Mandatory Unconcious Bias Training Could Help Avoid Media Blunders

Blog by Sandra Kerr, OBE, Director, Race for Opportunity

The clothing company Matalan has come under fire on social media after a photograph in their latest catalogue showed two black children modelling monkey onesies - the latest in a series of similar blunders by retailers. But engaging diverse people as part of the creative process would go a long way to avoiding such errors.

Department of Work and Pensions data shows 15% of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers are in wholesale and retail trade, making it the second biggest sector for BAME employment. However, there is often low BAME representation in central office and creative roles such as design, as well as amongst customer research groups. Increasing diversity in these areas could potentially spot mistakes like this before products make it on to the shelves.

Some people might ask what all the fuss is about, but the implication of a racist slur will sit uncomfortably with many people. Race for Opportunity’s ‘Aspiration and Frustration’ report found that 22% of BAME people had been offended by a racial remark in their workplace, and many respondents cited comments specific Black-, Asian- and Chinese-related comments from clients and in some instances from managers. This is simply unacceptable. The fact that these types of attitudes have not gone away shows a strong need for businesses to address the situation by calling out unacceptable behaviour, ensuring BAME workers have support from their managers in reporting these incidents and having strong respect policies in place.

So what can businesses do to address this situation? The first step is to increase the diversity within their organisation at all levels, which can be done through a number of methods. One of these is mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff involved in recruitment, and our Unconscious Bias Toolkit provides a good starting point for employers who are keen to do this.

We would also strongly encourage organisations to monitor the progress of BAME candidates at every stage of the recruitment process in order to identify and address any unintentional barriers which are excluding diverse talent. Our 2013 Diversity Benchmark shows us that organisations which use these strategies are likely to have greater BAME representation in the workforce – so we know that they work.

Finally, as well as ensuring that they have diverse teams at all levels, businesses must ensure that they also engage people from all backgrounds in their research groups. Our ‘Race at the Top’ report demonstrates that most sectors in the UK need to take focussed action to increase diversity amongst those they employ, but they must also listen to the full range of clients, customers and communities they serve. Increasing the diversity of views organisations receive will help them engage with their target markets, be more conscious of their decisions and avoid ‘group-think’ which may produce these results.

By 2050, one in three of the UK population will come from a BAME background, representing a consumer base and spending scale that business can no longer afford to ignore. Research from McKinsey also shows that businesses with the most diverse boards have 53 per cent higher returns on equity than those with the least diverse boards, suggesting that increasing workplace diversity can benefit organisations as a whole as well as individual workers. Therefore, businesses must recognise and engage with their diverse customers sooner rather than later – or risk being left behind.