Black Lives Matter is making us rethink our approach to Equality. Most organisations have management steering groups to monitor their equality strategies and action plans. But the agendas lack passion, fail to inspire and reflect the slow bureaucratic approach to change. Moreover, the groups tend to comprise of managers nominated as representatives of their departments rather than due to their passion for the cause.
Undoubtedly, these groups are set up with the best intentions, but they are not necessarily the best way to champion race equality.
There is another way forward one that is more dynamic, exciting and potentially more effective. Follow the example of one large organisation I worked in and abolished the equality and diversity steering group or its equivalent. If it’s anything like most such groups the effort being put into persuading people to attend meetings isn’t justified by the outcomes. No doubt those selected by their area of the business to attend were nominated by their line manager due to their availability rather than interest and are only too eager to have a diary clash. The result is all to often a meeting made up of unwilling substitutes. What's important is to identify and support people who wanted to champion equality, people at whatever level in the organisation, who have a particular interest in equality and are prepared to put in time and energy to promote it.
The next radical step is for these champions to be focused on race as opposed to the wider equality agenda. It may appear to be a neat organisational solution to have one equality group that looks at the issues with regards to race, gender, disability, faith, sexuality and age and certainly there are issues in common but the breadth of the agenda saps the energy and people who want to be race equality champions don’t necessary want to divert their time and energy into other areas.
The aim is to encourage and support champions enthusiasm, commitment, passion and willingness to speak up.
The next step is for the champions group to change it’s format and become a virtual group. Instead of a group that meets monthly it becomes one that doesn’t meet at all.There are two advantages to this. One, people who identified themselves as champions do not like the idea of attending meetings any more than any one else. Secondly a virtual group has no limit to its membership. These two characteristics fitted well with the idea that anyone within the organisation, at any level, could be a champion. The only criteria is a willingness to actively engage.
In this organisation the Champions did decide that their was some value in meeting face to face and so an annual champions conference was organised supplemented by two workshops a year. One of the directors was a champion and ensured the group had status within the organisation, linked with more traditional equality groups and maintained the list of champions.
The virtual champions group became more influential as it numbers grew being seen as a sounding board for proposals to improve the recruitment process, increase service take up by BAME groups and creat a more positive perception of the organisation.
As organisations grapple with how best to respond to Black Lives Matter the idea of a virtual group of race equality champions could be the difference that puts your organisation into a different league, the champions league
Blair McPherson former Director and author of An Elephant in the Room published by www.russellhouse.co.uk