As the UK takes careful steps back to work, Black Lives Matter protests fill our streets. We are heading back to offices in a much heralded new dawn but in reality, how much has actually changed?
Today, equality in business is protected by law; the right to equal employment brought about by protests and action of generations before ours. But the sad reality is this is not reflected in society. BAME people remain criminally under-represented in so called “elite” professions.
As we attempt to reopen the economy, businesses must address equality as a matter of urgency. Not just to honour their legal obligation, and not just because Black Lives Matter is mobilising a generation that will boycott those that don’t comply – because we need to give the whole of society a chance of post-coronavirus economic recovery.
Minority groups stand to suffer more than their white counterparts from the economic fallout of Covid-19. BAME people are more likely to be on zero-hour contracts, or unemployed, and more are in high-turnover roles. They are less likely to have savings, and more likely to have exhausted any they did have during the challenging lockdown period.
Recent history has shown us that recovery does not work if you only take certain parts of society with you. In its report, “Ethnicity and the Economic Impact of Covid-19”, The Prince’s Responsible Business Network outlined the disproportionate economic suffering of ethnic minorities during the 2008 recession. It considered the consequences for the economy if the same were to happen now.
The report noted that only one in ten people in the workplace are BAME, dropping to just one in 16 on boards. It noted, “Existing economic disparities could lead to a profoundly devastating and disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from ethnic minority backgrounds.”
Whole communities could be left without employment, relying on benefits systems and suffering not only financially but mentally, emotionally and socially too.
The impact on the UK economy could be devastating, but addressing the issues now could have the opposite effect. The report also highlighted the recent McGregor-Smith review into race in the workplace, which found that tackling racial disparities in the UK market could result in an annual economic boost worth £24bn.
What can businesses do now to redouble efforts on diversity and inclusion, with fewer resources and more problems to solve than ever before? The answer is simple. They must take this opportunity to start afresh. They must interrogate their existing processes and practices. In every meeting, ask who in the room is BAME. If the answer is “no one” or “too few” they must act for change. All businesses must proactively, almost aggressively, work to address the disparities that exist in their ranks.
The Black Lives Matter movement has captured the hearts and minds of the world. Finally, the movement is reaching a tipping point towards equality. But to allow the violence portrayed in certain media and in some social networks to become its defining image would play in to a far-right ideology that labels the protests as “thuggery”. It would weaken our chance to lobby for change and risk a counter movement, with the only outcome being more violence, opposition and segregation.
Black Lives Matter has a chance now to create meaningful, lasting change. It is clear that economic equality can drive wider equality. We must harness the anger and frustration being felt by people of all ethnicities to hold businesses to account.
James Adeleke is founder and CEO of Generation Success, the award-winning social enterprise working to create a world where your birth does not define your career outcomes
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