In 2021, organisations of all kinds will realise that they have to make racial justice a core part of their mission, not just an add-on. Prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement, many organisations made gestures in this direction – publishing slogans on Instagram, asking Black people and minorities what they could do to fix these problems and so on. But gestures don’t always lead to change.
In 2017, a report by McKinsey found that in the US, companies were spending more than $8 billion a year on unconscious-bias training. A meta analysis of decades of research conducted in 2018 by Frank Dobbin, professor of sociology at Harvard, and Alexandra Kalev, associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University, found that even firms that engaged with diversity training did not necessarily hire more diverse managers. (Some became less diverse.)
Instead, in 2021, organisations will have to ask themselves some awkward questions. Why, for example, have they gone decades without hiring a Black person, particularly if they’re based in a diverse city? Do they actively look for and recruit people of colour? What is the experience of people of colour in their organisation?
Companies will also have to make significant changes to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, which will include people in power stepping aside to make space for more minority representation. In June 2020, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, resigned from his company’s board and called for his position to be taken by a Black candidate. (Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel took his place.) 2021 will need more reshuffling of this kind at the top tiers of firms.
Five years ago I started the Chineke! Foundation – the Chineke! Orchestra and the Chineke! Junior Orchestra – the world’s first majority Black, Asian and ethnically diverse orchestras. Many organisations and individuals felt threatened by what we represented and how we made it obvious that the arts had a long way to go when it came to representation and equality. We were all highly trained classical musicians who’d had to swim upstream to get to where we were. Today though, we are now a core part of the UK’s arts world, an associate orchestra of London’s Southbank Centre, and we have played at the BBC Proms.
I am a musician and when I look at the difference between diversity training and actual change, I often think in terms of learning music. If I have to learn a challenging new piece, it doesn’t matter whether the best teacher in the world is teaching me which bowing or fingering to use; if I’m not putting in the work myself, any progress won’t stay with me for a long time. Organisations must do the same in order to enact real change, rather than pay lip service to diversity.
In 2021, they will realise that tackling racial injustice is a real-world, long-term project where actions speak louder than words.
Chi-chi Nwanoku is founder of the Chineke! Foundation
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