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We Are The University - University of Cambridge EPISODE 16, 14th October 2020
How to create racial equality at the workplace - Kamal Munir
00:00:00 00:28:06

How to create racial equality at the workplace - Kamal Munir

In this episode Dr Kamal Munir, reader in strategy and policy at the Cambridge Judge Business School, joins us to talk about how racial inequality is reproduced in organisations and why it continues to escape scrutiny. 

We think about how the Black Lives Matter protests have prompted organisations to do some soul-searching, and we explore some practical solutions to achieving racial equality at the workplace.

About Kamal:

Dr Kamal Munir is Reader in Strategy & Policy at the Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, where he also serves as the Academic Director of the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy. His research interests lie in social change and stasis. Dr Munir is a Fellow of Homerton College and also serves as the Race Equality Champion for the University of Cambridge.


Nick Saffell 0:00  

Hello and welcome to the other university. I'm your host, Nick Saffell. In this episode dr Kemal minear reader and strategy and policy at the Cambridge judge Business School, joins us to talk about how racial inequality is reproduced in organizations, why it continues to escape scrutiny. We think about how the Black Lives Matter protests, prompting organizations to do some soul searching and explore some practical solutions to achieving racial equality in the workplace. I'm going to jump in right into this one, what is institutional racism and sort of how is it different from straight up racism?

Kamal Munir 0:37  

I think institutional racism the clue is in the name that it is institutionalized when something becomes institutionalized, it comes to be taken for granted it is not questioned anymore. So whereas if you see someone walking on the street being called names based on their race, that would be pretty evident to you as racism, institutionalized racism, which mostly happens inside organizations and, and and of course, at a larger level in societies, you may not be able to tell. So white privilege is part of institutional racism, when people actually understand it to be just part of, you know, normal life and part of a meritocratic organization. And this is this is how it is. So, it is it is much less visible, it is much more subtle, and it is embedded in organizational processes and routines,

Nick Saffell  1:41  

thinking about the routines, how do workplaces contribute to sort of racial inequality then,

Kamal Munir 1:49  

basically, based on what I understand of organizations, there are two ways in which organizations contribute to institutional racism. And there are two myths that pervade most organizations. One is that they are meritocratic, and the other is that they are efficient. So, when an organization and the members of the organization understand the workplace to be meritocratic, they automatically assume that everyone who gets promoted everyone who gets hired is on the basis of merit. And if we go deep into organizations, we see that that is not necessarily the case. meritocracy, meritocracy tends to be a myth. And increasingly, there is more and more research coming out, showing exactly why meritocracy remains a myth in organizations. And when we look at organizations numbers, it becomes pretty apparent that there are certain people

Kamal Munir 2:58  

based on race, you know, who are just performing much better than others. So if you look at fortune 500 CEOs, 96% of them are non Hispanic whites. In America, if you look at top management in various sectors, you will take finance companies, only 2.4% of executive committee members 1.4% of managing directors and 1.4% of senior portfolio managers are black. Same in technology, only 1.9% of technology executives and 5.3% of tech professionals are African American in America. So similarly, the average black partnership rate at US law firms between 2005 and 2016 has been estimated at 1.8%. So, there are there are significant differences and yet we continue to understand our organizations as meritocracies and the second myth is that of efficiency. So we simply assume that everything that we do is essentially geared towards greater efficiency in organizations. So what we what we realize is or what we must realize is that at the level of hiring, promotion, the opportunities that you get in organizations, your compensation, there is vast evidence that they are not always geared towards efficiency. So these are the two myths, meritocracy and efficiency that tend to that tend to obscure what goes on in organizations and on an everyday basis. workplaces contribute hugely to institutional racism, but escaped scrutiny because we have bought these myths.

