How to Retain Black Employees by Daniel Peters
25 May 2021 marks exactly one year since the police killing of George Floyd. In remembrance of his brutal death and the momementus racial equality protests and critical conversations that followed, we shine the spotlight on Black people working in the creative industries today and the racial injustices we’re still having to face.
We handed the mic to Daniel Peters, a leading advocate for diverse voices and author of the Fashion Minority Report, to share his experiences and insights of working as a Black creative. Daniel writes that race still matters in the workplace and remains a powerful barrier when it comes to pay bias and employer retention. And that while we’ve made some progress towards racial equality in the workplace, we do still have a way to go.
In light of this, we drew up a short list of easy, actionable ideas for employers to invite real change in the creative workplace. What better way to honour George Floyd’s death than by helping to drive racial equality where it matters: through design as a reflection of the world we want to live in.
Handing the Mic to Daniel Peters
The most effective step an organisation can take to change racist culture in the workplace is to listen to a Black employee’s perspective. Tuning in can help anyone who is not Black better understand racial discrimination, racial coding and the racial pay divide and from there, work towards reducing prejudice in the workplace.
That’s why we asked Daniel Peters to write a piece sharing his thoughts on best practice for retaining Black employees. Daniel is a brand and marketing specialist, who in the wake of the global 2020 BLM protests, launched the Fashion Minority Report, to promote conversation around inclusion and diversity in order to mobilise change.
Daniel articulates and shares changes he would like to see in the workplace, ranging from racial salary bias to career stagnation to racist work cultures and makes empowering practical suggestions as to what employers can do to advocate for equality.
How to Retain Black Employees by Daniel Peters
One year on from George Floyd’s death and the global BLM protests that followed, our lens is even more firmly focussed on problems of diversity across the workplace, especially focussing on the creative industries.
The Black Lives Matter movement, founded 8 years ago, as a Black-centric political movement, has rightfully gained global momentum in the wake of widespread racial injustices such as the Floyd case and shone a light on inequalities faced by Black people in many aspects of life, both now and historically.
As I see it, employers in the creative industries face two major challenges when it comes to equality: who to hire in the first place and how to best retain Black employees once we’ve been hired.
According to research from D&AD, only 11.4% of jobs in the creative industries are filled by Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities. Beyond that sobering statistic, the retention of marginalised voices within creative roles is an even deeper problem. The Design Council recently released data on diversity in the design economy revealing that black and brown designers are least likely to fill more senior roles, accounting for just 12% of all managerial positions. It’s evident that our voices are not as respected or valued as our white counterparts.
There are two aspects in business which cause fleeting tenures in companies for employees of any ethnic background: salary review and career progression. This is especially true when applied to the Black community. Without fair and equal salaries across all levels of hiring, it’s become typical to see diverse employees move from company to company. It’s common knowledge that the only way to level up and receive a comparable salary to a white designer and other creatives is to frequently change employers. The same route to equality via internal promotion for Black employees just isn’t there.
A recent article in Fast Company explains that pay inequality is a form of systemic racism. And to further support this, according to the latest UK government statistics, white British employees in London tend to be paid almost a quarter more than their black and brown colleagues. When it comes to pay bias, I’d like to ask employers this: if a Black creative’s talent and output is comparable to the same work by a white creative, why is this not reflected in what they are paid?
But it doesn’t just boil down to equal pay. We also need to look at Black employees’ career trajectories. The first thing an employer can do is run internal data to see who within the company has had stagnant career progression. How long have they been in the same role? How often have they been looked over for a promotion? Take this data, and comparatively examine if this has been the same across other ethnicities and genders.
It’s important that employers provide career development planning that offers measurable personal progress for all staff, in particular Black creatives. We’re repeatedly told that we lack the experience to become a senior designer, or lead strategist. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense for employers to offer training and resources that bolster our chances of climbing the ladder in the same way our white counterparts do?
I speak from experience when I say that I’m regularly called the sassy, funny, charismatic member of a creative team. I’m also proud to say that I’ve been part of award winning campaigns at one of the world’s largest tech companies. And I also speak from experience when I say I’ve stayed at the same company for three and a half years and not scaled the ranks, with no justifiable reasoning as to why. When I think back to those earlier scenarios, I would like to ask my previous employers why I was never given the chance to climb the ladder and if it had anything to do with racial bias.
A final and often overlooked area of the retention puzzle is the work environment itself, and in particular, workplace and staffing culture. The creative industry is known for being a white straight male dominated space, stats are getting better, but white men still hold a staggering 90% of roles. While many of these men holding leadership roles claim to be onboard with the push for diversity, creative office culture often doesn’t reflect this and unconsciously create environments that make others who don’t organically “fit in” to feel ostracised.
All of this can change. It’s time to stop leaving Black design talent in the starting blocks and instead provide us with real, tangible opportunities to help us develop our careers as professionals and create working environments where we can be our authentic selves. Because, trust me, Black design talent is there and now is the time to develop, nurture and promote us.END
Simple Actions You Can Take
1. Start conversations about race
A lot of companies still believe it’s taboo to talk openly about race and as a result leaders of all races remain silent on the issue. Research shows that businesses who avoid the topic of racial inequality and injustice are only adding to the problem by encouraging an avoidant and closed working environment. Begin to initiate conversations on race even if you worry about feeling uncomfortable or saying the wrong thing.
2. Reach out to your Black employees
Check in on all your employees and make sure you reach out to your Black employees in particular, whether that’s in person or remotely. Connect and engage with your Black employees by asking about their current experiences in the workplace. Start by checking in on their mental health, and follow up by asking about ways in which the business can better support them.
3. Write a company statement on racial injustice
Write a simple statement of intent for your company that states your clear commitment to addressing racial inequalities in the workplace. This should start as an internally facing statement, limiting public perception of performative allyship. A company statement signals to employees that the company is being proactive and consciously aware of the problem of racism at large. If it feels right, create a public facing statement that addresses your business commitment to becoming an inclusive workplace and the steps that you are taking to do this.
4. Try blind hiring
Blind hiring is proven to radically reduce bias in the hiring process. Removing information like, name, gender, religion and academic qualifications means that candidates are judged based on their skills in isolation of any other factors that may lead to a biased hire. If carried out carefully, this hiring process approach has been proven to increase diversity in the workplace.
5. Make change that is both structural and symbolic
Make change that is both structural and symbolic. Research shows that companies who fully “affirm the dignity and fulfilment of Black lives” meet both these criteria. Making structural company change could mean monitoring diversity and inclusion numbers for instance. Examples of symbolic company change could be showcasing work by Black designers in the workplace or recognising Juneteenth (celebrating the end of slavery).
Words: Daniel Peters
Illustrations: Ananya Rao-Middleton