Business management

The legacy of George Floyd

One year after the murder of George Floyd shook the world, we look at how UK businesses have challenged their own issues around racism, discrimination, recruitment and progression in the workplace.

Many corporations and SMEs took the opportunity to respond, sharing their diversity, equity and inclusion plans with customers, employees and communities.

Anti-racism training and workshops have been taken up within organisations, and company culture has been interrogated to look closely at recruitment policies. Paul Sesay is founder and director of the National Diversity Awards, founder of the Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers, and CEO of the Precedent Group. He told a CBI webinar the death of George Floyd was a “real awakening for organisations”, which have known for a long time they have needed to make changes. He observed that more companies are asking for “hard-hitting” anti-racism training; clients are being bold and admitting they don't have Black people on boards or leadership teams; and employees are willing to be vulnerable and ask for help in understanding what the issues are.

Sesay told the CBI: “There has been a tsunami of change. We’ve received so many enquiries from organisations who want to challenge their own institutional issues around recruitment and progression.”


Diversity matters: case studies

• Meet Namywa, founder of Girl Grind UK, which supports Black and Asian Minority Ethnic women and girls in their personal and professional development.

• Read the story of George Oduro, founder of Afrolift, a business directory of Black-owned businesses to help consumers discover and support enterprises that are “engines of opportunity” within the Black community.


In October 2020, NatWest Group promised to boost the number of Black staff in senior roles from 1% to 3% as part of a new racial equality pledge. A four-month review into the experiences of the bank’s Black staff, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, led NatWest Group to have what chief executive Alison Rose described as “very open and, on occasion, very emotional and difficult conversations with our colleagues about their lived experience”.

George Floyd’s legacy also shaped and continues to inspire initiatives, programmes and social enterprises set up to empower, support and facilitate Black talent in business, the workplace and society.

Sharniya Ferdinand, enterprise manager at NatWest, says: “George Floyd’s tragic death was a huge awakening for many, and while there is still progress to be made to address the deep-rooted inequalities that systemic racism has created, the response of organisations pledging to confront the issues of racism and eradicate discrimination from their own practices is positive.

“It’s also heartening to see and hear about newly founded organisations that have been borne out of a passion and commitment to support those who feel the effects of racism. In order for progress to be made the public and private sector need to work collaboratively with communities to address ingrained systemic inequalities and move closer to creating equity for all.”

Black Pound Day, founded by UK music artist DJ Swiss, a member of trailblazing hip-hop collective So Solid Crew, was galvanised by the positive energy of the Black Lives Matter movement. Swiss says: “It was a lingering idea I had created around 2007 but never had the resources to put to use.

“I was inspired to do so as a result of the unjust murder of George Floyd and subsequent anti-racism protests in 2020.”

Black Pound Day now takes place on the first Saturday of every month to support the growth of the Black economy. In its first four months, around £100,000 was spent on products and services offered by Black businesses listed in the Black Pound Day directory.

In 2017, an independent review by Baroness McGregor-Smith put the potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of Black and Minority Ethnic groups in the labour market at an estimated £24bn a year. The main points of the report have still to be implemented.

More recently, the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which concluded that the UK does not have a systemic problem with racism, was widely criticised when it was published in April 2021.

Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, a charity that fights poverty in the UK, told Civil Society News: “You are more likely to experience financial hardship if you are Black. You are more likely to have lost your job in the coronavirus pandemic if you are Bangladeshi. This is not a coincidence; this is clearly a long-term endemic, structural and institutional problem.”

So, one year on from the public promises, commitments and financial pledges, what policies and practices have changed and improved – and what more can businesses do to address racial inequality and racism in the workplace?


Tackling workplace racial equality: advice from the Chartered Management Institute

  • Hold regular, informed discussions or team updates about race as part of your business strategy. Investing time in this activity can lead to huge rewards, as it makes it easier for uncomfortable conversations about race to become part of your everyday dialogue.

  • Be open to learning, listening and education to help leaders and managers navigate these difficult conversations. These activities provide platforms for self-reflection about the way we manage our own biases.

  • Be proactive about inclusion. This is more than a “nice to have”. Every leader and manager should be comfortable talking about race and willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Brave conversations are key.


What has changed?

Businesses have created more transparency by setting public targets, in some cases communicating progress towards accomplishing goals and being open about company demographics. Some retailers have committed to spending more with Black-owned businesses by adding new brands to shelves or engaging Black-owned suppliers.

The Co-op, for example, published new commitments for racial equality and inclusion in September 2020. These include revealing its ethnicity pay gap; a target to double the representation of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic leaders and managers across its business by the end of 2022; and increasing the number of ethnic minority-led community organisations its charity supports.

Progress has been visible in the beauty sector, too. Space NK has made changes to ensure its products are more inclusive, stating: “We will only display testers for brands that have designed their stands to include every shade. We will provide tests and stock for all complexion shades of the brands in every store.”

Open minds

In the months since George Floyd’s murder, racial justice has been pushed to the forefront of the national consciousness in a new way, according to Liberal Democrat councillor Tumi Hawkins, cabinet member for planning for South Cambridgeshire ward. She adds: “And we must ensure it stays there.

“It was great to see many organisations celebrating Black History Month for the first time, and I see more people of colour in television ads and media. But we must press the advantage even further through lobbying the government to implement recommendations from previous race enquiry reports.”

Photographer Cephas Williams is the creator of the 56 Black Men visual campaign that challenges stereotypes of Black men in mainstream media. Writing on the 56 Black Men website, he said: “While many organisations will claim they focus on diversity when hiring, it’s one thing to say: ‘20% of our workforce are from the black community,’ but what are the job roles attached to that figure? What are the retention rates? Who are these people and how do they honestly feel?”

A report by Accenture, Who We Are Is How We Will Grow, published after the death of George Floyd, encourages employers to bring under-represented voices into decision-making; to reject “outdated assumptions” about what it takes to do jobs; to target interventions at employees vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact; and to consider the impact of restructuring on diversity.

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