Tackling Racism in Organisations - an interview with Raafi Alidina, Frost Included

​​​​​In September, we ran our first ever Tackling Racism Masterclass, with facilitator Raafi Alidina from Frost Included, a company which brings together global leaders with deep expertise in diversity and inclusion. The masterclass was a success, with delegates eager to learn more about how they can implement change in their organisation. We asked Raafi a few questions on the importance of this kind of training for organisations. Click here to apply for our next masterclass. 

Were there any common misconceptions people had about tackling racism upon joining the course?

I wouldn’t say there we
re misconceptions, per se, but more that there were gaps in knowledge – understandable ones, to be sure – about racism. For example, there are a lot of very specific terms that have become common parlance around racism in society, but there is often confusion about what those terms really mean. Examples include terms like Systemic Racism, Anti-racism vs. non-racism, White Privilege, White Fragility, Microaggressions and Intersectionality.

Moreover, the way that these terms are used in popular press often provide a very shallow understanding of truly complex concepts. Even for those who do know what these terms mean, it’s often hard to articulate them in a way that people actually understand.

By going in depth into these concepts, using interactive examples like activities and videos, we’re able to clarify as well as deepen participants’ understanding of these ideas that are truly critical to becoming actually anti-racist.

 

Have you found that different sectors face different challenges in tackling racism, and implementing strategies? If so, can you give us examples and how they are overcome?

It’s definitely true that different sectors face different challenges in this area. Part of that is due to how these organisations are structured. In our experience, private sector organisations tend to have a bit less bureaucracy than public sector ones – bureaucracy that makes it difficult to just up and change your hiring process. On the other hand, we also find that it is sometimes easier in the public sector to ensure that policies and procedures are actually followed correctly. So there are positives and negatives in any sector. These can be overcome if you have buy-in from the top decision-makers in the organisation, and if you’re able to tie following procedure to some sort of accountability mechanism or institute a system of checks and balances.

What we find most effective across sectors, though, are individual interventions. These are nudges that any individual can institute themselves – small changes that can have a big effect. The goal is to de-bias the way that we work rather than the people. We know that all of us have unconscious biases, it’s just human nature. We also know it’s REALLY hard, if not impossible, to change our unconscious mind. As such, it’s a much more efficient and effective method to de-bias systems – that is, to remove the opportunity for bias to even come into play.

 

What are the most common questions you are asked about organisations tackling racism, and what do you advise them?

Often the most common question is simply: “What do we do about it?” I think developing a robust understanding of what the issue is first is critical. But often we just stop there – OK, we understand it, great. But when it comes to what we can do about it, we talk about how there are really 3 approaches to doing D&I work broadly, including tackling racism.

The first approach is what we call Diversity 101. Based around compliance, Diversity 101 is simply ensuring that your organisation isn’t breaking any laws around discrimination and equal rights. This is essential, but is really only the bare minimum of what a firm should be doing.

 

The second approach is Diversity 2.0. A marketing-led approach, Diversity 2.0 is about having key milestones or cases to prove to consumers and prospective recruits that the company cares about diversity and inclusion and has made progress. It may highlight winning awards, or having a diverse workforce, or that it sponsored or hosted a talk about disability rights or marriage equality. However, these are more indicative of the image that the company wants to portray than of the actual inclusiveness of the company day-to-day.

 

In fact, when the UK mandated that all companies with over 250 employees publicly report their gender pay gaps in 2017, we were finally able to show this phenomenon with data to back up our anecdotal evidence and case studies. We looked at the gender pay gaps of companies that are often touted as the best companies in terms of gender equality: The Times Top 50 Places to Work for Women, the Glassdoor Top 50 Organisations, and the last 10 years of Catalyst award winners. What we found is that these companies that are often celebrated for their gender equality actually tend to have WORSE gender pay gaps than the average British company. In fact, more than 90% of the companies we looked at had gender pay gaps that were worse than the national average.

 

When we looked again a year later, we saw that this trend hadn’t changed much. What’s more, we found that even for those companies that had closed their salary gap, they often increased their bonus gap. This just highlights the fact that when taking a marketing-led approach to diversity and inclusion, an organisation may win awards or some good press but they won’t necessarily get any reasonable, sustainable change.

 

And there’s a clear reason for this lack of real progress: both the Diversity 101 and 2.0 approaches see diversity and inclusion as being about “the other”, and about helping these others fit in. As such, it’s almost considered like some extra charity work that a company does on the side. Indeed, diversity and inclusion in some companies we work with is housed in the Corporate Social Responsibility side of the company. The consequence of this is that none of these companies actually ends up being truly inclusive, and all their “diverse” workforce that they recruit ends up leaving in frustration at being duped.

 

Instead of this, organisations should take an approach we call Inclusion 3.0. This approach takes the perspective that a diverse workforce is critical to the success of a company, and that inclusion is essential to leveraging that diversity. The reason this is important is because while we know that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones, that only happen when these teams are also inclusive. That is, teams need to embrace and leverage their diversity in order to reap all the benefits that diversity can bring. It’s about making everyone feel like they belong, like their voice matters, and like they don’t have to conform to others in order for their opinions or ideas to be valued.

 

Inclusion 3.0 considers diversity and inclusion work to be a way of doing business, rather than something done on the side. As such, inclusion becomes a consideration in all actions taken by leaders, and policies work to make inclusion part of all day-to-day behaviours that employees practice. As a result, this approach creates a culture of inclusion weaved into the very fabric of the organisation.

 

What three key takeaways will an individual gain from this masterclass?

  1. Participants will have a clear and in-depth understanding of key concepts like Systemic Racism, Intersectionality and Privilege.
  2. Participants will be able to map where their own biases and blind spots might lie, and how they can play a role in building a more anti-racist organisation.
  3. Participants will have real tools – both individual and systemic – that they can incorporate into their day-to-day work to build an anti-racist culture. Moreover, they’ll be armed with methodologies that will allow them to create their own tools as well.

 

Have you got any success stories of a delegate implementing any tools they’ve learnt in this masterclass? If so, what are they?

I know that some delegates have incorporated something called partnering into their day-to-day work. This idea is best illustrated by an example: let’s say a black man and a white woman are in a meeting together and they decide to be partners. In that meeting, then, it is the white woman’s job to keep an eye out for instances of discrimination or microaggressions against the black man because of his race, and to call them out when they do happen. On the other side, the black man is meant to do the same for instances of sexism that he notices happening to the white woman.

This method has 2 benefits: 1) it takes the burden of calling out issues of discrimination off of the marginalised person. It also means the call out is more likely to be listened to by other members of majority groups. 2) It makes it easier to begin incorporating active allyship into one’s day-to-day life. Being an ally isn’t easy, but by being able to focus on one person rather than a whole host of issues allows us to ease into this work.

Those who I’ve spoken to who have already begun incorporating this have said that not only have they had great feedback from minority colleagues on this, but it also made being a proper ally less daunting for them. They also were very explicit about how they were going to implement partnership in meetings, and their team responded very positively. It has now become a standard operating procedure in their team, and they hope to expand this to more teams (and the rest of the organisation) moving forward.