Equality vs equity: tackling issues of race in the workplace podcast

Recent world events have brought into sharp focus ongoing inequalities and discrimination in society.  Calls for action have prompted some employers to create strategies that will improve equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in their organisations, including creating diversity and inclusion roles. Worryingly, however, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)’s Inclusion at work 2022 report shows that only “30% of employers say leaders are completely committed to having a diverse workforce”.

In this podcast, host Rebecca Torr, speaks to renown career coach, leadership trainer, speaker and author Jenny Garrett OBE, about equity and diversity in the workplace and her new book Equality vs Equity: Tackling Issues of Race in the Workplace. Drawing on her own lived experiences, as well as case studies, Jenny shares the challenges faced by executives from ethnically diverse backgrounds and how they are being tackled. She also provides white leaders with practical tips that can help them create more equitable and diverse environments within their organisations.   

Speaker profile

Jenny Garrett OBE: Career coach, leadership trainer, speaker and author.

In this episode:

  • What are the challenges still faced by executives from ethnically diverse backgrounds? 
  • Are recent initiatives truly making workplaces more diverse and inclusive?
  • In what ways do white leaders struggle to further change? 
  • How can leaders advance equity and inclusion in the workplace?
  • What can each of us do to advocate for change? 

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Equality vs equity: tackling issues of race in the workplace

Rebecca Torr (RT): Hello, I’m Rebecca Torr and welcome to the Emerald Podcast Series. Equality, diversity and inclusion have become a higher priority for company leaders in recent years. Conversations around diversity and inclusion have tripled in the last year and Diversity & Inclusion roles are growing 1.65x faster than HR roles. There appears to be a real drive for change in the workplace, but yet, there is a lack of understanding among leaders around what effective steps should be taken. Hence, the struggles of executives from ethnically diverse backgrounds remain in the workplace. To delve into these issues, I’m joined by Jenny Garrett OBE, renown career coach, leadership trainer, speaker and author of Rocking Your Role, which focuses on empowering female breadwinners, and most recently Equality vs Equity, which examines the concept of racial equity, provides case studies of lived experiences and offers practical tips to help the reader move the dial on inclusion. Join us as we discuss the inequalities and discrimination still faced by executives from ethnically diverse backgrounds in the workplace, as well as the steps leaders can take to further equity and inclusion. 

Jenny Garrett OBE (JG): Thank you so much. Thanks for having me here. I really appreciate it, Rebecca, and really happy to be chatting with you today. Yeah, so where did it all start? Well, maybe I'll start with my parents, actually, because that's where we all start. So my mum was, is from St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, and my dad from Jamaica, they both came here in their teen years, their parents had come before them, and then sent for them when they had enough money to do so. So I think that's an interesting start. Because what that brings with you is that sense of maybe feeling like you don't quite belong, and thinking that you must assimilate. And I know that my granddad on my mum's side definitely used to say, you know, forget everything that you knew previously, I don't speak French Creole, because that's what they speak in St. Lucia, speak English, you know, ditch everything else you've got to fit in. I went into the world of work, I actually wanted to be a fashion designer, but didn't get into art school, went into the world of work, and then decided to do a degree part time in the evenings, which started off being art and design, and ended up being a business degree. And, yeah, and that sort of held me in good stead in lots of different ways. I went into marketing, and really loved marketing. Until one day, a colleague who's now a good friend came into my office and just said, where now, where you going with your career, I remember thinking, I'm here, I'm doing quite well for myself, thank you. And she said, you can do more, you could train people, or you could perhaps, coach, or you could do something, you could do more. I wasn't a confident public speaker at the time. I was the sort of public speaker whose knees would knock, whose words would get stuck in their throat and forget what they had to say. That's the kind of public speaker I was. So that idea when she said, start training people, I thought I'd never be able to do that. But she said, people come into your office, they come away motivated, they come home with actions, perhaps you can go on a coaching program, and I worked for a business school, so I was in absolutely the right place to take advantage of all the training and development. I started on a coaching program found it personally and professionally transformational, and realised coaching was the thing I wanted to do. But I felt very stuck. And so what I did was I got some coaching myself. And that coach helped me to go down to four days a week in my job. And on the fifth day, think about how I could start to coach find that if I was something I actually liked doing. And within a year of doing that I had become freelance. And that is 18 years ago now.

