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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Hibaq Farah

Workplace inclusion drives have almost trebled since BLM protests, survey shows

A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast in 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd
A Black Lives Matter protest in Belfast in 2020 in response to the killing of George Floyd. Photograph: Conall Kearney/Rex/Shutterstock

The number of employers implementing new diversity and inclusion drives has almost trebled since the end of the Black Lives Matter protests, new research shows.

A total of 27% of minority-ethnic workers said their employers had introduced new initiatives during the last 12 months in response to the global movement, according to an Opinium survey of 2,000 adults. This was an increase from 10% in 2020, the year in which protests began after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in the US state of Minnesota.

The latest Multicultural Britain survey, undertaken by the pollsters in partnership with the advocacy organisation Reboot, said that almost half (47%) of minority-ethnic workers had seen their employer take some sort of action to tackle racism and diversity problems – up from 40% in 2020.

“We were interested in questioning whether promises made by employers after George Floyd were just an example of performative activism or if we were still seeing the action happening today, which is why we specifically asked whether employers have taken action,” said Priya Minhas, the lead researcher of the Multicultural Britain series.

In 2020, 73% of minority-ethnic people said they had experienced discrimination, but this year, for the first time since the Multicultural Britain series began in 2016, that figure dropped to 64%. Minhas said that it was difficult to tell whether this was positive change as a result of the global protests or because of people largely working from home and restrictions in socialising due to the pandemic.

“While there have been improvements in increased satisfaction in what employers are doing, and more people feeling that businesses and organisations are making an authentic effort to tackle racism, there is still work to be done and clearly there are still issues in the workplaces that need to be addressed,” she said.

The survey results show that there have been some positive changes in the workplace – somewhat allaying concerns that businesses and companies were committing to anti-racism only in the height of the summer of 2020.

Sereena Abbassi, an inclusion practitioner who has worked with organisations including Sony Music, the NHS and English National Ballet, said there were encouraging signs the protests were a watershed moment.

She said: “In some instances, there are businesses and employers who were very performative in their work and the catalyst seemed to be George Floyd’s murder for them to accelerate their work around diversity, inclusion and equity, but there are also others who have decided to take it very slow and are instead doing the work quietly, rather than showing up just for the optics.”

Abbassi added that she had seen a continued appetite from companies and organisations to want to work with her and that the protests had inspired people to change.

From the clients Abbassi has worked with, she feels training sessions and conversations have been successful in contributing to a more diverse and inclusive workspace.

She said: “More businesses are thinking about positive action and organisations have developed initiatives like mentoring schemes to ensure junior staff have contact with senior staff. After the protests we saw a lot of rage from people of colour, but also white allies within organisations.”

Asked about the survey results that showed people were having fewer conversations about race this year than in the summer of 2020, Abbassi said a possible reason for this was that there was a real sense of fatigue when discussing race, especially for ethnic minorities who carry the burden of educating white people in their workplaces. She added that people may be concerned that having conversations about race would lead to them saying the wrong things and that it could cost them their job.

Lawrence Heming, the assistant director of EY’s UK diversity and equity team, said the survey results showed it was important for people to understand how recent events such as the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests had affected things, either positively or negatively, for ethnic minorities.

Heming says although the results showed that some issues surrounding race were still prevalent and that “we are nowhere where I would say we need to be”, there were findings that suggested things were slowly shifting.

He added: “More firms in the corporate sector are introducing initiatives and policies to tackle racism and more people are being more mindful on certain issues – this has had a positive impact, but it is important for places to still be held accountable, today, for the commitments they made in 2020.”

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