By Marcus Whyte
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The shocking footage of George Floyd being pinned to the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck, slowly squeezing the life out of him, left me sick to my stomach. Three years on, the images of his racist murder are no less shocking.
His senseless killing sparked the global wave of anti racism protests. Across the world companies signalled their support with their own brand of corporate activism by posting black squares on their social media platforms and vowed to do better. Seeing global brands stand up and declare that Black Lives did matter for the first time took my breath away and filled me with something I hadn’t felt for a long time as a Black man from Scotland (name the city) who has spent a lifetime in the corporate world – hope.
But three years later, has anything actually changed? Has the outpouring of allyship and pledges of support for Black communities translated into significant change, especially in the workplace and in the makeup of senior leaders and decision makers.
The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder is the catalyst for Zyna’s survey – released today – looking at diversity in the workplace.
As a recruitment company that specialises in Black talent, we want to analyse what, if anything has changed. Are there still racial barriers when it comes to progression, is black talent still being overlooked, are there enough role models in business to encourage and inspire the next generation and existing employees. We want to hear from those closest to the action.
Innovation and change is often cited as a top priority for businesses. Companies and other institutions can, perhaps will, find innovation simply by listening to those whose insights are habitually ignored.
For while the simple demands of social justice make an overwhelming case for inclusivity, the best commercial and economic advantages may only flow if the ideas and attitudes of companies and other institutions embrace the availability of diverse thinking.
The Parker Review
At board level, there’s some encouraging evidence in the most recent edition of the Parker Review, co-sponsored by EY, in March 2023. It found that 96 FTSE100 companies had at least one person Black, Asian or ethnically diverse background on the board at the end of 2022, up from 89 a year previously. Nearly half the cohort had more than one ethnic minority director.
There’s progress in the second tier of UK-listed companies – the so-called FTSE250 – as well. Two-thirds of the companies responding had at least one ethnic minority director against 55 percent 12 months before.
Diversity can’t just be a boardroom issue
However, the improvements in representation in senior leadership teams don’t instantly solve the bigger social challenges nor deliver commercial opportunities elsewhere within businesses. As Hywel Ball, UK Chair of EY, has said : “Diversity can’t just be a boardroom issue. Companies need to ensure they are taking action across every part of their business.”
Meanwhile Nusrat Ghani MP, Business and Trade Minister, speaking in the context of the most recent Parker Review’s recommendations, indicated UK Government support for improving diversity at all corporate levels and consequently making the most of untapped talent at all levels.
So what next?
At Zyna, we want to build on the tentative improvements in boardroom representation with insights from those in closest proximity to workplace behaviours.
As we launch our survey we call for people in work to take part. For example, experience around making adjustments to language and appearance to fit in (known as “code switching”) can be just as telling as the way businesses make decisions – it highlights the way that people are seen and listened to within the business. Whether they, the skills and experience they bring, genuinely matter and impact how a business works.
The survey we’re launching today is important. We want to be a catalyst for genuine change and knowing what’s happening in businesses across the UK will help bring that about. As President Barack Obama has said, in the context of diversity, “in the end, it’s about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together.”
So while this day will always be remembered as a day of true horror, we want to bring people together to start the journey for real change – rather than empty gestures, words and virtue signalling.