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Why are we talking about BAME?

by Catherine Osaigbovo on 25 Sep 2019

This month, BIE hosted a dinner for senior leaders in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community.

As we know, companies have become more aware of their responsibility to improve ethnic minority representation in their organisations. With Government drivers such as the launch of the Race Charter 2018 and ethnicity pay gap reporting, BAME is a hot topic – as well as a, perceived, contentious one.

Some business giants have already committed to voluntarily reporting their ethnicity pay gap, and it is widely anticipated that mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting will soon be introduced. Unsurprisingly then, we are increasingly being asked to supply a more ethnically diverse shortlist of candidates for our clients.

Addressing racial equality is a societal issue, a moral issue, and a business issue – and recruiters certainly have a key role to play.

However, while the business case for greater workforce diversity is strong, there is often a lack of appetite within senior leadership to make, or even recognise, the behavioural changes that are necessary. Possibly because it is not recognised as a behavioural and cultural change agenda. Instead, it is often reduced to a concept or tick-box exercise that is difficult to action.

With this in mind, we brought together a group of senior ethnic minority leaders to discuss how we drive the agenda in organisations and address the challenges.

Here are some of the highlights:

Data

Most agreed that data is vital – albeit, arguably, a necessary evil. Organisations need to establish an accurate baseline picture of where they stand today and set aspirational targets. As we have seen with gender reporting and quotas, businesses are more inclined to act when they are under the spotlight. Many will only take positive action when targets are set.

One of the challenges identified is how to capture and analyse this data. Often there is an issue of non-disclosure and persuading individuals to provide their information. Evidently, many companies will find it difficult to collect ethnicity data beyond the C-Suite.

There is also some work to be done around the choices available to describe ethnicity. For example, the lack of black British was noted in many questionnaires. Which leads to a key question, are these data gathering questionnaires measuring nationality or ethnicity?

Furthermore, it was also questioned what would be done with the data once collected. It’s important to establish what reassurance will be given to individuals who are both willing and reluctant to provide their personal data.

Challenging the system

Most of the leaders around the table mentioned they were either the ‘poster boy/girl’ for diversity and inclusion within their organisation, and were managing activity in that space, or had been approached to do so.

They predominantly agreed that, irrelevant of ethnic background, we all have some degree of unconscious bias and therefore need to continue educating ourselves in this space. Further, identifying with an ethnic minority category does not mean you are able to speak on behalf of an entire group of people – or that you have all the answers. This is one of the many reasons why this is such a challenge to resolve. It’s important to work collectively with experts, such as behavioural psychologists, to implement methodologies.

Part of the difficulty as a leader, and a credible challenger to the system, is recognising the limitations you have as a facilitator, the decisions you don’t own and therefore cannot change.

Building a community to talk through the challenges and think through the necessary changes is therefore a key action for us, as a group, to take forwards.

Authentic leadership conversations

Language and effective communication are areas that were consistently raised. It is clear through the conversations, and shared experiences, that many people – including those in senior leadership positions – still find it difficult to talk about race and ethnicity, particularly in the workplace. What’s more, even those with the best of intentions can sometimes get it wrong.

There was also wide agreement with the recent media coverage that it is preferable not to refer to ethnicity using BAME or BME. It’s important to discuss ethnicity in a way that is inclusive and sensitive to how ethnic groups identify themselves.

Next steps

We have set up the BIE Authenticity Network and will be continuing the diversity and inclusion discussion through events, papers and interviews.

The network will focus on how we proactively move this behavioural change agenda forwards in our respective organisations.

Stay tuned for future updates. And, of course, if you are interested in joining this LinkedIn group, please contact us info@bie-executive.com

Catherine Osaigbovo

Written by Catherine Osaigbovo

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