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Peter MacDonald HallFeb 22, 2024 11:50:32 AM14 min read

How can leaders better support Black women in the workplace?

How can leaders better support Black women in the workplace?

It has been almost four years since the murder of George Floyd – an event that brought racial discrimination into sharp focus around the world. Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, the incident triggered global calls for racial justice, but despite outcries, the stubborn hurdle of race equity remains.  

In fact, a report by Black British Voices found that 98% of Black British employees felt it necessary to “tone down their Black identity” to avoid negative judgement from colleagues. Looking more specifically at the experiences of Black women, three quarters reported having experienced racism at work, citing that they had changed their language, eating habits and hairstyle to fit in.  

Moreover, a 2023 study by World Afro Day found that 84% of employers deemed straight hair to be the most appropriate style for women, with natural afro hair being seen as unprofessional and even threatening. But what does this mean for Black women who wear their hair with textured, curly or kinky styles? 

Organisations are keen to increase diversity at senior levels but there are still no Black leaders in C-suite roles at FTSE 100 companies. Furthermore, Britain’s female business leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds were found to have lower salaries and hold less authority, according to Green Park’s Business Leaders Index 2021

Despite these statistics, some improvements have been made towards racial equity, but further action needs to be taken in order to make a lasting change. In January 2023 the World Economic Forum released the Global Racial & Ethnic Equity Framework, designed to lead organisations towards a holistic approach to racial justice.  

Compiled of 10 guiding principles, the framework lists leadership as its first principle, setting the expectation across eight business functions, including human resources, sales & marketing and finance & accounting. But what else can leaders do to actively move the conversation forward?  

At a virtual roundtable event, titled “Saluting Our Sisters”,  FAIRER Consulting partnered with Age UK to host a panel discussion with DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion - otherwise known as EDI) professionals across the UK. Led by Peter Macdonald Hall, consultant at FAIRER Consulting, and Anne-Marie James, EDI Manager at Age UK, the discussion explores what business leaders can do to move the needle on achieving race equity.  

Meet the panel below and read on to uncover some of the challenges and opportunities involved in supporting Black women in the workplace. 

Our panel 


  • Peter MacDonald Hall – Consultant at FAIRER Consulting 
  • Anne-Marie James – EDI Manager at Age UK 

Panel members 

  • Aasaa Omallo – Internal Communications Manager at Brit Insurance 
  • Wayne Page – Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Brit Insurance 
  • Movell Dash – Founder & Director of Modas Personal Development 
  • Donna Fraser OBE – Director of EDI at Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) and four-time Olympian in athletics 
  • Prim Raymond – Senior Business Manager at Hays Recruitment 

How can leadership drive race inclusion efforts within organisations?  

A main driver towards positive change is ensuring that race inclusion becomes – and remains – part of the ongoing business plan. Organisations often feel uncomfortable talking about race in the workplace but, as Founder & Director of Modas Personal Development, Movell Dash, puts it: “I don’t use the term ‘uncomfortable conversations’, I refer to ‘conversations that matter.’” Prim Raymond, Senior Business Manager at Hays Recruitment, shares this sentiment: “Prepare for respectful, emphatic and uncomfortable conversations. The comfort zone tends to limit growth”, she says.  

In fact, almost 60% of employees feel uncomfortable talking about race at work, according to the 2021 Race at Work report. Furthermore, recent Edelman research suggests a disconnection between executive teams and the wider company when it comes to racial issues. For example, 60% of executives (executive director levels and above) believe their businesses have made significant progress in addressing workplace racism, compared to 18% of entry level and non-manager employees. 

“Leadership needs to start talking about race inclusion developments in the organisation, making sure these topics are highlighted in every town hall. Company meetings should not just discuss profits and business, but diversity and inclusion, too,” states Aasaa Omallo, Internal Communications Manager at Brit Insurance. “It shows this topic is as important as those other business pillars”, she continues. 

So how do leaders begin having these conversations that matter? Out of all protected characteristics, businesses often shy away from the topic of race. But once you mix in the intersectionality of race and gender, it becomes even more complex. “Most of the leaders in business are white men”, explains Wayne Page, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Brit Insurance. “Leaders need to show a sense of vulnerability and admit fear, reluctance or hesitation. They should admit they don’t have all the answers and that it is a subject which makes them nervous”, he adds. 

Wayne’s sentiment is shared by the panel. “Sometimes it’s not what you ask – it’s how you ask”, contributes Anne-Marie. Leaders are often fearful of making mistakes when it comes to discussing race. In fact, a fear of saying something racist is the main reason that leaders are uncomfortable discussing the topic, according to Edelman, but it is OK for them to ask questions when it comes from a genuine place of wanting to learn.  

