Leaders can build on the BLM momentum

“I’m really grateful for those who did kneel along with me,” said Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, showing his support for Black Lives Matter. “I think it’s a powerful message, but it won’t change the world.” In the corporate orbit too, it will be steadfast communication and behaviour – not the grand gesture – that results in racial equality in the workplace.

From my many years working in D&I, talent development and change management within global financial services, I’m confident most leaders are well intentioned to address inequalities. You need only look at the rise in the number of affinity groups and community mentoring projects sponsored by firms in Canary Wharf and the City.

However, so far this hasn’t led to meaningful change. UK-wide BAME individuals hold a mere 6% of management positions despite accounting for around 13% of the UK population. Even worse is that half of FTSE 100 companies have no one from a BAME background on their boards or Excos.

Here are three things leaders can do right now if they are serious about addressing these shortfalls:

First, communicate why data collection is fundamental to furthering your long-term goals. ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure’, is a common management refrain. Yet most Western European companies have poor data on ethnicity. There is no legal requirement to collect this data and employees sometimes choose not to share such details because they mistrust how it will be used or are insulted to be asked. It’s a very delicate area, but I believe there’s an opportunity here to explain why we, as leaders, need this data to quantify the magnitude of change required and measure outcomes.

Second, pay as much attention to informal communication as formal. One thing I’ve learned is how quickly individuals believe themselves to be in an “out group”. This is just as likely to take place during informal conversations and settings as it is at town hall presentations. Informal banter can set the day-to-day tone, so its important to become more aware of how you interact in these environments and pay special attention to words that grate. I’ve seen real success with initiatives that give people a common language to speak up about things in a respectful way. In one initiative, we adjusted all the material related to recruitment and talent assessment to identify speaking up as a quality to be rewarded. The conversations that ensued were enlightening and positive. A tangible outcome over the course of a year was that it helped managers resist recruiting replicas of themselves.

Third, hold your people (and yourself) to account on results.  Perhaps the most revealing piece of research about why change has been so slow came from the Power of Diversity programme, spearheaded by Dame Fiona Woolf in her role as the first female Lord Mayor of London. Their research identified a startling accountability gap: while 84% of respondents agreed that “my senior leaders are doing all the right things,” only 27% said “and I feel under some sort of pressure to do something about it too.”

I’ve seen too much time wasted in organisations proving the business case for diversity instead of communicating with complete clarity on objectives and then coaching and challenging managers to achieve those targets. Financial services is an industry obsessed with targets. In no other aspect would failure to deliver on targets be tolerated.

None of these activities are flashy or grand. Nevertheless, they are practical ways for enlightened leaders to build on the current momentum to foster teams that truly reflect the customers they serve.

Ricky is a talent, D&I, Culture and organisational development expert, who has held senior roles at Collinson, S&P Global and Deloitte.