RT: That's incredible. It's absolutely incredible to hear your story. And I think, gosh, you know how much you've achieved? And I suppose that brings me to the next question, because you obviously did go on and like you said, that was 18 years ago, and you went on in 2006 to found your company as it is now, which is Jenny Garrett. And I know you're working with quite a lot of different individuals in your team and organisations and, and you're not just coaching, are you I mean, you're doing a whole load of things, you know, to create change, and that's the thing is to make a difference. And so maybe you can tell me something around the ways that you do work with individuals and sort of what difference it has made to them and their families and their workplaces, because I think it's not just about you know, jobs and you know, where we go in our careers, but actually their lives and how that impacts them and their families. 

JG: Yes. So my journey started off providing one to one coaching, and then leadership development programs. And then really sort of niching I guess, around gender, and ethnicity. As I've gone on, all focused on leadership. I think coaching and training is so powerful, I feel very, very honored to do the work I do on a daily basis for people to be open enough to let someone in, who can then help unlock their potential. And it really is not about me being the expert, it's about me asking the right questions and all the work we do with organisations. So there's a team of associates I work with, and there are about 30 of us, what we what we do is we're working with people so they can really see the best of themselves. So they can maybe let go of who they think everyone expects them to be. And really step into being who they really are at their best. And think about how that benefits, as you said, their organisation, but also everyone around them. Probably helpful to give you some examples of how we work with people. So if I just give an example of one to one coaching, a client I had last year came to me because she was in an organisation, she'd been promoted, that she was doing her current role, and also the previous role. They hadn't backfilled. And she'd been doing that for a really long time. She had spoken to her director and said, you know, I want a director role. Tell me what I'm not doing so that I can fill any gaps. So when promotions come up, I'll be in the right position. She spoke to a director and he said, you're ticking every box, I think it's going to be absolutely fine when you go for promotion, the panel debated it, and she didn't get a promotion. They said they weren't quite sure what she was doing. Because she was still doing the operational role and the strategic role. It had confused them, there was no credit for the fact that they she was doing so much her boss apologise that she didn't get the promotion and said, oh, you know, you can have a coach as a sort of consolation prize. And I worked with her to try and get to the bottom of this. I helped her secure a sponsor, you know, help to think about how she can get sponsorship throughout the organisation and move into the role that she deserved. Because she was at the point of being so demotivated and demoralised that she was saying, I'll go to any role, I don't mind going backwards if I need to, just to get out of where I am, because this is so demoralising for me. By the end of the coaching, she had a director role. And she had secured much more financial income as a result of it. And really interesting when she told her line manager, you know, I'm going to, I've got this role, well, what can I do to keep you, you know, I'll give you more money, I'll give you the staff that you've been waiting for over a year, you know, I'm sure I can get you this role. And actually, I think, you know, part of what happens sometimes is that line managers think I will have to, it'll be three people to replace you. So I better keep you where you are, rather than you know, actually letting you unlock your full potential. So that's one of my really happy success stories. And, you know, when she did get that promotion, they tried not to pay her the full amount. And one thing that was really good was my sort of insight into go and look at your gender and ethnicity pay gap data and talk to them through that lens. And she was able to get the financial recompense that she deserved. So that's a nice story about an individual. Organisationally, what we do is we work with organisations to understand where their glass ceiling is. So where do we look up, and we don't see many women or many people from ethnically diverse backgrounds - at what level is that in your organisation. And we work with a level just beneath it. And what we do is we support the individuals, but also their line managers and senior sponsors. So we're really proud of what we call this triangle of development. We develop everyone in order to break through that glass ceiling. And so the participants on the program will learn more about leveraging their strengths and their uniqueness about their brand, networking about communication. Their line managers will learn more about what it is to be an inclusive leader to all of their staff, and understand some of the challenges and barriers that their colleagues might be facing. And the senior leaders sponsor them, so they advocate for them in rooms that they're not in. They really help them move forward in their career. But because of that relationship, they also get a better understanding of some of the barriers and systemic barriers that exist in their organisation, and they're in a position to do something about it. Our programs are really, we feel successful, usually, at least a quarter of the people on the program are promoted before it's finished. And that number goes up afterwards. And we've worked with some, we work with some very big organisations, who've taken hundreds of people through our programs really successfully. So I'm very proud of both of you know, whether it's one to one coaching, or the larger interventions that we do, do, it's all about unlocking that potential, and making sure people can be their most productive and happy in their role and feel a sense of belonging, and that that, of course, affects every aspect of their life. 

