Racial equity: The impact on companies bottom line.
Equality versus equity
Equality focuses on achieving fairness by promoting that we treat everyone the same. It assumes we all have the same starting position — but as we know, not everyone starts at the same position, or has the same barriers to overcome. To build a fairer and more equitable society we need to acknowledge this fact.
Racial equity on the other hand, is defined as striving to promote fairness by acknowledging that different people, have different starting positions; thus, suggests we should treat people differently depending on their needs. Equity then does not undermine equality, but rather provides a means to achieve it.
Whilst in the UK, positive discriminationis illegal under the Equality Act 2010 as it does not give equal treatment to all, positive action is not. Positive actions are measures which are targeted at protected groups to encourage people within these groups to overcome or lessen their disadvantage. For example, positive action could take the form of an organisation ensuring they have a diverse candidate pool when recruiting, with the successful candidate still selected based on merit irrespective of any protected characteristic such as race or gender.
In terms of barriers to the success of racial equity programmes, the research from Henley suggests that when it comes to business leaders, fears of positive discrimination in relation to hiring and promotions, and a lack of understanding of race related issues were seen as potential impediments.
Moreover, when employers were asked about the most important challenge, they had to overcome in the next 12 months, achieving racial equity was ranked as the least important priority, compared with other staff management issues. This is likely linked to the fact that racial equity is a lesser-known concept compared with equal opportunity, but also points to how difficult businesses perceive it is to implement measures to combat racial inequities.
The road ahead
Organisations such as Coco-Cola, AstraZeneca and WPP have all made commitments to achieving greater racial equity in their businesses. Coca-Cola has developed a Racial Equity Action Plan to strive for greater justice and equity within its own organisation, including a 10-year commitment on recruiting and developing ethnic minority talent, particularly within leadership roles. AstraZeneca are increasing promotion rates of under-represented demographic groups, in part by ensuring diverse candidate slates and interview panels. Whilst, WPP have pledged to invest $30 million over the next three years to fund inclusion programmes.
This research highlights that investing in racial equity and D&I programmes can contribute to an organisations bottom line. When companies invest in their people, their performance improves. Racial equity and business success should then not be treated as separate conversations. It is critical that any organisation wanting to achieve its objectives in this rapidly changing world of work, to engage in this important conversation.