opposing views to the main findings there is a cognitive dissonance from the commission that is an insult to the very real pain and suffering experienced by black people up and down the UK; and it is offensive to the growing number of people – black and white – who are standing up and actively seeking to tackle racism in their workplaces, in their communities and across society.
The commission may be pleased to know what black people have known for generations, that if you want to change your life chances, education is a key component. However, you will have to work twice as hard as your white counterpart. As a result, we see many of our black and Asian colleagues performing better than some other groups. Nevertheless, that is not unadulterated success – having to work twice as hard to cover the same distance as your white counterparts is just another form of inequality. It is for this reason that even with the trumpeted ‘success’ of black and Asian excellence, black pupils are still five times more likely in some areas to be excluded – not everyone has the capacity to deal with and survive, the much reported, examples of racism in the education system. Racism destroys life chances. Racism destroys lives. Some of us just can’t and don’t make it.
For those who do survive,one should reasonably expect the better educational achievement to translate into better career prospects. Unfortunately the answer is an emphatic No – it does not. Again, a plethora of reporting and research repeatedly tells us that unless there are some adjustments to the barriers that face us at shortlisting, interview, career progression, breaking through “glass ceilings” and breaking through those snowy white peaks, we are less and in the case of senior leadership roles in this country overwhelmingly unlikely to see equal representation.
Reluctantly I have still to advise my children, ‘if you want to go as far as merit allows, as far as your skills and will can take you, try to create a job through entrepreneurship rather than get a job’. This is not to say they still won’t find disadvantage in education, housing, securing business premises or business loans – but at least they won’t have to additionally face racism at work. I would have liked to have been able to advise my children by now post McGregor-Smith and the like that the workforce is meritocratic and that hard work and competence will guarantee you the same chances as anyone else. Sadly, this is not the case. Rob Neil, a former chair of the Civil Service Race Forum and a fellow RACE Equality Code 2020 consultant told delegates at the 2017 annual BME into Leadership conference that he believed the idea of meritocracy remained “a dream, a fantasy” for too many BME staff.
“I wish it were true, but all too often meritocracy remained a myth” he said, warning of “the labyrinth that exists, the elusive sponsorship that one requires, the fireside chats, the little handshakes” which appear to be needed to secure top jobs.
I read the CRED report looking for the overall vision and trying to determine what success looks like and over what timeframe. Although well-structured with logical key themes, the underlying principles and assertions make it a difficult read. And yes, it lays out full recommendations divided into four key themes, ‘building trust, promoting fairness, creating agency and achieve inclusivity; but I struggle to see a coherent game plan to get black and Asian communities anywhere collectively with some key objectives that we can all buy into. Yes, I say all because pitching groups against each other doesnʼt make sense and campaigning for equity and justice for black and Asian people isnʼt mutually exclusive, i.e. a focus on one group doesnʼt mean you canʼt consider other underrepresented groups. Furthermore the report gives little insight into how its own recommendations will be delivered.
I take issue with the outdated perception of a black community that doesn’t want to join the police force because they will be considered traitors or sell outs especially when decades of work suggest an institutionally racist organisation chooses to be wilfully ignorant of how it operates. A more logical explanation is that black people have little reason to trust an organisation that has successively failed them when they needed justice; has disproportionately targeted them for stop and search, arrests and use of force some leading to deaths in custody. It should be no surprise that a community on the receiving end of centuries of injustice would rather not put themselves through the pain and hardship that black and Asian officers are still experiencing because things are not changing fast and radically enough to eradicate racism.
I have coached many of my clients over the years who want to improve their business by trying to get the customer to understand what they are selling instead of focussing on what the customer needs. I work with them to shift their focus because you cannot attract more custom by blaming your customer base for not understanding what you are trying to sell them. Remarkably and preposterously, the report seems to conclude that inequality is the fault of the people most affected by racism, rather than of organisations’ unwillingness to accept that they must change. It is only with this level of openness and transparent honesty we can begin to develop trust and reconciliation.
