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5 initiatives to consider for recruiting, retaining and developing black talent

In honour of Black History Month in the UK, here are some initiatives organisations should consider to help meet that challenge

By Helen Tudor Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lead, Managing Director in CTS, Sheffield Haworth

With Black History Month here again in the UK, it’s a good time to take stock of how well black communities are represented in your organisation. After all, we’ve long known that greater diversity offers significant benefits for your customers, your ability to innovate, and your bottom line. Combine that with greater awareness of the struggles of British black communities in the wake of the George Floyd case in the US and the argument for greater inclusion has never been stronger.

A quick look at the headlines shows that progress is mixed. The most recent figures show that 74 FTSE 100 companies had ethnic minorities on their company boards as of 2 November 2020, representing “significant progress” on increasing diversity.

On the other hand, the figures for black people specifically are less positive. While people of black origin make up around 3.3% of the national population, the proportion of black executive and non-executive directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies is only 1.1%. What’s worse, this is a decline from the peak of 1.3% six years ago.

As with any societal challenge, solutions are not easy. Here at Sheffield Haworth, we have good representation of black employees in some of our global offices, but others where there is definitely work to do.

We certainly don’t want to claim we’ve got it all figured out, but in the spirit of improvement, we’ve gathered the following list of initiatives drawn from our clients both here in the UK and elsewhere around the world. We hope you find this list useful in your own efforts to promote and enhance black talent.

#1: Measure the ethnicity pay gap in your organisation

In a recent PwC survey, two thirds of companies surveyed said they are collecting data on ethnicity. Around 20% of those surveyed are calculating their ethnicity pay gap, a four-fold increase over PwC’s previous survey on the subject back in 2018.

If your organisation began measuring your ethnicity pay gap, this would put you in the top 20% of UK companies. What’s more, if you then reported on that gap, that level of transparency would likely make you more attractive to black graduate and senior talent. According to PwC, half of the businesses surveyed are planning to report their ethnicity pay gap in the next three years.

At the same time, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has called for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting by 2023.

In short, if you take action now, you will be ahead of the curve. If you wait however, you may quickly become a laggard, and become less attractive to top black talent.

#2: Listen to your black employees

Black employees benefit from spaces where they can influence company culture, raise complaints in confidence – regarding micro-aggressions, for example – or even just build the confidence to find their voice without fear of censure.

There are several ways companies are striving to meet this need. They include employee resource groups (ERGs) for employees of colour (or, more rarely, for black employees specifically), mentoring, “reverse mentoring”, and regular forums where black employees can offer feedback to senior leaders on what is working well and what can be improved.

The idea of setting up employee resource groups for black employees is not new. In the US, it dates all the way back to the 1970s. Today, they have become common in many organisations. Research from the US suggests that black talent is more likely to apply for roles at companies that have ERGs, as well as more likely to stay.

Having an ERG is only the start, however. The majority of such groups are run by volunteers and may struggle for resource. In recent years, more organisations are experimenting with paying extra to employees who run such groups, as well as providing other resources. Supporting an ERG is a sign that you will take it seriously.

Mentoring – especially when you are able to match a more senior black executive with a junior employee – is a great way to build the confidence and skills of your black employees. However, not every organisation has enough senior black leaders to be able to do this. As a result, many organisations are using “reverse mentoring” whereby senior leaders ask for feedback from their junior employees. Many senior leaders have found this process eye-opening and say they have become aware of challenges they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Several of our clients in the banking sector have reported setting up private forums where employees of colour can offer feedback to senior leaders quarterly on what was going well and what they could be doing more of. This gives those employees a place where they could speak freely.

During a global risk management roundtable featuring chief risk officers from the banking sector hosted in June this year, one participant – herself a woman of colour – said her company had discovered that some black colleagues were not willing to speak out when they felt they weren’t being given chances to advance their careers. The question in such circumstances is how to create a safe space internally.

“I’m working with a couple of black colleagues to see whether we could create a safe space for people to talk about issues and support our black colleagues in particular,” she said.

The overarching point is that, to support your black employees, you need to listen to them and respond to their challenges, questions, and frustrations. The precise mechanism will vary from organisation to organisation, but you must listen – and do so sincerely.

#3: Establish tailored leadership development programmes

Many leadership development programmes exist that organisations can tailor to their needs. Over the last few years, these increasingly include the ability to tailor those programmes for black individuals, as well as those from other under-represented minorities.

Such programmes focus on communication skills, building effective personal networks, and harnessing identity and cultural differences for the benefit of individuals and organisations. At present, the most noticeable gap in representation is at the senior level, and several FTSE 100 organisations are looking to make this right by developing their black employees and preparing them for senior leadership roles.

#4: Make a genuine public commitment

Last year, KPMG UK made Dinah Cobbinah – a black woman – a partner. Appointing more black senior leaders and C-suite executives sends out a clear signal that you are committed to equality, and to rewarding talented black leaders as they deserve.

Companies that do this now are, in turn, likely to be more attractive to top black talent. Similarly, appointing more black individuals in senior client facing roles also sends out positive signals.

Making public announcements of your other initiatives – for example providing more resources to your ERGs, or your leadership development programme for talented black individuals – is likely to have a similar impact. It would set you apart as believing in what you say and prove that you don’t just see diversity and inclusion for black individuals as a box ticking exercise.

#5: Review your recruitment process

Finally – and perhaps most obviously – you should review your recruitment process. Are you accidentally drafting job specs that will deter black candidates from applying? Do you have a stipulation that your recruitment partner must provide a minimum percentage of black candidates – or else justify why they cannot?

Here are some other considerations for your recruitment process that we recommend to clients, and which have helped many of them to increase their diversity:

  • Consider your employee value proposition, and if the organisation comes across as attractive to black candidates. If unsure, ask your black employees – and encourage honesty
  • Ensure the interviewers are diverse and balanced
  • Bring in an independent interviewer
  • Provide a sponsor or coach for the interview process
  • Be prepared to spend more time with diverse candidates and build that into timescales
  • Be prepared to spend some time helping the candidate build trust with the firm
  • Be clear on assessment criteria
  • Use formal assessment tools to provide an unbiased view, using results to inform development plans
  • Consider coaching to help the candidate land successfully

The drive to hire quickly often makes it more difficult to attract and hire black candidates, usually because most organisations will need to adapt their processes. The more you focus on speed when filling a position, the more likely you are to hire more of the kind of talent you already have.

When it comes to widening access to black people, it’s also worth looking at schemes such as 10,000 Black Interns. This programme is designed to provide valuable work experience to young black university students, recent graduates, and those on gap years, to give them a competitive advantage when applying for their first full time roles.

You don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do something

Black representation within UK business is not a side issue, a politically correct gesture, or a tiresome obligation. It is central to the future of our economy. Underutilised black talent, where people remain unable to reach their full potential, is a drag on economic performance and an issue that, if left unresolved, could lead to greater social division.

Most organisations recognise this, and want to do more, though they may have been hampered by lack of knowledge, or by having to focus on more urgent issues. The disruption from pandemic may also have played a part in slowing progress.

That said, there are lots of things we can all do to take action. I hope that the suggestions in this article will help you to intensify your diversity and inclusion efforts with respect to black talent as it has for us.

If you have any issues or questions around recruiting or developing black talent – or around how to address diversity challenges in your organisation – please get in touch: