Challenging racism at work

Sometimes the ugly face of racism shows itself in the workplace. When this happens the damage is both personal and undermines the business itself.

Challenging racism at work

Sometimes the ugly face of racism  shows itself in the workplace. When this happens the damage is both personal and undermines the business itself.  

In his latest article on ‘Diversity in the workplace’ Phil Hobden of examines, with prominent anti racist campaigner Kayleigh Graham, the issues that are at stake. 

Phil says: Over the last 9 months I’ve broached subjects as diverse as funding, technology and mental health.  But, if you could boil 2020 down to a topic, other than COVID, then the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and the wide reaching effects this movement has had on the perception and awareness of diversity across the world, would be it. 

Hence, I intend to devote my column this month to discussing Black Lives Matter and being ‘anti racist’. I have asked Kayleigh Graham, one of the Capitalise partnership managers and someone who I respect deeply for her work on raising awareness in the industry we work in, to share her thoughts on this issue with the Elite Business community. 

Kayleigh says:  Cross industry research consistently demonstrates that diverse teams produce better business outcomes. It is the key to innovation and growth. Diversity has been a central topic of conversation this year and whilst it’s great to hear people talking about change, the change itself has been slow. 

2020  saw the horrific murders of  black men and women across the globe. Thanks to the huge media presence of the Black Lives Matter movement, people have been forced to recognise the biases that exist in themselves and the world around them. With this has come a realisation that simply  ‘not being racist’ is not enough. As a result many new allies have joined the ‘anti-racists.’ 

But, the question arises what does it actually mean to be anti-racist? For me it is the practice of opposing racism but, more importantly, promoting racial tolerance. 

In reality this means not making excuses for discriminatory behaviour or dismissing instances with comments such as ‘that’s just how things were when we were growing up.’ Every time a person does that, they downplay the severity of the discrimination that exists and belittle the lived experiences of black people.

Being anti-racist is about standing up and being counted. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and challenging  behaviours you believe to be wrong. It’s important to remember that this may be a little clumsy at first. You might say the wrong thing, you might not know everything, you may need to look long and hard at yourself and your own biases, both conscious and unconscious. But that’s ok. 

What’s not ok is sitting in silence. If you’re not part of the solution, I’m afraid you become part of the problem.

My Story

Throughout my childhood I was subjected to abuse and bullying due to the colour of my skin and the fact that my hair was curly. At the start of my career I was the only woman and the only person of colour in my office. As a result, afraid of experiencing the same insult, hurt and rejection I have felt in the past,  over timeI changed the way I presented myself and my background to fit the stereotypes of my surroundings. 

Building an anti-racist culture in your business will help to prevent anyone else feeling the way I did. It will allow them to be comfortable and for their voices to be heard. Diversity in identity, leads to diversity of thought and that is the key to a successful business.

Building an anti-racist culture

Most people I have met are not actively racist and would be incredibly offended if you said otherwise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have  unconscious biases that mean they make decisions and behave in ways that are detrimental to people of colour. 

That said, there are 3 key things I always suggest to business owners when they ask for advice on how they can adopt an anti-racist stance:

1. Educate yourself.  It’s 2020, access to information is almost unlimited and there are so many resources available on the topic. Some of my personal recommendations are below:

2. Be aware of your unconscious biases. Do you shy away from pronouncing difficult names? Do you think that braids, dreadlocks or afros look ‘less professional’ and tidy? Do you change your vocabulary when around people of colour to fit stereotypes? If you use any graphics of people in your marketing, are they all white? 

3. Adopt a zero tolerance approach to racist behaviour. Do not ignore, dismiss or downplay these things. Speak up, express your concerns and make it clear it won’t be tolerated. This will feel uncomfortable at first and that’s ok. The more you do it, the easier it will become. 

Change takes time, but it will happen much faster if everyone shows up and actively fights against racism on a daily basis. It might be clumsy, it might be uncomfortable but it will be worth it.  

Black lives matter. Now. Tomorrow. Always. 

You can find out more about Kayleigh by connecting with her on Linkedin at
Find out more about Black Lives Matter at 

Phil Hobden
Phil Hobden

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