Wednesday 26 August 2020 7:00 am

Six steps to true racial equality in business

Dion McKenzie is founder of Colorintech and Black Tech Fest.

When we look back at 2020, what will have changed in the business world? I don’t mean social distancing and remote working. I mean actual systemic change: accountability, consequences, promotions, and retention.

The combination of coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has raised questions about the tech industry’s problem with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) people. Why are Black people in tech twice as likely to be unemployed due to Covid-19? Why are their chances of slipping into poverty double that of the national average? Why is technology reaching the market that still doesn’t recognise Black facial features?

Self-serving policies and platitudes paper over real problems. This is not a PR crisis that requires a strategy. Businesses need an operational imperative to drive change. 

This year has to mark a turning point. It has to. Without a total recalibration of perceptions of race in the tech industry, the businesses which fail to act — which protect the status quo — will in time become irrelevant. 

Here are six things that businesses, individuals and organisations can do — to start.

Treat diversity like profit

In response to BLM, lots of firms hired “chief diversity officers”. That’s no bad thing. But why are they not held to the same standards as other c-suite members? Often these roles are reactive; insurance policies to shift the blame from the boss. 

Many diversity officers are set up to fail: no budget, no influence, siloed in HR. Bring them to the top table and take them seriously. If a chief financial officer significantly missed profit targets, they would be fired. If your board and staff looks no different to how it did a year ago, should your chief diversity officer still be in a job?

Give the floor to someone else

If you are invited to speak in front of the board, at a conference, or wherever else, ask why you’ve been chosen over a Black colleague. If you can’t find a good reason, refuse to speak and suggest your colleague. 

If the panel you are speaking on contains no Black people, ask why. Put your ego aside. Ask uncomfortable questions. Hold the organisers accountable. It is only through doing so that lazy underrepresentation will start to die out.

Access

People grow into the jobs that feel within reach for them. If you’ve lived a white middle class existence, the path to top tier employment is clear — your parents, their friends and most people around you will have walked a similar path. If you’re a first generation migrant whose parents don’t speak English, that path is non-existent. 

Businesses need to make themselves available. This goes beyond “hiring outside their own image”, and starts with the products they make and the people they choose to elevate internally as role models.

Transparency

Companies have committed large sums to donate to black charities and organisations. But when pressed on where that money is going, most don’t have a clue or won’t tell you — trust me, I’ve asked. 

Jack Dorsey is a good example of how to do this right. He committed $1bn and has a Google Sheet regularly updated with the destinations of that cash. Too many businesses have ridden the wave of BLM as little more than a self-serving PR exercise. Don’t just say you’re doing something — prove it.

Use your platform to elevate black businesses

If you have a platform, use it. If you’re Uber Eats or Deliveroo, offer money, advice, representation or whatever you can afford to elevate small black businesses. 

Many Black people don’t have a friend in PR, a pal who does marketing, a chap who made it in PE. You have the power to make a difference by putting money in people’s pockets. Elevate them, and level the playing field. 

Make room

Does your board have any Black people? No? Make room. Seriously. If the board of your company doesn’t reflect in any way the population of this country, then you are actively acting against the interests of Black communities. 

Move someone, fire someone, create a new role, whatever it takes. There is always room at the top, so make some.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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