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Racism & inequality: ‘a good time to act’

Society must actively combat racism and inequality because a ‘passive approach’ simply won’t work, says Kamal Munir of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Dr Kamal Munir addressed what is happening in America and the UK to how racial inequality reproduces itself in organisations in a webinar on Friday 19 June. Kamal shed light on the research that has been done on this topic and discussed where that leaves us as leaders of these organisations. Here’s an opportunity to see his presentation and read key findings:

A passive approach will not address the sweeping racial injustice in jobs, incomes and outcomes that has manifest in recent protests around the world, Kamal Munir of Cambridge Judge Business School said in a much-watched webinar.

Kamal’s presentation, backed up by evidence from more than a dozen academic studies over the past two decades, said that while many organisations are happy to condemn racism as an “abstraction”, few people of the Black community and other minority ethnic backgrounds hold top positions.

“All you need is to look at the numbers,” said Kamal, Reader in Strategy & Policy at Cambridge Judge, Fellow of Homerton College, and Race & Inclusion Champion at the University of Cambridge. “We need to do everything we can to lift people up. Once they get to the top levels that really can be a game-changer. It can break stereotypes and lift up other people by providing role models.”

Among the statistics cited in the talk:

  • African Americans have one-tenth the wealth of white Americans, at $13,460 compared to $142,180 in 2016 among non-retired households above age 25;
  • among US finance companies, the Black community holds 2.4 per cent of executive committee posts and just 1.4 per cent of managing director and senior portfolio manager posts;
  • African Americans comprise just 1.9 per cent of tech executives and 5.3 per cent of tech professionals.

Compared to white people in the UK, the likelihood of poor physical health among people from Black Caribbean or African backgrounds is 1.59 times higher, and this rises to 1.97 times higher for Indian backgrounds, 3.01 times higher for Pakistani backgrounds, and 3.49 times higher for Bangladeshi backgrounds.

“We cannot take a passive approach to this” and a key first step for organisations is to recruit and promote more ethnic minorities, Kamal told more than 380 people watching the 19 June webinar. “It’s the persistence of inequality across racial lines that causes problems, generation after generation.”

While “most institutions have a system for reporting racism”, such mechanisms put “all the onus” on the complainant to prove it and can “backfire spectacularly” if unsuccessful by making someone an outcast.

Beyond corporations, business schools and universities also need to do far better in recruiting minorities, Kamal said, adding that there are “leaky pipes” that result in minorities not being sufficiently promoted once hired.

We need to have a lot more awkward conversations to begin with.

The webinar took a deep dive into how racism manifests itself in the corporate world. The research Kamal cited showed clearly how recruitment, promotions, role-allocation and composition of social networks all continue to show a clear racial bias.

Following the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests, opinion polls show a rise in the proportion of Americans and Britons who feel racism is a major problem in their countries.

This is a good time to act.