THE BLOG

Why Conversations On Race Need To Take Centre Stage In The Workplace

20/09/2017 14:35 BST | Updated 20/09/2017 14:35 BST

Most organisations are sold on the business case for diversity. Once seen as good CSR, business leaders, by and large, recognise that it's much more powerful than that. There are tangible business benefits - as different opinions, experiences and perspectives tend to lend themselves to better problem solving. If your teams don't reflect your clients, consumers or the wider world, how can you remain relevant?

While there has been focus and momentum on diversity, and the topic is part of board-level conversations and becoming embedded into businesses' strategy - diversity itself is often still seen through a single dimension. Much of the debate remains largely centred on gender. Conversations about other aspects of difference, such as race, remain largely silent.

Why is that? Speaking to my colleagues, it's become clear that having a conversation about race can feel uncomfortable - with some saying that they are reluctant to offer a view on race issues for fear of getting it wrong. But by not discussing challenges, such as why there is little BAME representation on leadership teams across UK businesses, the status quo is likely to remain.

Since being elected as UK chairman and senior partner at PwC last summer, I have experienced at first-hand the competing priorities facing business leaders, as Brexit and US elections compete for attention with the longer term challenges of technology advancements. But these geopolitical events particularly, have highlighted how crucial it is that people are included and able to reach their full potential. As business leaders, we can help focus more on the things that people care about and that can make a real difference to their lives.

At PwC we want everyone to be able to reach their full potential, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or background. But if we don't understand the challenges in the first place, how can we implement the changes needed to make a difference?

That's why we're doing three things as a starter to help address race issues in our organisation. Firstly, we are encouraging our 22,000 people in the UK to join our Colour Brave campaign to start the conversation, so that everyone has a voice and we can get people comfortable talking about race and listening to others.

Alongside this, we have spoken to more than 150 of our BAME employees to really try and understand their experiences and any barriers they feel they face so that we can address them.

And thirdly, we have decided to measure and report our BAME pay and bonus gaps for the first time in our digital annual report. We are one of the first private sector organisations to do this and we're hoping that it will help to widen the diversity conversation and encourage organisations to take action.

The new mandatory gender pay gap reporting requirements for large businesses show how greater accountability can drive action and place gender diversity firmly as a boardroom issue. We're hoping BAME pay reporting can do the same for ethnicity.

We recognise that pay reporting isn't a silver bullet. And there remains some challenges about getting representative data and increasing disclosure levels, but as part of wider cultural changes it can be a useful tool for businesses to understand their diversity position.

For us, we know that our BAME pay gap is entirely driven by having an ethnicity imbalance at the top levels of our business, so that is where we are focussing our action.

Progress will only happen if organisations know what the challenges are and then make changes. The best way to do this is through a combination of speaking to employees and analysing the employee data available.

Business leaders are often wired to have answers and solutions. But listening can be one of the most powerful tools we have to create change.

We're at the beginning of our race conversation, but by recognising we don't have all the answers and starting that dialogue we hope that we're already one step closer to making a difference.