It is also important to recognise the interplay between race and gender and avoid the temptation to approach the subject from a general EDI perspective. “It is not about applying a broad-brush EDI approach, because while you might hit some issues, you won’t hit the specific issues”, explains Movell. “For example, we’re never going to eliminate the gender pay gap if we don’t also look at the ethnicity pay gap, because Black women are a different demographic to white women”, she clarifies.  

It is widely known that men earn more than women, with the gender pay gap at 8.3%. However, among women, Black Caribbean women are some of the lowest earners, according to the 2021 Ethnicity Pay Gap Report. Furthermore, 42% of Black women reported that they had been overlooked for a promotion, despite positive feedback, compared to 27% of white women. So, what is the best way to target our efforts towards a racially inclusive workplace?  

Our panel strongly recommends starting with data. “The first step is to understand your demographic and understand what the race makeup of your organisation is. It’s about capturing data and understanding your audience to address those issues”, explains Movell. Without employee data, it is not possible to establish the nuances of intersectionality, which would allow leaders to unlock the specific data necessary to curate targeted solutions.  

In addition to collecting the right kind of data, the consensus is that the responsibility of positive action lies with business leaders. “It should be leader-led with a top-down, bottom-up approach to meet in the middle. Leaders are in the position of influence and can drive the agenda”, explains Donna Fraser OBE, Director of EDI at Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA). “Walk the walk and talk the talk,” she continues, “it’s about keeping the momentum of sustainable, ongoing and consistent conversation.”  

How can we hold leadership accountable to promoting race equity?  

When it comes to creating accountability, trust, targets and transparency were three reoccurring concepts among our panel. Without transparency and trust, business leaders will struggle to gain the confidence of their people, making it difficult to gain honest data and feedback from their employees. 

Existing data suggests organisations still have a long way to go in terms of achieving trust and transparency. For example, a Close the Gap survey found that more than half of respondents who had experienced racism, discrimination or harassment in the workplace did not report it, and less than 25% felt their grievance had been adequately handled.  

Reasons for not reporting included: feeling that their manager would not be supportive; believing it would not make a difference; fearing lack of confidentiality and feeling it would make things worse. As such, organisations are not capturing a true reflection of their demographic as reporting lines and processes are flawed. 

By creating watertight KPIs and setting these in stone, leaders can adequately track and report on progress (or lack of) and make strategical pivots towards racial equity. “Diversity, equity and inclusion needs to be integrated into business KPIs, otherwise it’s going to feel like a 'nice to have' rather than a key measurable which is part of your core business”, says Movell.  

But, as Wayne caveats, “I’ve often heard leaders argue against setting EDI targets, citing that it would be tokenistic to do so.” The government has also recently confirmed that ethnicity pay reporting will remain voluntary, but, as Movell puts it: “What gets measured gets done – and if it’s not measured, it will not be seen as important to your staff.” 

So, what is the best way to integrate EDI KPIs into business targets? “I think these KPIs should be tied to salaries and bonuses. EDI needs to be on the leaders’ balance scorecards just like their other key business imperatives. As a leader, if you truly are committed to EDI, speak to your boss about having that as a key KPI. Tell your colleagues and tell them to hold you to account”, states Movell. 

Speaking on racial equity within sport, Donna explains: “As DEI Lead it’s not just my job to make a change. It’s everyone’s responsibility, from the sports groundsman to hospitality - it’s across the length and breadth of the sport. We need to remember the historical issues in sport, which need to be addressed. It’s going to take time. That’s why everyone needs to hold a mirror up to themselves and take accountability. 

“There’s a lot of reluctance out there to support, which makes one question whether the environment is right to support our athletes? We’ve seen it in football – all the racial abuse still happening despite all the conversations. Leaders can ban these individuals but they’re choosing not to. Social media is another example: those in power are not making those radical decisions that can make that change. It’s pigeon steps at the moment,” Donna concludes. 

How to set meaningful EDI objectives for your leadership

When pledging meaningful EDI objectives, businesses should avoid vague targets. “I’ve seen an objective that simply requires you to turn up to an event,” says Peter, “and other times the objective links directly to the area of responsibility and is reflective of a role”, he adds.  

Begin by establishing what success looks like for you, and then create measures which are meaningful in order to get you there. “We’ve built EDI into our behavioural framework”, says Wayne, “however, those EDI achievements need to be accurately measured throughout the year, highlighting the need for EDI-conscious management”, he continues. 

