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ICE Community blog

Actions you can take to tackle racism at work

Date
14 September 2022

These eight actions can help organisations to ensure their workplaces are diverse and inclusive.

Actions you can take to tackle racism at work
Talking about race is a simple, but effective, action that organisations can enable. Image credit: Shutterstock

The ICE's Anti-Racism Toolkit is a resource for organisations who want practical advice on how to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and representative.

The following is an excerpt from the toolkit, which gives ideas for how to achieve this goal.

1. Make an action plan

group of diverse people talking in a circle
Enable people to share experiences. Image credit: Shutterstock

The Association for Black and Ethnic Minority Engineers (AFBE-UK)’s Access A – Action Plan sets out the positive steps any organisations can take.

Leadership is crucial. When the lead comes from the top, buy-in from all employees will follow.

Your action plan should include the following points:

Stance

Firm up the company’s stance and policy. This requires visible leadership and a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination. This applies to employees, suppliers, sub-contractors and clients.

Start talking

Enable people to share experiences including examples of where they stepped in or even suffered.

If managers are actively participating as well, then staff will feel managers care and can be trusted.

Ask staff for their opinions on how to make people feel included.

Data

Establish a baseline – where does the company stand? If a micro-business, this may be relatively easy.

Gather recruitment data, from application to shortlisting, interview and appointment, and break this down to specific ethnic groups, not simply white and ‘other’. Check this against demographics.

Do the same for promotion and retention. Look at using exit interviews to understand how the company is viewed.

You might also:

2. Develop company policy, guidance and materials

Cover of ICE Anti-racism toolkit
The ICE has produced an Anti-Racism Toolkit.

Develop company policy, guidance and materials. Circulate these to all new joiners, including this toolkit.

Make available resources to provide context to the history and experiences of marginalised groups.

3. Become an ally

raised fist at protest
Allyship is more than just attendance at a demonstration. Image credit: Shutterstock

Being an ally is important, but it’s also not a status you should bestow upon yourself.

To be an ally requires working for change and breaking down systemic barriers.

WhiteAccomplices.org distinguishes between actors, allies and accomplices, usefully summarised by Penny Rabiger, co-founder and trustee of the grassroots BAMEed Network.

Actor

An actor is ‘more like a spectator in a game'. It is performative support which doesn't challenge racism.

We need more than just wearing a T-shirt, liking something on social media or attendance at a demonstration.

Actors have only a minimal impact on change.

Ally

An ally is active.

You should not call yourself an ally – that’s for others to decide - but behave as if you are one.

An ally will understand white privilege, recognise institutional racism and work to eradicate it, often in predominantly white environments and contexts.

An ally isn’t a bystander, and will interrupt, and explain why comments, behaviours and systems are unacceptable.

Importantly, being an ally is not an invitation to ‘whitesplain’ things to people of colour.

Accomplice

Accomplices go further.

They realise that individuals are conditioned by and accepting of organisational structures that are systemically racist and do not give up in the face of indifference or opposition.

Their actions will be informed by and may well be directed by people of colour.

Accomplices will be collaborative.

They will not be using their work to seek recognition. They can expect to be diminished in their efforts.

Accomplices will persist even when an event is deemed less newsworthy.

Actions for allies

  • Recognise your own privilege. You probably weren’t lucky to get that job – recruitment may have worked in your favour.
  • Stand alongside your Black and brown colleagues and support them. Be an active bystander.
  • Continue with that support in all-white spaces.
  • Challenge discrimination of all types.
  • Do your own research. Read. Don’t expect people of colour to educate you on anti-racist strategies.
  • Always speak out first if something is wrong. Don’t leave it to the person of colour.
  • Listen and support people who confide their concerns.

4. Be an active bystander

Person holding your silence is complicit sign
An active bystander calls out the inappropriate behaviour. Image credit: Shutterstock

When you observe a situation which doesn’t feel right, trust your discomfort.

An active bystander will recognise behaviours which are inappropriate or potentially dangerous and will seek to intervene with others if necessary.

Direct

Call out the behaviour and tell the offender to stop. Try to stay low-key and try not to escalate the situation.

Point out why the behaviour is offensive but make it factual – no adjectives, no attributing motives and no emotion. Provide reassurance to the victim.

Distract

Step up, and distract the offender so that the victim can remove themselves from the situation.

Delegate

If you don’t feel confident enough to intervene, call in someone else – a manager at work, a steward at a venue or a train guard for example

Delay

When a situation is potentially violent or when it is a group of people posing a threat, try to walk away taking the victim with you.

