As Black History Month comes to a close, the conversation about diversity mustn’t close with it.
“I want people outside my community to seize this commemorative time as an opportunity for change, to make an impact, to learn. That doesn’t all end on 1 November. So let’s use this focal moment because it’s there and understand why it’s there,” says Jennifer Thomas, head of communications, data and analytics at the London Stock Exchange Group.
At a roundtable hosted by Raconteur, a panel of business leaders from the Black community tackled topics which included changing recruitment strategies, improving representation in business and where the responsibility lies within companies to elevate Black voices.
1. Re-examine recruitment practices
One of the most effective ways of making an impact with the Black community is a re-examination of corporate recruitment practices. For Dino Myers-Lamptey, founder of strategy agency The Barber Shop, networks play a key role in changing recruitment.
He believes that companies can no longer take the easy option of identifying people already within their networks for early-career roles or using recruiters that do the same for high-level roles for senior jobs. It might mean more work but ensuring recruitment is broad enough to reach wider networks will enable companies to draw from a wider pool of diverse candidates.
He says: “There are enough qualified people who will take that job who are diverse, but they aren’t hearing about it or won’t get the opportunity. The slightly controversial thing I would say is that you need to use nepotism but within different networks because it’s a powerful means of recruitment in early careers.”
Myers-Lamptey also calls on CEOs to take a stand and set the tone from the top. By accepting personal responsibility for building a more diverse business, CEOs can inspire change in their organisations and include diversity in corporate objectives.
One of the programmes which aim to build stronger and more diverse networks of early-careers candidates is 10,000 Black Interns. Its CEO, Rebecca Ajulu-Bushell, adds that once diverse candidates are hired, their careers need to be supported.
“How do we create a sustainable cycle of mentorship, where these people ascend through career spaces? And what does meaningful networking look like?” she asks. The answer lies in the businesses themselves recognising the need to change from within.
Adaora Oramah, founder and CEO of media brand Amaka Studio, believes that Black leaders also have work to do to avoid gatekeeping. “We run into that [mentality of] ‘I need to be the only Black person here,” she says. “There can be more of us. It’s not just one Black voice, there are many voices. The intersectionality of our identities needs to be represented as well.”
2. Improve Black representation
Her company is working to tackle the inherent biases within the media landscape, by ensuring Black women are inspired and paid to work in media and publishing. Amaka Studio, while based in the UK, also operates across Africa, to ensure both the diaspora and African voices are represented.
Within the UK, more work needs to be done beyond the major urban centres to ensure businesses and recruiters are reaching intersectional, diverse candidates, says Ajulu-Bushell. “When you get into spaces like Gloucestershire and Shropshire, the profile of rural Blackness is so different. Diversity means something different. To be Black and from the countryside, you have such a different experience. Diversity in this country needs to be more specific.”
The panellists agreed that it wasn’t enough to hire from a diverse candidate pool because their voices must be heard.
Thomas says: “I’m certainly not seeing enough progress there. And to even have a seat, let alone a voice, at the table you need diversity in the first place. I’m conscious as a leader about who I take into meetings. I make an effort to showcase diverse talent. That’s what amplifying our voice is.”
Representation can be supported by data and statistics, which help companies set objectives and ensure diversity is a crucial part of their key objectives. Myers-Lamptey points to the advertising industry, where cultural perception might show the Black community is well-represented. That may be the case on screen, he says, but behind the camera “it’s just terrible. There’s not that representation.”
Data from Media for All’s MEFA Measures report in April reveals that 77% of respondents in the media and creative industries ”don’t see role models like them in their organisations. Additionally, 37% of Black respondents agreed that their organisations don’t do enough to allow diverse talent to thrive.
The most damning responses come from the 18- to 34-year-old cohort, who charted less confidence in career progression, support for diverse voices and fairness within companies than their older counterparts. Representation in senior roles matters, the panellists agree. But it’s also a matter of a broad swath of the Black community holding senior roles and inspiring young employees from all diverse backgrounds to aspire for more.
Ajulu-Bushell says: “It’s also about a cultural shift and improving cultural literacy. We need people who are representative of a more holistic vision of what diversity means, and that means social mobility first and foremost.”
Nevertheless, companies are making progress in both recruitment and supporting Black people through their careers. Where once the champion of diversity might have been the head of diversity and inclusion – and the buck stopped there – now, corporate leaders are setting the tone from the top.
3. Prioritise diversity for everyone
Diversity is a proven factor for economic success, making diverse recruitment practices a no-brainer. Similarly, once Black employees are in place, mentoring schemes and networking events have been built to support career development.
But within businesses, work needs to be done to ensure diversity is a priority for everyone, not just members of diverse communities.
Thomas says: “It’s everyone’s responsibility. Whether you have direct accountability for hiring or not, we all have to be part of it.”
She says responsibility is often delegated to the D&I role when organisations need to work on the role every person plays in building a more diverse community. To do so, she says, specific targets and plans should be in place to avoid perception bias and emotion-driven decision-making.
Championing Black voices also cannot just be the purview of Black people. “We need to look at the diversity of thought as well as background,” Oramah says, adding that companies should “have that in their thinking and their diversity policy and make it measurable and actionable. It shouldn’t be an afterthought. Diversity should be integrated across the value chain, not delegated to one person or a group of people.”
If a company truly supports diversity, then people across the business will engage in the objective of a more diverse and inclusive culture. That is then reflected in the recruitment space, Myers-Lamptey adds. “Talent will go to the places that are good,” he says, adding that companies which are transparent about their diversity data will see more diverse candidates apply.
Progress has been made across the recruitment, mentorship and representation landscape. But Black History Month offers a crucial moment to reflect on this progress and ensure it doesn’t end here. As Thomas says, it’s a time to reflect and learn but also to understand what further action is needed to elevate Black voices in business.