Dear Business Leader, in Brighton and beyond.
These past few weeks we have seen companies around the world – and here in Sussex – stepping up to acknowledge that their successes have been built upon a systemic overlooking of black talent and silencing of black voices. Company leaderships are honestly re-appraising their role within a system that has historically, emphatically privileged white male power and leadership.
Impressively, local companies are standing up to acknowledge that their troubles retaining black talent have been caused by how their own internal cultures were allowed to take shape. They are rethinking the makeup of their leadership teams, to find better ways to partner with minority-owned businesses, organisations and individuals, to develop plans and methods to de-colonise whole companies.
You know that for too long, silence created imbalance.
As a senior leader, we need you to take a strong stance on how you do business. That’s what leadership is. When 12,000 people marched peacefully down Brighton Beach, our city reminded the whole world that the lives of black human beings do indeed matter.
Maybe your own company has already done many of these things:
- Posted widely-shared #BlackLivesMatter images on Instagram
- Added a Linktree to your Instagram bio, sharing ways to show your support for the Black Lives Matter movement
- Referenced the link in your stories a few times, stating your support for – and/or encouraging your team to join – the protests
- Written a blog with more actions for your members to become actively anti-racist
- Perhaps you posted on LinkedIn
- Perhaps you wrote specific newsletters or statements from your business, to address these issues.
Maybe we missed something you chose to share. We’d love to read anything you have to contribute about what you’re doing as a company, to support black voices and benefit from black talent.
Your approach to under-represented groups of people has never been more important.
Of course it is great to nudge clients, suppliers and your wider business community, to hold themselves accountable. Your encouragement of members and followers to be anti-racist is anything but neutral. Many companies referenced Archbishop Desmond Tutu on neutrality in their Instagram feeds and emails.
Tutu famously said: “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
However, we have learnt a hard lesson from a long past. Public statements are not enough.
So. What about in-house? What are your expectations for your own team in regards to being actively anti-racist in your company? If there is no strong, open self-analysis by leadership, or a lack of clear insight into your internal framework, we are left to imagine what your company really thinks, behind closed doors, whatever is shared publicly.
Beyond words, while there is still a numerical imbalance in your teams, one imagines it may be more difficult for black employees, members, entrepreneurs or recent graduates, who may be hesitant to trust they are welcome in your company.
So we have a few hard questions for your senior management team to think about. They are questions we’ve asked in the past about women in tech and creative workplaces. Here in the UK they are also very useful when addressing under-represented LGBTQ+ and even working class talent.
But today we ask them about ethnicity and, most specifically, your black colleagues:
- How does your internal diversity really break down, if you factor in seniority, responsibility and creativity of roles?
- What is the diversity breakdown of the outsourced talent you contract for photography, speaking engagements, or other gig work?
- What is your strategy to ensure you are genuinely inclusive, going forward, beyond simply ticking diversity checkboxes?
- How does your brand use resources and platform to effect positive, progressive change in your community?
- How are suggestions and questions about race from the public or your external stakeholders dealt with, internally?
- Is there a process for complaints like this, or has discussion been had within your teams?
- How can people formally voice concerns, without risking their own positions?
In case of doubt about the landscape of talent in Brighton, we share some statistics for you to consider (data sourced from: Brighton & Hove City Council):
- 2011 census data shows that 20 per cent of Brighton & Hove residents (53,351 people) are from a BME background
- Brighton & Hove’s Black & Minority Ethnic population is increasing. At the time of the 2001 census 12 per cent of your city’s population (29,683 people) were from a BME background. By the 2011 census 20 per cent were (53,351 people).
- There is a substantial student population in the city; at the time of the 2011 census full time students aged over 16 accounted for 14.1 per cent of the population living in the city (32,920), with a third of these (11,206) being from BME backgrounds.
- Chart below shows the ages of those with BME background in Brighton.
- There is a Brighton Women of Colour Group, comprising mostly professionals, with over 400 members.
If the upward trend in black and minority groups matches Brighton’s population increase in the 2021 census, then it will show that even more work needs to be done, to make the city’s companies and co-working spaces more diverse.
You, business leader, have a unique position and a powerful platform to contribute to this, to take a tangible leading role in making our city better.
We look forward to reading your plans and feel free to contact us with your feedback.
Rifa Thorpe-Tracey, Refigure Ltd, SheSays Brighton, Spring Forward Festival.
(Artist: Jess Phoenix)