How the Black Lives Matter Movement is Changing Business in London

Elmira Tanatarova November 17, 2020
London BLM
Black Lives Matters protesters holding signs and marching outside the American Embassy in London, May 2020. Editorial Credit: Matteo Roma, Shutterstock

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement took the world by storm following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May of this year. By June, over 210,000 people across the UK had joined in peaceful BLM protests across the country. Protests in London shed a light on police brutality across Britain as well as overseas. Statues commemorating slave drivers were toppled, and statements were made by politicians across all levels, including Prime Minister Borish Johnson.

Individuals and organisations alike rushed to express support and solidarity with the BLM movement and to recognize the dire nature of the situation in the country. Only 1.5% of managers, directors, and senior officials in the UK were Black in 2019 - a figure which has only gone up by 0.1 percentage-points since 2014.

Google Trends data in the UK shows a spike over which Brits searched ‘Black Lives Matter’ - it reached a peak in May and has seen a steady decline over the past six months. However, the fight towards racial equality is obviously far from over in the UK.

Six months have passed and lots has happened in London since. It’s easy to feel as though the “trend” has passed, and to feel hopeless, however, needed change is still often being worked on behind the scenes.

Public support is important and needed, but it’s tangible changes within corporate structures which makes the difference around how the Black community is treated in workplaces. The Org spoke to four UK companies which have taken active steps towards racial equality in the workplace - beyond just reposting a black square on Instagram.

A Strategy for Racial Equality

RAPP is a marketing company with a plan towards equality in the workplace already set in motion. While it’s U.S. owned, the company has multiple offices across the world, including the UK.

Group Head of Talent in the London office, Ursula Marchese, explains that RAPP has grouped its internal racial equality strategy around four main pillars. These are: 1) New Talent, 2) Recruitment, 3) Development, and 4) Organisational.

“All of these have detailed work streams beneath them,” Marchese explains. “For example, in new talent we aim to open our doors to students of colour through partnerships with educational establishments and apprenticeships such as Brixton Finishing School, giving an insight into our industry and making connections for future job opportunities.

“In recruitment we have designed inclusive hiring workshops for our managers and ensured that all of them have attended anti-racism training. In the development pillar we are exploring talent mapping, coaching, and mentoring to elevate the careers of people of colour within the agency, and believe in targeted talent development.”

RAPP has also set up a People of Colour Steering Committee, the outcomes of “listening to the many conversations” within the teams in the agency over the summer. The aim of the committee, which is made up of reps across the business, is to provide a “balanced and productive platform for direct communication between leadership and our teams, and influence policy and strategy.”

RAPP has also just co-created a zero-tolerance statement, supported by a new diversity policy, which will be shared widely, including potential job applicants and new recruits as part of onboarding.

A Spotlight on Intersectionality

I Will Tell is an International Film Festival that celebrates untold stories, challenges perspectives, and catalyses change. The festival has run in London for the past 14 years and the company hosts screenings and events in the U.S. and the Caribbean as well.

As a Black-led organisation, I Will Tell didn’t take its own issues for granted and created a Crush Racism Challenge Training programme they host, which has been taken by 1200 people thus far.

I Will Tell invites organisations to learn from “a wide range of thought leaders from across the world”, including ambassadors, academics, and activists.

The training lets staff across all levels question how they’re going to take steps to ensure racial equality in the workplace, encouraging people to share and listen to each other’s stories.

Some of the sessions at I Will Tell also revealed that people of mixed heritage face unique challenges in the workplace which are often overlooked, which led to the creation of a special spotlight on those issues within the anti-racism training.

Another big point which came out of the listening sessions was the sheer exhaustion that comes with racism. Because of this, I Will Tell adopted a focus on rest and well-being in its in-house and external anti-racism training, and also provides focused training on the issues of white privilege and post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Founder and director Jenny Lee explains that UK companies must step up to what is often seen as a largely American issue.

“The British are remarkably patriotic and there is a strong sense of having a separate identity from the U.S. that can obscure the similarities in the problems the two countries face. In the early years of the I Will Tell International Film Festival, when we screened films on racism or police brutality, some people did protest that it’s not like that here. But over the years we have seen increased understanding of the issues faced in the UK,” she explains.

“Some of our partners who focus on work in racial justice note that things have certainly got busier in the wake of the global protests, as people are more willing to listen and seek greater understanding, but there is still a very long way to go.”

I Will Tell - Jenny Lee

I Will Tell co-founder Jenny Lee. Courtesy of I Will Tell.

Bringing in Specialists

Mindfulness in the Workplace is a small business providing mental health services to employees at companies around the UK.

The death of George Floyd bolstered a call to action within the company, which has since employed a young Black woman, recently educated with a first-class degree in psychology, to become the company’s researcher.

Her tasks include a research project on how discrimination and exclusion impacts the mental health of different cultural communities, including external and internalised stigma and shame around mental health.

Co-founder and Director Lou Campbell explains that she hopes the young woman’s important work will help inform organisations about just how big a role discrimination plays in mental wellbeing.

“Earlier this year when George Floyd was murdered in the USA, and many companies and individuals were posting Black Lives Matter messages and blacked-out social media posts, I felt a positive change in the air,” she explains. “But then it took a weird turn, with a lot of business leaders posting heartfelt messages on LinkedIn and elsewhere that looked to me like emotional masturbation - ‘Look at me confessing that I’ve had my eyes closed but now they are open’ - and making it about themselves. There was a lot of talking.”

She believes that taking tangible steps that help to increase mental wellbeing of Black communities are the most important solutions.

“I think ‘Get your knee off our necks’ is a call to ACTION, not a call for white people to talk, but to DO,” she says. “My company interpreted this as a call to provide opportunities.”

Mindfulness in the Workplace is now also actively seeking new specialists across many health topics, with an active focus on bringing more people of colour onto the team as well as implementing their ideas. Campbell explains that it’s important not to just increase racial equality in the workplace “by numbers,” but by ideas too.

Focusing on Black Consumers

Candour Beauty is the UK’s first multi-brand Beauty and Personal Care retailer for Black women and women of colour.

Co-founder and tech entrepreneur Jacqueline Kusamotu is also the mind behind the Black British Census, a survey which came out in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. designed to help better understand the needs and wants of Black consumers.

Candour Beauty’s wide and extensive range focuses on not only putting products catered for women of colour front and centre but offering several different options (which can be white-owned and internationally manufactured). The idea is that women of colour and Black women deserve the same range of products as any other demographic, and if a product is suited for them, it can be promoted. Candour Beauty’s offering is intentionally for Black women and women of colour because this is a demographic that has consistently been overlooked within beauty.

“We don’t 'promote' equality, it's just part of what we do,” Kusamotu explains. “It’s not a scheme or performative action, it is just the way it is, and we think more companies should integrate this as part of their 'normal.' ”

When it comes to a more internal focus, she says that “the real evidence beyond the words is shown in the actual makeup of the staff in the organisation across all levels.”

“In many of the organisations I have worked in, I have often been one of very few Black employees, let alone Black female employees. This in itself shows the lack of diversity in the hiring process. I know of a number of other IT professionals both male and female who have also experienced this.”

Kusamotu explains that when organisations say diversity is at the heart of their culture, they should actively reflect this in the hiring process.

Candour Beauty co-founder Jacqueline Kusamotu

Candour Beauty co-founder Jacqueline Kusamotu. Courtesy of Candour Beauty.

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