When Your Company Says Nothing

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

It seems everyone is talking about it. From the news outlets, to brands and on every social media platform, race is the hot topic of the moment…again. The last two weeks have been tougher than usual for the Black community, seeing yet another act of police brutality end in murder, being caught on video and shared over and over again online. It has been distressing to see this level of historic violence against people that look like you, your family members and the wider community that you are a part of.

All this whilst we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that also seems to be targeting the BAME community at an alarming rate. It is fair to say that 2020 so far has been an emotional rollercoaster.

Still life goes on. Many of us, if still employed through this, are working from home or are essential workers on the front line. Personally, working through this pandemic was one thing but the news of the racial injustice and violence that resulted in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and then George Floyd plus the vicious actions of Amy Cooper — all within the space of three months, was deeply traumatic. Having to carry on with work and have no one address it at the workplace was upsetting and disappointing to say the least. Why say nothing on a matter that the entire world is speaking on?

I find it interesting that organizations can send updates for Earth Day and ways we can be more environmentally friendly. Or information about mental health awareness week citing resources that can help support mental well being during Covid-19. Some organisations are sending out weekly updates about Covid-19 and sharing the ways in which they are coping and feeling about the situation. All of those topics are important and updates are necessary but it is telling when an organisation that you work for as a Black person doesn’t address the racial injustices and uprisings that are happening across the world.

Yes, I am a Black British woman that lives in the UK; yes, I stand in solidarity with those who are asking for justice and yes, I can’t believe that we are still fighting for racial equality in the justice system in 2020. It doesn’t matter to me that I am not in the US because as a Black person, this still affects me. The issue with framing this as a US racial issue is that the UK is lulled into a false sense of complacency and moral high ground that removes them from the truth of the everyday racism that People of Colour face here in the UK and especially in the workplace. The news of racism reverberates around the Black community worldwide. It is a reminder that racist systems are still very much alive and these moments are triggering our own experiences with racism that we have personally faced and still face today.

I think that what organisations in the UK don’t realize is that their silence on these matters speaks volumes to their Black employees. It shows how out of touch they are to the current climate around racial issues as well as coming across as dismissive to the mental health and wellbeing of their Black employees and co-workers.

In recent years, the importance of mental health and well being have been pushed widely , within corporate spaces and their intranets and rightly so, yet what has been made clear in this time is a lack of empathy and overall emotional intelligence from organisations to see how this is affecting the mental health of their Black employees, coworkers and clients. Racial issues are not new to Black people but this doesn’t mean that we are immune or desensitised from feeling emotion around it. Seeing these images, reading these stories and having to justify and educate why Black lives should matter takes its toll on our mental health. The Black community is collectively mourning injustice and racism across the globe. This is why marches have been taking place here in the UK and statues are being toppled over, because the UK is not innocent when it comes to police brutality or racial discrimination.

Organisations should provide real resources and training about racial equality and diversity and inclusion (EDI).

This is the time to make it mandatory that members of staff company-wide educate themselves on race and racism. Organisations should provide real resources and training about racial equality and diversity and inclusion (EDI). This is the time (if you have a level of relationship) to reach out to Black employees and ask how they are doing in light of all that is happening and offer support.

All organisations should take this time to really look at their EDI strategy and ask themselves the hard questions around their organisations own racial disparities. How many Black people work within your organisation? How many of them hold senior roles? Is there an issue retaining Black talent? and should create safe spaces for conversation with Black employees in a sensitive way or allow the opportunity for them to provide anonymous feedback.Look for ways your organisation can help and support the local Black community or initiatives. Connecting at a local level can help an organisation stay in tune with socioeconomic issues and actually give support in a real way. This isn’t about purely performative actions; just to be seen as doing something. This is the time for intentional action, for those uncomfortable conversations around race and racism to be addressed within the workplace and for active listening and learning. Geographical location doesn’t matter No organisation should be silent on this issue, instead they should do the work around being actively anti racist, send out communications that share your company’s stance on the matter and its plan of action on next practical steps.

Organisations cannot afford to be colour blind on an issue that is playing out so vividly for the whole world to see. Your support in these difficult times cannot be assumed but should be declared.

Written by Sarah Oyeleye - Co-Founder of New Beings

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