White supremacy is a belief that white people are innately superior to people from all other ethnicities and race. From this historic belief, systems and ideologies of exploitation and oppression have been established and defended in order to corroborate and preserve white privilege and power.
Institutional or structural racism is a result of white supremacy informing every system in society – economic, political, educational, legal etc. It gives advantage to white people and in turn maintains racial inequalities and disparities in wealth, employment, health, education and criminal justice.
Indeed, you do not have to look very far to see the influence of white supremacy in the workplace – take a moment to turn your eyes to the C-Suite at your company.
The Parker Review, published in February this year, revealed 37% of FTSE 100 companies do not have any ethnic minority representation on their boards. Similarly, the Office for National Statistics’ analysis of ethnicity pay gaps in Great Britain between 2012 and 2018, demonstrated employees of Black African, Caribbean or Black British on average earned 5 to 10% less than their White British counterparts. Meanwhile, the ethnic pay gap increased yet further for Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, standing at 16.9% and 20.2% respectively.
It is also important that we do not underestimate the effect of white supremacy on employee experience and wellbeing. In their HBR article, Kira Hudson Banks and Richard Harvey highlight the “systemic” and “covert” existence of “corporate brutality” as suffered by Black employees: “the same racialised violence that many are waking up to as unfair, unjust and unacceptable, is happening within the walls of our businesses”. The impact of which cannot be overlooked or downplayed; “People are injured, abused, damaged, and/or destroyed”.
So, how do we overcome white supremacy in the workplace?
Please, no more words. Action.
A company mission statement that declares an inclusive culture is futile if the day-to-day experience of ethnic minority employees does not reflect this.
Dismantling bias requires direct action, but what if you’re not aware of the employee experience? Now is the time to invest resources into conducting research and collating data to build a clear and comprehensive picture of your company culture. Outsourcing this to an independent third-party HR consultancy can be particularly beneficial here as not only will findings be impartial, but they can support in the analysis of the data and set actionable strategies for improvement.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Race and racism are challenging issues. Listening to the experiences of those who have suffered injustice, brutality or violence because of their race is upsetting. White supremacy and white privilege are uncomfortable realities, especially when you are the beneficiary.
However, avoidance is inaction and therefore prevents change.
A primary factor in avoiding having conversations about race and racism is a lack of vocabulary – people feel they lack the language to engage in the dialogue. Attributed to this is a lack of a psychologically safe space to have these conversations and a lack of listening skills – particularly among leadership teams. This is where inclusive leadership training and coaching is crucial. Not only does it equip managers with the skills and language to engage in challenging conversations, it provides them with a confidential space to overcome their fear of making mistakes or saying the wrong thing.
Be accountable. Be an ally.
Change does not happen overnight. It requires constant and consistent commitment and reflection. It also cannot sit squarely on the shoulders of one individual, leader or group. As an organisation, everyone is responsible for cultivating, promoting and protecting a culture of inclusivity.
A key way to establish collective accountability is to encourage allyship. “Allyship is not supporting someone else in their struggle. That just allows you to pick it up and drop it,” writes Korina Holmes in her must-read i news article. “Allyship is making an issue that is not primarily your issue, your issue.”
As an ally with privilege, adding your voice to the conversation validates the anti-racist dialogue. Use phrases such as White Privilege and White Supremacy in a sentence, encourages Holmes. “Don’t be afraid to speak just because you don’t know what language to use; educate yourself, allow yourself to be corrected and don’t take offence. Use your voice and influence to direct your friends and followers towards the voice of someone that is living a marginalised experience.” But, fundamentally, allies do not need to speak for others – “Let us speak, pass us the mic”.
If you’re looking to learn more about dismantling structural racism and embedding change in your organisation, our team at Tell Jane can support you with organisational reviews, D&I strategy development and implementation, and training programmes for upskilling teams and creating an inclusive workplace culture.