An open letter to UK business in response to #BlackLivesMatter

21 June 2020

The following open letter was created by Audeliss & INvolve to ask UK business to back up their words of
solidarity for #blacklivesmatter with action for change.

The letter was printed in The Sunday Times on 21 June 2020 signed by 28 leaders in UK business. To add your businesses’ public support and commitment to the actions in this letter please contact info@involvepeople.org.


 

On May 25, 2020 the world had a rude awakening. Our society, which we so desperately want to believe is fair and equal, was shown to be nothing of the sort. The ugly and shameful truth was exposed.

This truth has been exposed before. Many times. We will not recount here the numerous instances which comprise the collective trauma of the black community, but we will ask the key question. What more does business need to see to understand that systemic racism is real and that action is desperately needed?

For years, many voices from within business and wider society have pleaded for action on ethnic minority inclusion. We know boards, executive teams, partnerships and the whole talent pipeline through to entry level, simply isn’t representative of the diverse society we live in. The sad truth of what we have learned in these years is that organisations have not been ready, nor built enough understanding to have a sufficiently challenging and frank conversation about race, systemic racism and discrimination within the four walls of their own office.

Whilst the majority of businesses want to do the right thing, many of those with the power to make a difference do not and cannot understand the full oppressive weight of a system that has disadvantaged some from birth. Many of us will not know what it is like to be a black woman whose confidence is taken for aggression. Many of us do not know what it is like to be a black man who is told his manner isn’t professional enough for the promotion. Many of us do not know what it is like to be struggling to find work as a black person with physical disabilities or a black trans woman, facing an unemployment rate four times higher than the general population.

What is hopefully clear to all of us is how little tangible action has been taken to reduce systemic discrimination in the workplace, but also how little honesty there has been about black inclusion and discrimination in particular.

The cycle of disengagement and inaction must end. We all need to be honest with ourselves and admit where we have fallen short. We need to talk about white privilege. We need to talk about the fragility which has prevented us from doing so before. We need to talk about discrimination. We need to talk about racism. We need to talk about what it means at all levels of our organisations. We need to talk about the role we have played in maintaining this system for so long. Finally, we need to talk about how we will change and what we can all do about it together.

We are business leaders. We influence the culture of our organisations and help determine their paths. Our leadership on this is essential. Fixing a system which is not fair and treats some as less than others is now a responsibility and a duty which falls on all of us. It is our duty to our businesses. It is our duty to our employees and customers. And it is our duty to the society we live in. It might not be easy, and we might not always get it right, but if we don’t start working on it, it won’t change.

The challenges around discrimination and systemic racism which face every organisation will differ, and there is no quick fix. We need long term, sustained action. We know that what gets measured gets done, so in this letter we call for UK business leaders to commit to reporting on the actions they have taken to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement in an annual report.

Organisations across the globe have made significant strides in addressing inequality, and we recognise now that progress for some has not meant progress for all. We know that we are not perfect but together we can apply the learnings from the efforts made in recent years and drive much needed change.

By signing this letter, we commit to reporting on the key sustainable and long term actions on black inclusion which we are taking as UK businesses in an annual report:

Diversifying the face of our organisations:

Setting targets for diverse candidate slates for every position and holding recruiters accountable for presenting diverse shortlists. More specifically, setting targets on black talent in our candidate slates.

Measuring:

Investigating the specific challenges and barriers faced by black talent in our organisations, starting to track ethnicity data and conduct focus groups or listening sessions to properly understand the experiences of our black and minority colleagues.

Joining us on our journey of learning:

Educating ourselves on the experiences of black people in the workplace and in society at large.

Starting the conversation:

Being vulnerable with our people. Admitting we haven’t done enough and that the work is just beginning.

Elevating black voices:

People know discrimination and racism are a lived, every day reality now – but do they know what forms it takes every day in the workplace? We must start these conversations. We will also do more to celebrate black leaders and talent in our organisations and the wider business community.

Committing to specific actions:

We’ve posted on our corporate Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, but now we must show what our organisations look like truthfully and what more we are doing to change it.

We must get ready to feel uncomfortable. This is not an easy conversation. We’re not looking for the perfect plan, but we are looking for more action and to take this journey together. There have been too many words and not enough action.

Each of our businesses are committing to specific actions to address the unique challenges our businesses are facing, but commit to these actions as a baseline.

If nothing is done, black people will continue to be disadvantaged. Progress for some is not progress for all. If we do nothing, we all suffer. If we don’t start now, or build on small beginnings, this same cycle of discrimination will continue and let’s be honest, all the excuses will have now been exhausted.

The clarion call has sounded. We must act.

If not now, when?

 

Letter presented by:

Suki Sandhu OBE
Founder & CEO, Audeliss and INvolve

Signatories in support :

Aon Reinsurance Solutions – Dominic Christian, Global Chairman 
Boies Schiller Flexner LLP – Natasha Harrison, Managing Partner 
BT Group – Philip Jansen, Chief Executive 
Capita – Jonathan Lewis, CEO 
David Tyler –  Co-Chair of The Parker Review
Direct Line Group – Penny James, CEO 
EY – Steve Varley, Chairman and Managing Partner UK & I
GroupM & WPP – Karen Blackett, UK CEO & Country Manager 
Hachette UK – David Shelley, CEO 
IHG – Keith Barr, CEO 
ITV – Carolyn McCall, CEO
John Lewis Partnership – Sharon White, Chairman 
KPMG UK – Bill Michael, Senior Partner and Chair 
KPMG, UK – Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair
Livingbridge – Wol Kolade, Managing Partner
Marks and Spencer PLC – Steve Rowe, CEO 
MOBO – Kanya King, Founder & CEO
Paul Polman
PWC – Kevin Ellis, Chairman and Senior Partner 
Sainsburys – Simon Roberts, CEO 
Schroders – Peter Harrison, Group CEO
Sky – Jeremy Darroch, Group Chief Executive 
Slaughter and May – Steve Cooke, Senior Partner 
Sodexo UK & Ireland – Sean Haley, Chairman 
Tesco – Dave Lewis, CEO 
WPP – Mark Read, CEO 
Zendesk – Andrew Lawson, SVP EMEA 
Zurich UK – Tulsi Naidu, CEO