Nick Saffell  4:55  

You gave me a lot of stats about the fortune 500 and I'm just thinking Compared to five or 10 years ago, is there any change happening in reality,

Kamal Munir 5:06  

the change is extremely slow neck, if you compare today with, you know, five or 10 years ago, certainly there is a change in terms of our appetite for doing something. And, and that is that is encouraging me. Because, you know, as recent surveys show, the share of Americans who see racial discrimination in their country as being a problem has risen from 51% in January 2015 to 76%. Now, similarly, 52% of Britons think British society is fairly or very racist, this is a big rise from similar Bulls in the past. Now, when we look at organizations, on the other hand, things are not quite moving as fast as we would like them to So, between 2004 and 2018, for example, black people experience double the unemployment levels in Britain than white people. Similarly, the UK his annual population survey revealed that black people in employment are still paid less on average than white people. And, and the same thing, when we look at performance in in schools. So, it is not quite the same thing, or not quite the speed at which we would like things to move. In fact, the most revealing thing came out in the 2020 Parker review, which was published earlier this year, of course, which found that 59% of the 256 firms they reviewed, did not meet the Parker review target, which was merely to have at least one director of ethnically diverse background on their board, only 5% of footsie 250 firms had a person of color as director only 5%. And even more shocking, just 2% of footsie 250 companies set measurable objectives for board ethnic diversity. So things are not quite moving as fast. In fact, if you look across the pond, it is shocking that the household income gap between black families and white families in America remains the same as it was in 1968. If you if you look at integration, or segregation of cities, in 1970, American cities were almost completely segregated in that 93% of black residents would have needed to move to ensure complete integration. And when the at the time of the most recent census in 2010, this number was 70%. So yes, there has been some progress, but not nearly enough.

Nick Saffell  8:02  

that those are some incredibly alarming statistics and figures. But do you think I'm thinking now of 2020? Do you think the BLM movement has sort of been any form of catalyst to get the conversation going within business? And on that my sort of second question would be, are there any big differences in the way that the big companies are sort of approaching it?

Kamal Munir 8:28  

So in terms of BLM, yes, it has. It has certainly made people you know, sit out and rethink what is going on in organization. So I have been giving talks in in some organizations, for instance, just making them aware that there is a problem out there, you'd be surprised at how many successful people think there isn't really a problem and how many of them think that their organizations are complete meritocracies and, and only pursue one goal which is that of efficiency. Now, what PLM has done is raise awareness that there is a problem. A lot of people still think that you know, this is about this is about the high handedness of American police and, and police suppression of blacks, but it is not just that as I told you the these the status of blacks, the gap between blacks and white remains at at alarming levels. And so, BLM has certainly raised awareness of that now, whether that pressure is going to continue is up to us. So it is up to us to keep the pressure on because when it is when there is external pressure that is when organizations are forced to audit What is going on inside the organization? And and yes, I mean, there will be lots of organizations and there are lots of organizations that essentially have decoupled these things from the actual running of the organization. So they will issue diversity statements, for example. And but what research shows is that organizations that do issue diversity statements, more ethnic minorities are likely to apply to those organizations, but in terms of promotion, there or you know, making it to senior management, there doesn't seem to be any correlation between an organization's signaling that they are, they're diverse, and they value diversity and actually promoting people. So it is up to us to make sure that, you know, they walk the talk. So there is the pressure. Now, in terms of change in companies, yes. I mean, so companies are trying to figure out, what can they do? Or not all companies, I cited, you know, figures from the Parker review. So, you know, I mean, this is, this is still a small minority, but, you know, I mean, many companies, nevertheless, are trying to figure out what are the measures that they can put into place. And some of the measures, of course, are just getting a consultant in to do implicit bias training. Now, the, the evidence on implicit bias training is, is not very encouraging. So, with implicit bias training, you know, 1000 studies show that people soon forget the right answers on bias trainings, the positive effects of diversity training, rarely lasts beyond a day or two. And a number of studies, in fact, suggest that it can activate bias or Spark backlash, even. Now, companies are also experimenting with blind CDs. So not knowing, you know, who they are hiring. Now, we know that there is a practice called whitening of CVS. And I think minorities engage in that a lot, which means simply removing all clues that point to their, their race, or their minority status. And blind CVS are not always easy to, to implement, of course, because you want to find out more about people that you are hiring, but there are a number of organizations that that are doing that. So, you know, we will we will wait and see how much time it will take to become institutionalized. And, and practical. There are a number of other things too, that companies arefocusing on. So some companies are actually forming corporate diversity task forces, not enough. I mean, this is a very small minority. And these task forces simply help promote social accountability. So CEOs usually assemble these teams inviting department heads to volunteer and including members of underrepresented groups. And every quarter or two task forces look at diversity numbers for the whole company for business units, and for departments to figure out what needs attention. People are also beginning to pay attention to mentoring and turning mentors into into champions and rewarding them on how well their mentees do again, very, very few. But this is this is, you know, getting some traction out there. And similarly, what what companies are not doing right now, but they should be doing more of is increasing transparency, because transparency and instituting social accountability tends to decrease bias. So these are just some of the practices that I've observed in in some companies, but not nearly enough.