When the situation has passed, ask the victim later if they are happy for you to report it.

5. Call out aggression and micro-aggressions

white man talking to Black man in office corridor
Think before you speak, to avoid saying something that might have a negative impact. Image credit: Shutterstock

Openly racist comments are easily spotted and must be called out.

Micro-aggressions are much harder to call out.

They may seem trivial and easy to ignore, but the cumulative effect of years of disparaging comments is wearing and distressing:

Examples of micro-aggressions

  • Where are you from? If you’re white, you’ll rarely have been asked this.
  • Your English is really good. This implies that the questioner has a stereotypical view of how someone from a minority ethnic group should speak.
  • We need to have a discussion about this. This is often used to deny someone’s lived experience.
  • I’m colour blind. I don’t see colour. This denies part of a person’s identity and is a form of gaslighting.
  • As a woman/gay man/lesbian, I know what you’re going through. A comment like this has the effect of denying the lived experience of people from ethnic minorities.

How to avoid micro-aggressions

Think

What’s going on at the moment and what’s the context?

Will what I was about to say have negative impact? Is it even necessary?

Listen

Don’t become defensive.

Don’t turn yourself into the victim by being hurt.

Don’t attack someone for being too sensitive ‘it was only a joke’.

Do try to understand the point of view of the other person.

Adapt

If you are feeling sensitive about having been challenged, you probably recognise that the challenge was justified.

Take it on board and adapt. People of colour spend their entire lives adapting.

6. Talking about race - the practicalities

Black woman sitting between white man and Asian woman in front of laptop
Create safe spaces for discussion. Image credit: Shutterstock

Talking about race can be uncomfortable for minority ethnic employees and white employees.

CIPD’s Tackling racism in the workplace is a comprehensive guide for HR leaders covering all potential questions a company may have.

Creating safe spaces for discussion, such as an employee consultation group, is essential. These can be ‘actual’ or ‘virtual'.

Points to consider

  • There should be a clear reason for having a conversation. Change is a reason to start a conversation; enabling a safety valve so staff can let off steam less so.
  • Absolute confidentiality must be maintained. If a senior manager attends, they must be trusted to maintain confidentiality/anonymity if consent is given to feeding back concerns.
  • Listen to and acknowledge the perspectives of your ethnic minority employees.
  • Acknowledge that conversations can be uncomfortable but try to avoid defensive behaviours.
  • Consider allowing allies to be part of the groups, by invitation.
  • Provide a budget and/or a designated time allocation for an organiser.
  • Search out shared understanding. Ask open questions.
  • Acknowledge the diverse and different experiences of minority ethnic employees.

7. Use mentoring and training

Young black man sat at computer with older white woman
Consider deploying reverse mentoring schemes. Image credit: Shutterstock

You may have addressed recruitment, but if your minority ethnic employees leave within a couple of years, ask why.

Use mentoring and buddy schemes. Pair new employees with senior employees from minority ethnic backgrounds to help them develop their careers.

Or match minority ethnic staff with more experienced managers willing to discuss their roles, answer questions and hear about the challenges faced by someone who may feel isolated.

Consider reverse or reciprocal-mentoring schemes, whereby younger ethnic minority employees mentor senior leaders and managers.

When piloting your mentoring scheme, use the experiences of participants to develop and evolve the scheme.

Encourage your team to join networks such as ABFE or NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction), and to seek support and guidance outside the company.

8. Build diversity and inclusion into your performance reviews

Asian woman talking to white woman
Include inclusion targets in performance reviews. Image credit: Shutterstock

Diversity and inclusion targets can be built into performance reviews for board members and line managers.

BITC’s Race At Work Charter One Year On (2019) found that while 50% of respondents’ board and senior teams had performance objectives that included action on race, only 21% of line managers had such objectives.

The high-level objectives may be quantitative and/or qualitative. 

When reviewing progress, if there's a difference in performance at different grades, it's also worth checking for structural disparities.

For example, minority ethnic employees disproportionately working in areas where outstanding performance is harder to achieve or measure, being deployed to undertake routine work rather than prestigious projects.

Access the full Anti-Racism Toolkit

The ICE has published a second version of its Anti-Racism Toolkit to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to EDI.

The aim of the toolkit is to offer a voice to the lived experiences of the ICE’s Black and minority ethnic members. It seeks to ensure that civil engineering is an industry that is representative of those who work in it.

It’s no longer enough to be non-racist or not overtly offensive. The ICE calls for the industry to treat racism the same way it treats a health and safety issue – stop and report it.

The Anti-Racism Toolkit

  • Anh Nguyen, digital content lead at ICE