To help promote race and equality, the FM sector needs to take a proactive approach to developing BAME workers for senior roles, says Matt Chapman, Atalian Servest’s Chief Marketing & Development Officer (UK & Ireland)
It is beyond cliché to state that 2020 so far has been a tremendous challenge for all; a year of global change, social readjustment and economic upheaval. Now, as schools tentatively reopen and workplaces align to the ‘new normal’, sustainable actions underpinned by a strong vision are naturally key. For both me and Atalian Servest however, this year has not just enforced a strong message of physical safety and hygiene but one of diversity, equality and opportunity. Now is the time for actions as well as words, even if that brings potentially uncomfortable conversations.
We talk a lot in FM about the financial and tangible benefits of ‘promoting from within’, so how do we ensure that the diversity evident in the entry level roles within our industry is carried through and developed into senior leadership positions?
This is not really a piece on “Black Lives Matters” but more the actual pressing matters that have clearly come to the fore in the last six or so months. Recent events such as the death of George Floyd have indeed helped air society’s underlying issues and posed direct questions for all. For me personally, I’ve always wondered why, especially at a management and senior level, does our amazing FM industry not appear to reflect our country’s vibrant diversity? Is this part of a wider, unconscious issue that also feeds into low BAME representation at the top end of government, sports and media? Atalian Servest is now asking questions such as these while becoming more equipped than ever to find the answers and act on them.
RACE AT WORK CHARTER
Our reinvigorated commitment, built around the Business in the Community’s ‘Race at Work ’ charter, is not about box ticking, click-bait or buzzwords but about expanding our deeper expertise. In many ways this blueprint is the backbone of a wider promise of embedded excellence, a commitment to open mindedness that connects the frontline to the boardroom and all points in-between. New voices, new approaches, new solutions.
In my previous roles based in London at both The Guardian and Arsenal Football Club, I contributed to and developed within dynamic and diverse workplaces. I learned from others different to myself, they learned from me. This indeed broke through the very common concept of ‘homophily ’, the basic and unconscious need of people to be drawn to people who think and often look like themselves. Familiarity actually breeds validation and stimulated pleasure centres in these situations; in short, we are often inherently drawn to those like us, they are our unconscious ‘internal preference’. Embracing diversity will lead to sustainable, deeper rooted and further reaching benefits to an organisation. We have asked ourselves several times this year: do we truly want our business to identify improvements that others miss and attract the very best in talent? We do, so we need to broaden our thinking and approach even further.
The author Matthew Syed has previously written about how it has been said over the years that codebreaker Alan Turing would have never cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma code machine in the Second World War without Marian Rejewski, a now lesser-known name of Polish descent, who built a sight-unseen replica of said machine. A mutual willingness to embrace diversity and opportunity some 80 years ago paid eternal dividends. Contrary to this, the lack of cultural and religious diversity in the 1990’s CIA teams is deemed to be one of the key reasons there was a failure to spot trends, that others may have seen, leading to the atrocities seen at 9/11.
Beyond our promises, our recharged modern-day approach has an actual acid test, an exciting system in place. The gauntlet is down. We are now committed to capturing baseline ethnicity data as fuel for a culture that mentors, closes the ethnicity pay gap and eradicates all harassment and bullying. Beyond this, we are committing to increasingly strategic engagement initiatives and recruitment processes. Goals will be met (BAME representation in at least 10 per cent of our senior positions by 2023, for example) and progress published. Is this in line with the 18 per cent who identified as non-White British in the 2011 UK Census? No, but it is a positive step forward. Crucially, however, this can only be done with a united work force, one that embodies and models all of the charter’s rhetoric. Six decades on from the dream of Martin Luther King, it is time to step up and stand out.
We need to cohesively stand together in this ground-breaking industry for this to work. We need to literally join together and practice what we preach. I feel we will as part of a sustained journey, not a token, ‘of-the-moment’ reaction. Sadly, for many this could all be too late. I think of a close black friend of mine from West Africa, a friend who arrived to the UK as a graduate with a first-class honours degree and fluent in English, a friend who took almost 15 years to progress in the UK from cleaning a high street chain store to being a manager. His challenges now flow into my company’s challenges to find answers and solutions going forwards.
Atalian Servest are leading from the front with our Board members, myself and our Legal Director, Laura Ryan, as the company’s two assigned ‘executive sponsors’ for our Race, Ethnicity and Faith network. We are united and ready. I’m not advocating any kind of overreach, imbalance or preferential treatment for anyone, we’ll be actively pointing out that here and now, there is no hiding place on race.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NEXT…..
- All companies can commit and sign the Race at Work Charter by going to www.bitc.org.uk/race/
- Appoint an Executive Sponsor for race
- Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress
- Commit at board level to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying
- Make clear that supporting equality in the workplace is the responsibility of all leaders and managers
- Take action that supports ethnic minority career progression