Nick Saffell  14:04  

How important is it for the sort of methods to be visible to the general public or stakeholders? So and what I mean by that, I guess, building on that, is it a sort of fine line between appearing to do something and actually making real changes?

Kamal Munir 14:22  

Well, the real changes are only going to be apparent in numbers. So when we look at numbers, I cited some numbers from the corporate sector, wherever you look, whether you look in professional service firms, so I cited some numbers from from, you know, law firms, and 1.2% of you know, the partners being being Bain. So this is we should see them in numbers right now. We are not seeing them in numbers. I mean today, one of the judges on the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came out and emphasizing the need For more diversity, and this is this is just all over the place. I mean, there just isn't enough diversity, you look at the top of any organizations, whether it is the NHS, the diversity or the diplomatic service, and you just don't see enough diversity. So if we are serious about this, we should set targets, and we should try to improve these numbers.

Nick Saffell  15:24  

There always seems to be this sort of, he talked about mentoring, there always seems to be this issue of sort of representation, right? So and it seems like a sort of chicken and egg problem, especially when you're starting with a very white institution. So how do you make it an attractive and inclusive place for non white people to work in an organization?

Kamal Munir 15:45  

Well, how there are lots of different ways in which you can make an organization more inclusive, and it was down to changing the culture of the organization and culture, of course, depends on no numbers, again, how many people do you have of a particular are they simply, you know, a curiosity? Are they are they integrated? So color blindness, for example, does not work. So you cannot say that, okay, we are going to treat everyone the same regardless of color, because there are there is a marginalized minority in organizations. And we need to be aware of that. And we need to close the gap. And one of the ways of closing that gap is by integrating so forming teams, giving opportunities to beam people to lead teams for other opportunities, so that the somatic gnomes in organizations are challenged.

Kamal Munir 16:48  

somatic naam simply mean that you know, who, what is the profile of a person that we associate with a particular position. And right now, if you think of if I asked you to think of a Cambridge professor, what image comes to your mind? If I ask you to think of a senior British civil servants? What is the image that comes to your mind. And of course, the image that comes to your mind is one that you have seen most often. And you have also seen that on media. So we need to change all that. And we need to, you know, of course, I mentioned some of the practices mentoring, diversity task forces, and take this as a real challenge, and turn our managers into champions of diversity. And until we do that, you know, we are not going to make progress.

Nick Saffell  17:40  

So you mentioned the university and that that's a perfect lead in. So what about the university? What is on the cards? What are we as an institution doing? Well, and, you know, what should we be doing better?

Kamal Munir 17:56  

Well, in terms of the university, one of the things that we have started doing is recognizing that there is a problem. So for the past three years or so, I have acted as the race equality champion for, for the university. And in that I have had several awkward conversations, I have also had absolute revelations in terms of where we are and where we need to go. So there have been absolutely stunning encounters with senior members of the university and of course, with Junior members of the university as well. Just just showing how far we still have to go in in recognizing that there is actually a problem and in addressing the implicit biases that we are all walking around with. I mean, the University mean thanks to it. It's 800 year old history does things in a particular way, but if you look at the top management of the university, it is entirely white. After 800 years Oxbridge appointed the first black female master of a college in a in the form of Sunita Island.


So, and you know,  so, why is that is the question and again the myths of meritocracy of efficiency, you know, come to come to the fore to obscure the real dynamics of that and this is not just top management when I so we we hold an annual dinner for for Bain people. But, of course, right known Bain people, white people are also invited to that the Vice Chancellor participates in that. Now, when I asked many of my colleagues, beam colleagues to come to that dinner, they're not all but many of them. Have The reaction that why would they want to come to a beam dinner, they wouldn't be caught dead in such a place. That is because the category is still stigmatized, we need to eliminate that stigma, just as you know, I mean, the women's struggle has managed to do that. So women today are not ashamed of going to a women only networking event, for example, Bain people, a lot of pain people still are. So there is there is a stigma that is attached to that a lot of Bain people do not disclose their ethnic background, when they are filling out HR forms, when they are recruited. And, and again, it is because this is the thing that they're going to be discriminated against on on that basis, and they're not going to get the opportunities. And again, when we look at the talk of major organizations around the UK, you know, they have a point that yes, there is discrimination, on the basis of of this difference.

