Addressing racism: It starts with listening

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

In a recent article in CIPD News, Peter Cheese, a senior HR executive in the UK, said, ‘Racism has no place in our society. Businesses must be part of the change.’

He listed four key principles for business leaders to begin to address racism in the workplace:

  • Clarify the organisation’s stance and values
  • Communicate your messages consistently and ensure that communication is two way
  • Connect your people by talking openly (and) creating an environment of respect and safety, and to share experiences and learn from each other
  • Commit to sustained action, visible leadership and a willingness to change.

Important principles, and I recommend the article. However, while listening is certainly implied in the list, we dare not leave it to chance. I realise that ‘listening’ does not begin with a ‘c’, but listening should be placed at the top of the list.

Before we can ‘clarify our stance and values’, before we can communicate anything, we need to listen. We may discover that our organisation is not what we think it is, and the values that people experience may not be what is written in our manifesto.

Although we have two ears, listening does not come naturally to most leaders. We are geared towards fixing things and telling people what to do. But to discover the real issues and understand the real experiences of those on the receiving end of racism (and gender-based violence), listening is imperative.

Employees truly engage (and become more productive) when they feel safe expressing themselves. They know they will be taken seriously even when their needs cannot be met.

Who will you listen to this week?
What questions will you ask that will encourage them to tell their story.

Do let me know in the comments below or drop me an email.


Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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