It’s been a fortnight now since George Floyd was slowly murdered by a group of Minneapolis police officers. For much of the time since, I’ve alternated between angry, sad, and frustrated. As a company, we’ve obviously talked internally about the incident and the issues it highlighted, both in 1:1s and as a larger group. But, up until now, we haven’t said anything publicly.
Let me start by explaining that Society stands in solidarity with black people in the United States and around the world who face discrimination, violence, and oppression. We recognise that there are systemic obstacles – including deep-seated and pervasive racial prejudice – that can prevent black people experiencing the security and success that many others are able to take for granted. And that’s before accounting for other intersectional identities that individual black people might possess. Furthermore, as our friend Christine Kinnear from With Insight Education wrote last week, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is already falling disproportionately on the Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) community, and therefore looks set to exacerbate the existing inequalities black people endure.
Just recognising these facts feels woefully insufficient though. And that’s part of the reason Society hasn’t said anything publicly until now. We didn’t want to throw out just another ‘white-on-black.jpg’ via social media. Earnest talk of “listening” and “learning” (whilst important) falls short of the mark now. We feel we need to go further and acknowledge that we are ultimately part of the system ourselves, that we are therefore by definition failing the black community, and that we are resolutely committed to doing better. And then we need to go further still and take some actual action.
As such, I am committing Society to the following steps:
- Despite our current financial constraints, I will ensure that all recent donations Society colleagues have made to Black Lives Matter, to other associated organizations, and to the various bail funds for those involved in the BLM protests, are match funded.
- Too many important leadership positions have never been held by a person of color. This needs to change, and our business is in a privileged position where we can help to do something about it. In 2019, approximately 26% of the candidates we helped to appoint were BAME. But we can and must do better. We will therefore endeavour to find ways of putting ethnic diversity even more firmly on the agenda at every stage of the process, including through pushing for higher uptake of our new Diversity Monitoring Reports, and potentially including graphs on BAME representation in our longlist and shortlist documents in the way we already do for gender representation. We will also do whatever we can to support any cross-sector initiatives within executive search to codify best practice in this area, equivalent to the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms that resulted from the Davies Review.
- As soon as we have everyone back from furlough leave, we will rerun whole company training about appropriate language and behaviour at work, part of which makes it clear that racist language or behaviour is wholly unacceptable and can result in immediate dismissal. Furthermore, we will set about redesigning and improving our standard training on Equal Opportunity and Diversity in order to place renewed emphasis on implicit bias and on practical steps for combatting inequality through our work.
- All Society colleagues get three fully-paid volunteering days per year. We will look for organizations or schemes with a particular connection to the black community and/or BAME youth, and promote them internally as a desirable option for colleagues to choose.
- We commit ourselves never to hold an event with an all-white panel, and we will extend that commitment to other choices we make across the business. From our internal ‘Book Club’, to our choice of weekly TED talk, we will become much more purposeful in ensuring that black voices are sought out and heard.
- To the best of our knowledge, none of our current suppliers is a black-owned business. We will therefore revise our Responsible Procurement Policy to ensure that, where price and quality are equal, preference in future procurement exercises will therefore be given to independent, women, and/or minority-owned suppliers.
- Although our overall team is more diverse than most of our competitors, our Board and our senior leadership remain entirely white. That is something we have become increasingly embarrassed about, and will seek to address with renewed urgency, both by developing talent internally and through making senior external appointments. We recognise that we also have a role to play in helping the next generation of black talent to make a strong start in their careers. As such, we will commit to offering any BAME candidate who applies to work at Society some meaningful and constructive feedback on their CV and application.
- Finally, we commit to staying angry about all of this. As the protests dissipate, and the news agenda slowly moves on, we will endeavour to keep these issues front-of-mind. Although this has clearly been a watershed moment, which will hopefully lead to much-needed progress, established power structures of the sort involved here usually take a long time to unpick. As well as pushing for immediate progress, we all need to be willing to undertake what Max Weber termed the “slow boring of hard boards”. And Society is committed to playing our part in that ongoing process too, however long it takes.