Nick Saffell  21:11  

What's been the feedback from the student and staff community.

Kamal Munir 21:16  

So one thing that has really come up in the wake of BLM is that we have gone to our students, most colleges have gone to work to their students, and asked, you know, whether things are how they would like them to be. And the feedback has been that they would like more diversity in pastoral care, they would like colleges to hire more diverse fellows. And and if you look at, you know, college fellowships, again, you know, some colleges might be doing better than others, but in many colleges, there is just very, very little diversity. And students notice that and by the way, the performance of minority students goes up significantly, if they are getting tutored, or, or getting pastoral care from, from people who look like them. In terms of the academic staff in the university. An important figure to notice is that when you come in as a lecturer, the proportion of beam lecturers is about the same as the proportion of Bane people in the United Kingdom, so about 14%. But when you reach the top, which is Professor level, it falls down to only 7%. So if you are being you are less likely to be promoted to full professor, these are things that the university needs to address. So and the pastoral care, the hiring of more diversity, in the fellowships of colleges are again, things that that need to be addressed.

Nick Saffell  23:05  

So going forward, what are your hopes for the university? And what do you think you as part of your role, what do you think you are going to try and implement over the coming years.

Kamal Munir 23:17  

So we have a plan. And we have KPIs, what we have done is we have prepared dashboards for all the major schools of the university. And a lot of colleges are showing interest in that too. So on the dashboards, we should be able to see now on various measures, whether we are making progress or not. Now, this is something completely new. And it has taken us a long time to come up with these dashboards, it has involved lots of different conversations with heads of schools. And we want to implement them as soon as possible. And so this is this is something that I'm very much looking forward to. And and I'm also looking forward to the university, recognizing and the top brass of the university recognizing that there is a problem that needs to be solved, and putting pressure on on schools, colleges, the headhunters that we employ to fill senior positions. And I think, you know, some progress is being made. I would like there to be more progress. But I hopefully we will gain some momentum as we continue.

Nick Saffell  24:33  

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us about these really critical issues of our time.

Kamal Munir 24:38  

Not at all. Thank you very much for asking me to Vegas. You know, I mean, the more awareness we can create about these things, you know, I mean, some of the some of the numbers that I cited, the figures that I cited, I mean, for a lot of people they are quite shocking, because they just don't imagine that things are as bad as they are, because again, we just believe that our organizations are fundamentally meritocratic. And so the numbers become, you know, difficult to justify.

Nick Saffell  25:13  

One final question, thinking about meritocracy, how have organizations managed to escape scrutiny for so long?

Kamal Munir 25:22  

I think organizations and managed to escape scrutiny for a long period of time, because of the two myths that I mentioned early on, which was the fundamental belief that we are a meritocratic society, we are a meritocratic organization and the fundamental belief that in this system, capitalism, all organizations naturally move towards greater efficiency and if there are any kinks in the system, they will be automatically earned out, except that these kinks do not get ironed out. And organizations are not as meritocratic as they would have us believe. So, it is the perpetuation of these myths, it is the deep imprint entrenchment of these myths, in terms of you know, what we teach in universities, you know, the articles that we read in the Harvard Business Review or The Wall Street Journal or financial times, they peddle this myth over and over again, if somebody becomes successful, we try to learn you know, from them, the secret of their success, and it is hardly ever, you know, an analysis of the socio economic conditions that made made it possible for them, and the implicit biases that that exist in the organization that made it possible. So, you know, I mean, just to give you an example, we are all extremely happy to criticize and condemn racism as an abstract concept out there. And we do that in the university as well. When I asked many of my white colleagues to give me specific instances in their workplace of racism, and implicit bias, resulting in non meritocratic decisions, they struggle to tell me So, white privilege is something that is deeply entrenched, deeply institutionalized, it is very difficult to differentiate it from organizational processes and and routines that appear meritocratic. So it is it is deeply buried. These things are deeply buried under the sword of meritocracy and efficiency and that is why they escaped scrutiny.

Nick Saffell  27:54  

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