Race equality should be at the heart of company values

Out-Law News | 25 May 2021 | 3:52 pm | 2 min. read

Businesses are being urged to continue their work on racial inclusion one year after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis triggered global protests.

Employment and equality law expert Shuabe Shabudin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the movement had shone a light on the deep-rooted racial inequality not just in the US, but around the world.

Last month, Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes during an arrest while the unarmed 46-year-old was handcuffed face down in the street, even after he lost consciousness. Mobile phone video footage by a witness also captured two other officers further restraining Floyd and a fourth preventing onlookers from intervening.

Chauvin is due to be sentenced in June, while the other three officers will face trial in August.

Shabudin, who is a member of Pinsent Masons’ faith, race, ethnicity and equality (FREE) network, said that the work of the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement following Floyd’s death “was a great example of how people can come together to make meaningful change”.

Shuabe Shabudin

Associate, Pinsent Masons

So much of this is about education, and about ensuring that there are people of minority ethnic backgrounds who can act as role models.

“The awareness that was raised around the deep and often debilitating role that racism still plays in our society moved so many of us to look within ourselves and see where we might have all too easily fallen into the trap of causing a micro-aggression, or have relied on simply being ‘not racist’ rather than proactively anti-racist,” he said. “Crucially, I think we realised that difference in treatment due to the colour of your skin isn’t just an ‘American’ problem – it’s something that still exists in our everyday and working lives.”

While the protests following Floyd’s death initially focused on policing, this broadened over the summer to include conversations around the legacy of slavery in the UK, workplace equality and equality in public life. Many businesses, including Pinsent Masons, publicly committed themselves to action against racial injustice.

Shabudin said that, over the past year in particular, businesses had sought to move beyond ‘diversity and inclusion’ and instead towards “belonging as a whole” in the workplace.

“So much of this is about education, and about ensuring that there are people of minority ethnic backgrounds who can act as role models,” he said.

“At Pinsent Masons, I’ve seen some real, tangible and immediate benefits from open and frank discussions about race and ethnicity in the workplace with an emphasis on empowering colleagues to be allies of one another. We’re encouraging clients to move away from presentations and e-learning on this subject – which can often have only limited benefits as they can be seen as tick-box and don’t allow for personal reflection. Instead, we advise clients to consider seminars and workshops where employees can be most engaged,” he said.

When hiring, businesses should also ensure hiring managers were educated about the existence of bias and culture “to help them avoid making assumptions or recruiting in their own image”, he said.

“That feeds into our recommendation of a refresh of company values to ensure that messaging is well thought out and connected, and not seen as tokenism,” he said.

“Employee network groups are also a great way of providing support and canvassing opinion, with participation encouraged whether employees are from minority ethnic backgrounds or not,” he said.