I have argued that we are in a moment in history where we could see a tipping point to create the type of change that one sees only once in a generation. It is no surprise to me therefore that the CRED has produced something aimed, at best, at maintaining the status quo or at worst something which worksto the advantage of those already advantaged.
I felt conflicted about responding to this report since, whilst it is important to provide leadership and a range of perspectives in a timely manner, I also felt that I needed to examine the full CRED report and consider what other commentators and people I respect have to say. As the author of the RACE Equality Code 2020,there are several points that need to be made:
1. Some of the language is insufferably racist and insulting in choice and tone e.g.
“There is a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain.”
2. One remarkable conclusion is dangerously misleading:
“…we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities…”
Scaffolding has to be actively dismantled, taken down. The unspoken and unwritten systems of exclusion that Britain is built upon have not melted away over time; many are still in place and are still obstructive and ugly.
3. The integrity and findings of the report are questionable and the veracity of the report has been challenged by the very experts the Commission has cited as having been consulted to generate the report. These experts are now stating that they were either not properly consulted or not consulted at all.
4. Some of the highlights seem more politically opportunistic rather than genuinely positioned as reflective of lived experiences, cognisant of the reporting that has already been done, and effectively solution oriented. There have been many detracting commentators, I list a few here as food for thought.
“We disagree with the conclusions of this report. Within the largest employer in the country – the NHS – there is clear and unmistakable evidence that staff from ethnic minorities have worse experiences at work and face more barriers in progressing their careers than their white counterparts.
“While some progress has been made, to pretend that discrimination does not exist is damaging as is denying the link between structural racism and wider health inequalities.
Saffron Cordery Deputy Chief Executive NHS Providers
My son was murdered because of racism and you cannot forget that. Once you start covering it up it is giving a green light to racists. You imagine what’s going to happen come tomorrow. What’s going to happen on our streets with our young people. You are giving racists the green light.
Baroness Doreen Lawrence
The report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, 3 months overdue and 9 months after the Commission’s inception, is a script that has been written for 10 Downing Street. The people involved in this Commission had no interest in genuinely discussing racism, but even this Government does not go as far as to say that we are post racial. The least the Commission could have done is acknowledge the very real suffering of Black and minority ethnic communities here in the UK. The very suggestion that government evidence confirms that institutional racism does not exist is frankly disturbing.
This should have been our 1945 moment: a time when, as a nation, we could be big and bold enough not only to acknowledge historic and continuing embedded racism, but come up with a plan to deal with it.
For example, make the reporting of ethnic pay gaps compulsory for all companies; recruit more Black teachers; police with consent for all communities; make boardrooms do far more to bring in racially diverse talent; and have an honest conversation about Britain’s history, the bad as well as the good, and show how the past still very much influences the present.
But instead of the embarking on a potentially transformative conversation, this shameful commission report has retreated into denial.
And, worse than the denial, many of the headline findings are that the nation should be focusing on white working-class children rather than race discrimination. This is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the report, because it appears to be pitting poor white people against poor Black people.
Lord Simon Woolley
We do not need a report like this. Not least because it is designed to keep us talking and disagreeing, but also because we cannot afford the distraction, we cannot allow the insult to derail our efforts in calls for change; nor should we give vital airtime and energy to the report’s loathsome attempt at pitting communities against each other. What we need is immediate action and the right tools to make change truly responsive, meaningful, and lasting.
Olivea Ebanks RACE Equality Code 2020 Consultant
My research into the lack of representation of people from black and Asian backgrounds in senior leadership positions and in the board room, in proportion to local and national socio-economic demographics, shows that levels of representation are still woefully unacceptable. This is not disputed; nor is the fact that diversity brings competitive advantage, profitability and therefore a positive impact on sustainability in the private, public and voluntary sectors. Does racism have a part to play in the statistics relative to underrepresentation ? In my opinion the answer is, self-evidently and unequivocally, Yes! We talk about institutional racism because it is everywhere, as opposed to a pocket of racism in a particular industry or institution. The prevalence of racism is undisputed and confirmed in multiple reports across decades stubbornly repeating ad nauseam the same conclusions and messages.