If management is not involved with EDI, it can result in a lack of understanding and support towards those goals. “It’s a challenge to get line managers to come and support our EDI initiatives and get them to support those who wish to attend those meetings. EDI initiatives need to be put on the same level as a one-to-one or a progress meeting”, adds Aasaa. 

It’s pertinent to also mention the role of getting people trained correctly, with the right kind of training. “Finding the right training will provide a level of understanding, as people don’t necessarily understand the importance of EDI”, explains Anne-Marie. Only 39% of executives see the benefits of having a diverse workforce, so without understanding, it can be difficult to see the importance and make it a harder to put those initiatives in place. But there is also a responsibility on staff to have open and honest conversations about what kind of training they need, and feedback on how helpful existing training is. 

“People aren’t always forthcoming when you ask them what they would like to see in terms of training. That is why we often see a lot of online training, but that training is not personal and can only help so far. It’s difficult to meet everybody’s needs, and that’s why these resource groups can be helpful, as they help us listen in to what people want to see”, shares Aasaa.  

How can companies continuously assess and adapt their race inclusion strategies based on feedback and evolving needs? 

Organisations have started to develop race inclusion strategies in addition to their diversity and inclusion. The talking is done – the action must happen. Who’s going to be brave enough to take those steps? When it comes to a race inclusion strategy, what are your next steps in moving the agenda forward?  

“Data is key but often organisations will use lack of data as an excuse not to do things. So, start by looking at the data you do have”, says Movell. “Employee engagement surveys need to be broken down by protected characteristics”, adds Wayne. For example, how many of your grievances are from people of colour and what are they for? How many people from ethnic minority backgrounds have been promoted? How many people from ethnic minority backgrounds answered your staff survey?  

If a certain demographic doesn’t trust you, you’re working with false data. If your data is showing a negative story, then you can understand that things are not working. “Have conversations with your people and be honest about what you are going to do with the information you’re getting from them and then take action. You will build up trust and they will start coming to you with valuable feedback”, advises Movell. 

It is common for HR to perform surveys, but it is the leaders who should be asking the questions. Employees can be dubious if HR send out surveys because HR is often seen as a tool for the business. If leaders are asking, they are asking because they want to know, and you can hold them accountable.  

“Exit interviews can also be a great tool for gathering honest responses”, says Anne-Marie. However, “people are far more likely to be honest if they have an exit interview a while after they have left, as people are often worried that if they say something negative, they will get a bad reference”, caveats Movell. 

How can we keep the race equity conversation on the agenda? 

In order to keep EDI on the table, it needs to be something which you are measuring and reporting against on a regular basis, otherwise it fails. “It has to be something you’re reporting to your people internally and to shareholders and other external stakeholders so they can keep you honest, as if only one person is accountable, it can easily slip off the agenda. It needs to be a key business imperative that is reported on as part of your annual public reporting”, says Movell. 

Organisations should be judged by their actions, not words. “If we had ethnicity pay reporting in the same way we have gender reporting, then that would make a difference”, shared Wayne. In addition, boards need to play a role in keeping the dialogue open. “Having an EDI champion on the board can raise the voice of those people on the ground and hold leaders accountable, and that advice and support can trickle down”, explains Donna.  

A final word from our panel 

While it is leaders who ultimately make the decisions, a key takeaway from our panel is that responsibility lies with everyone in creating a collective culture of change. Through trust, transparency and targets, leaders can cultivate meaningful strategies and foster authentic connections with their employees, encouraging open and honest lines of communication. Peter asked the panel to share their final advice for leaders to further promote race equity in their organisations: 

“Make things less taboo so people can speak their truth. Do a lot more self-directed research without relying on a minority group to educate you”, shares Prim. 

“Show up and be present. It comes back to visibility”, says Wayne. We need to hold our leaders accountable, so “Put your money where your mouth is”, advises Movell.  

“Encourage, educate, be there and support”, says Aasaa, and as Donna simply puts it: “Walk like a champion.” 

Get in touch 

FAIRER Consulting has an impactful race allyship training programme. The programme will help you to navigate conversations around race in the workplace without fear of being defensive or getting things wrong. You will develop a better understanding around race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds, as well as distinct types of racism, which can be present in the modern workplace. 

For more information on our consultation services, please contact


Peter MacDonald Hall

Peter is a highly regarded subject matter expert in the fields of workplace diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, and inclusive leadership. Having collaborated extensively with a wide array of organisations, his expertise extends to crafting comprehensive global and regional ED&I strategies for clients.