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Race in the workplace: How to drive culture transformation

Talking about race is one thing, but instigating effective working practices to successfully drive culture transformation is quite another. Investigo hosted a panel event on Tuesday 8th June to discuss the key questions on race in the workplace and provide practical advice for professionals from across our network. Investigo’s Head of Partnerships Olivia Dodd was joined by Darrell Coker, Founder and Head of Product for Flair and Loraine Martins, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Network Rail.

How to effect culture change within your ethnic majority workforce

It’s important to remember that D&I’s not just about people deemed to be underrepresented. You also need to engage your ethnic majority workforce in order to bring about change. In a real melting pot of people such as Network Rail, everyone needs to respect each other’s differences. The organisation encourages this by increasing contact and levels of engagement. Contact is about having exposure to people who are different to you, which helps to “normalise” connecting, builds familiarity and removes stereotyping. By giving its people the tools and the confidence to engage and ask questions, it’s simultaneously seeking different perspectives and facilitating reciprocal learning.

“If you want to engage with an ethnic majority, it’s important to increase contact and levels of engagement.” Loraine Martins

These conversations don’t just happen – organisations must create the platform that allows them to happen. As well as gathering the views and experiences of minority workers, you need to encourage majority workers to open up and be engaged, even those who feel they’re not affected. Unless you do that, says Darrell, you only have a subset of data to work from. Instagram’s ‘Blackout Tuesday,’ where users posted a black square to express support for Black Lives Matter, galvanised people who normally wouldn’t engage, showing that those around them were having these discussions.

Conversations about race shouldn’t be restricted to D&I leaders – the people at ground level need to be talking too. Have different voices telling the story. Employees can instigate these interactions through a piece of content, a slogan, a learning hub on the company intranet to educate the workforce and check biases, or even advocates within the workforce who can start a conversation or call out things that aren’t right.

Network Rail recently launched an initiative which asks everyone to give an hour of their time to Stand Up for Race Equality, which involves watching short films and having a discussion about the key messages. It’s also conducting a survey testing out attitudes towards race in the business.

“Authentic conversations about lived experiences help to create empathy.” Olivia Dodd

How to have conversations about race with your ethnic minority workforce

No one can assume they understand other people’s experiences or viewpoints without proper engagement, and likewise, a person won’t necessarily be an expert on all events in their own culture. We need to be wary of defining people as diverse talent, as there’s an automatic assumption that their diversity is all they bring to the table. People need to know that they’re in a role because they deserve to be there. If the talent we’re choosing from is restricted to a certain demographic, then there’s something wrong. Our responsibility as hiring managers is to ensure shortlists are as broad as possible. Rather than looking for a culture fit, look for someone who will add to your culture. Diversity of thought will come from a diverse group of people. When you’re in a rush to find someone who fits a job description, it’s all too easy to revert back to tried and trusted hiring techniques and talent sources, which is not conducive to new modes of thinking.

Think about how to keep employee resource groups engaged. It can be difficult starting conversations, especially when people don’t feel comfortable talking. You need to track what’s changing and your people need to see what action you’re taking as an organisation. Having your strategy in place to indicate your organisations’ direction of travel is key to sustaining that change.

“You need to get people onboard when you begin your journey. Organisations need to marry up data and storytelling. You can’t succeed without an element of both.” Darrell Coker

How to drive sustainable change

There are many practical steps you can take to drive sustainable change within your business. Non-biased recruitment processes should be followed by reciprocal mentoring and secondments to increase interaction and engagement. Ensure your benefits serve everyone within the business rather than favouring one demographic or another, and introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting to be transparent and to take action to address any disparities. Provide mandatory inclusion training for all employees and enforce zero tolerance.

Using data is crucial. Flair constructs anonymous surveys that allow organisations to diagnose, track and address racial biases within their culture. Having a clear story behind the data will help you energise people, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and understand where you need to go next. You’re simultaneously quantifying and having that emotive sense of what’s happening.

It’s not enough to demand a particular person and to say you need them quickly. You need to work closely with your talent teams and search firms to ensure you’re receiving diverse shortlists. If there’s a lack of diversity in the candidates being presented to you, ask them why this is the case. Is it your employer brand? Is it your benefits? Is it the language you use in your job ads?

The critical success factors in achieving true D&I

“Metrics that are holistic and a long term approach are the two keys to success.” Darrell Coker

Have a long term plan. Organisations are under pressure for quick wins. It’s a tricky balance between making big strides in the short term and doing things that will embed long term success. Set realistic short and longer term targets around the right things. Make sure the metrics set are grounded holistically. Flair try to create metrics that are holistic and define success across a range of criteria.

“Make your culture live the strategy of your organisation.” Loraine Martins

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. If your culture is not an environment that enables people to learn and encourages them to reach out and be inclusive, you will be limited in your success. Work on creating an environment where you value, reward and recognise inclusive behaviour.


Being seen to sign up to certain initiatives or posting a few performative messages on social media isn’t enough. For organisations truly committed to providing a genuinely inclusive workplace, it’s important to encourage dialogue at all levels of the business and to provide the platform for those conversations to take place. A holistic, long term approach and a culture of inclusion, allied to strategic direction, are all key to making and maintaining the change you seek.

Many thanks to our speakers for a very useful discussion. If you’d like to attend our next D&I event or discuss the practical steps you can take to drive an inclusive culture in your business, please contact us.