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  • Rita

Beyond black history month: The work of HR

Black History Month (BHM) in the UK started in 1987 by a Akyaa Addai-Sebo, who wanted to challenge racism, celebrate the history of black people and instil pride in young black learners. That is definitely what BHM has done for me growing up! It was the first time I learnt that we are not only subjugated peoples and prompted me to dig into my own east African background.

All types of work places now celebrate Black History Month by spotlighting black employees, relevant CSR (corporate social responsibility) and facilitating learning events to challenge bias and knowledge gaps on black history or how race plays out in the workplace. However, rarely do we see HR take centre stage on leading the work to create truly equitable organisations.

What’s working well in BHM’s currently

The work of Black History Month organisers over the decades has had huge impact in the UK. It’s set the course for campaigns on a more inclusive school curriculum, employee led events broaching difficult topics, organisations like Black History Walks(walking tours of the UK) and more.

Learning about lesser known UK black history and beyond contributes to changing negative perceptions, and improves confidence in young black children. We should definitely keep doing that!

Exposing people to black cultures and foods increases appreciation for cultures of black African and Caribbean descent, as there’s a lot of negative associations with African foods in particular.

Discussing why there is a lack of diversity in your organisation and industry acknowledges the issue, but often times, year after year the conversation continues without very much changing.

People at work around a laptop

Beyond BHM: what can you do?

The desire to learn and create meaningful change is there, but often leaders and employees do not know where to start. Here are some suggestions:

  • Treat improving diversity and outcomes for BAME employees like any other piece of work. Give it resource, create KPIs on it and assign it like any other project to leaders and teams.

  • Develop the cultural competency of people managers and the HR team.

  • Learn how racial discrimination plays out in the work place and spot the trends in your organisation.

  • Improve the data of your informal and formal grievances. Capture what’s going on and who’s effected.

  • Conduct a listening exercise for BAME staff and separate sessions by identity to capture specific experiences.

  • Learn about race, language and its limits so you can confidently speak on the matter of race.

  • Learn about how institutions and workplaces reproduce disparities and discrimination.

Here are some resources to get you started:

  1. Check out the Hofstede Model (or similar) and equip yourself and colleagues with the language and awareness of how culture impacts how you lead, communicate and collaborate.

  2. Read The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.

  3. Read The Racial Code by Nicola Rollock.

  4. Read the key reports on race in the workplace e.g Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities (2021), Racism at Work in the UK (Pearn and Kandola 2021), Race in the UK workplace Mckinsey, TUC on Race. There are many more historical reports, but this is a start!

For us as leaders and HR professionals our responsibility is to prioritise learning and turning what we have learnt into action. Lots of people have done the research and have told us how we can change organisational structures and practices, so that we can improve the experiences of racialised employees.


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