Nii Cleland explores why there has been such slow progress in racial equity within organisations, arguing that only by using data and analytics can organisations be held accountable. 

It has been two years since the murder of George Floyd, a tragic and avoidable event which put racial injustice and equity under global scrutiny.

At the time, Floyd’s death – and the racial equity movement that it sparked – drove an instant increase in activities from businesses, including pledges and educational campaigns. And over the last couple of years, we’ve seen large names across industries, healthcare and education publicly commit to ambitious anti-racist plans to work towards achieving racial equity.

As a result, more money than ever before is being invested in DE&I programmes, with global spend amounting to a huge £5,560,000,000 every year. But visible signs of allyship and big budgets have not been enough to dismantle systems and cultures that breed racial bias – far from it.

In fact, little measurable progress has been made since May 2020, and racism is still pervasive across all sectors. Already in 2022, protests have ensued following the strip search of Child Q, while Olivea Ebanks received a six-figure pay-out for suffering racial discrimination throughout her 20-years at the Ministry of Justice. Not only that, the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard report found more needs to be done at a cultural level to tackle racial bias in healthcare.

So, looking ahead, what actually needs to happen to change this current picture? And how can HR play a role in moving the needle to create racially equitable cultures within their organisations?


Racial equity: not just an emotional issue

A large reason for slow progress in racial equity stems from the way organisations speak about the issue itself. While 79 percent of leaders say racial equity is a top business priority, heartfelt conversations don’t go far enough.

Instead, racial equity needs to be approached like any other business problem, using data and hard numbers to drive results – and HR professionals can play a strategic role in changing the conversation and making sure people listen.

One way to position this internally is by comparing racial equity to other functions within the organisation. If a sales team was struggling to meet its targets, the organisation wouldn’t simply pledge to do better. They would find the cause of the issue, implement a solution, measure and track progress and ensure there was absolute accountability for delivering results.


It’s time for a data-driven approach

 The reality is that it is becoming increasingly important that similar methods are applied to DE&I. HR directors and C-Suite executives are under mounting pressure to present tangible results around ESG and CSR goals back to employees, clients and investors.

 Progress cannot be achieved with strong words alone. Without a holistic, data-backed understanding of racial equity at an organisational culture level, it is near impossible to make the right decisions and implement interventions that drive real change.

Crucially, organisations need to look beyond representation figures as, while still important, this is just one piece of the picture. To create racially equitable cultures – and in turn retain staff and improve their productivity and wellbeing – there needs to be a focus on improving the lived experiences of employees.

This requires HR to work with business leaders to put in place effective tools and metrics. Technology can be used to track and analyse several elements, including racist behaviours, levels of racial awareness and inclusion barriers.

Not only does this enable organisations to implement appropriate solutions, it also allows them to report on the success of their live interventions.


Using numbers to reveal human truths

Using data and analytics, HR teams can reveal the true state of racial equity within their business. Importantly, this is about using numbers to find human truths, benchmark bias and lay the proper foundations to measure and progress racial equity.

Only this way can organisations hold themselves accountable and beat systemic racism in the workplace. If this approach is applied widely, we’ll begin to drive longer term, tangible change – and ultimately see strong words translated into action.


Nii Cleland, CEO/Co-Founder at FLAIR, a racial equity technology company helping organisations measure and demonstrate their progress in building racially equitable cultures. Having worked in the technology, sport and investment banking industries, Nii understands the nuances of being an ethnic minority in the workplace.