As I have reviewed the 24 recommendations of the report through the lens of the RACE Equality Code 2020, I offer the following comments and solutions:
1. How do you “Build Trust” without recommendations that challenge all the sadly stubborn attitudes that deny institutional bias? People know that if you do not deal with racism at every level within our institutions, inequality will continue to thrive.
2. How do you “Promote Fairness” without tackling the structural norms, practices and policies? People know that an unwillingness to review policies that maintain the status quo means lip service is being paid to the vocalised need for change.
3. How do you “Create Agency” without addressing the myth of meritocracy as the route to success? People know that you can work hard and not achieve because of structural bias and affinities.
4. How do you “Achieve Inclusivity” without a clear plan to achieve it? People know that when you pitch ethnic groups against each other, it is a ploy for distraction and not for resolution.
The stubborn lack of change over many decades of racial inequity i.e. representation in board and senior leadership teams, requires that we do something different, innovative and strategic compared to what we have been doing in the past. Osmosis alone will not rid us of racists or racist behaviour. It is no longer enough to be non-racist, we and organisations must be on a journey to becoming anti-racist if we are to dismantle the structural racism which has been built over the past six centuries. To aid boards in promoting race equality in their organisations, leading governance experts, early adopters of the RACE Equality Code 2020 from the private, public and voluntary sectors and proponents of race equality have joined with the governance forum (tgf), a niche consultancy specialising in corporate governance solutions, to establish the RACE Equality Code 2020.
This single Code uniquely provides one set of standards, applicable to every organisation irrespective of size or sector, which has been endorsed, robustly reviewed and is ready for immediate adoption and application. By reporting, tracking, educating and creating accountability at the top, we will see change at the top that will permeate throughout the organisation.
The CRED Report’s four themes and 24 recommendations have ignored the promotion of diversity in leadership except to mention it in education when looking at governors and suggesting that an approach in the public sector needs to be investigated.
• To move the dial radically it is time to have a regulatory framework that is focused and targeted on race.
The RACE Code has summarised much of the already established good practice in a single accountability framework.
• To move the dial radically we need to do something different
The RACE Code has a must/ should/ could framework – the code highlights 10 must actions for which every organisation would be accountable.
• To move the dial we need to move now
In webinars and conferences over the last year having attracting thousands of participants, 98% of delegates have said the RACE Equality Code 2020 is needed. We have proof of concept – the time to act is now.
• If we are to gain trust, organisations need to be open and transparent
The race code has four key principles one of which is to ensure transparent and open reporting about race and ethnicity.
The Race Code is but one tool to address complex organisational and societal disparities. There are other effective tools, and plenty of people and businesses willing to come together to build a better Britain, a fairer, more equitable Britain.
Let’s leave the deniers denying and preoccupying themselves with that, while we shift the focus back to the very real work of generating even more insight, remedy and advances in equality. Just as Amanda Gorman U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate spoke of the ʻHill we Climbʼ at the recent inauguration of President Biden, our own resident poet Nairobi Thompson in her poem entitled ‘Breathe and Fly’, says this of the RACE Code ‘…
“No more knees on necks
No more excuses
No more hesitation borne of uncertainty,
Diversity fatigue and threat
We will be brave in
The exploration of institutional systems
Disrupting every variant form of
Inequality with such efficacy, such justice…
It can never again re-form”
The RACE Equality Code 2020 will help us to do this very thing, so let’s all come together, face the right direction, ignore the deliberate distractions, prevent erosion of our gains, and pick up the pace – we’ve got work to do.
Karl George is the author of The RACE Equality Code 2020 www.theracecode.org