RT: It's really heartening to listen to that your holistic approach with organisations as well as individuals, because I think in terms of looking and you mentioned about systemic changes, I mean, obviously, that has to come from an organisation as well as just pushing from an individual, you know, is, it's just exhausting for them. So it has to it has to be that sort of holistic approach. And, obviously, you do, you do a lot of work to, you know, to address those kinds of equality, diversity and inclusion issues. And I just wondered if you could maybe talk a bit to that, and sort of where we are really in terms of, you know, our diversity strategies? And, and, you know, we may have them because I think a lot of organisations do have these policies. And, you know, there's a lot of noise about it. But what do you see in terms of change? Because I think that's, that's maybe not at the same level as the noise if, you know, like, what are people's lives really changing? And is there? Are you seeing like, a big difference? 

JG: Yes, yeah, I think, you know, after the killing of George Floyd, there, organisations realised that they had to do something, and they had to speak up, some engaged in a very performative way, which was, I need to tick a box to say that I've done something. And that could have been, you know, a social media post, or even a strategy or a blog. And then they've done their job. Others, I think, have really done the work, and many of them behind the scenes. So for example, a lot of the organisations we work with, we can't even talk about, because they, they don't want the publicity around about it, they just want to do the work. And there are many organisations that are doing the work they're putting in time and investment, whether that's resource or money to really commit. And one organisation we work with, it comes right from the top, the person who's the CEO is the senior sponsor of their ethnicity, employee resource group, for example. And what they've done is they've said, actually, we need to develop our staff, we've realised that, you know, there is this glass ceiling, and when we look up, we don't see that diversity. So we're going put our money where our mouth is, and invest in hundreds of staff being developed, and their line managers and their sponsors, but they've also gone beyond that, which is, actually when there is something high profile going on, you know, perhaps that you know, a killing of somebody or something else happening in the world, we're going to have groups where people can talk about these things, we're going to create spaces, facilitated spaces where people are supported. Actually, what we're going to do is we're going to make sure that our suppliers are from diverse backgrounds, you know, in Black History Month, we're not just going to have a guest speaker, which is a great thing to do. But we're also going to buy from black owned stores or in our, in our organisation, have stores come in where black people, so we can actually financially support the black community. And we're going to engage with our black community, for example. And so it goes beyond the sort of, oh, we're celebrating a month, and we're going to have one thing that happens and we've ticked the box to actually how can we do something that's more sustainable and ongoing, and I think it is ongoing. In my book I take from an author who said that racism is shape shifting, it's constantly shape shifting, and we need to be vigilant to it. It isn't most of the time, a direct racism that you get nowadays, and you know, people aren't shouting you in the street. But there is more covert things happening that exclude you from taking advantage or being part of a mainstream that you might want to be part of. And I think being aware of that as an organisation, you bring people in, you notice where the gaps on you notice it with regard to your recruitment, but your suppliers, and in many other ways and some organisations are doing that work where they really holistically and every from every perspective, always thinking about how they can embed diversity, equity and inclusion in their work, and organisations that we've worked with for a long time. So say four years, for example, I've seen that the managers who were coming on previously, you know, appeared to be white managers, and the managers who are coming on now, onto the program, 50% of them are, you know, from ethnically diverse backgrounds, women, etc, there's so much more diversity, and then you can really see it happening. But you've got to do it over a period of time, you can't just do a, you know, a two hour session. And there, I've changed the world. Unfortunately, it's not like that. 

RT: It was really encouraging to hear that actually, companies are sort of making a change that is actually part of their culture now, it's not, it's not an event, it's not an activity, it's just who they are. And it's, and it's there. And their goal really is, and they're going to do everything they can to get there. And you did mention your book, and which is Equality versus Equity. And it's tackling issues of race in the workplace. And I think it'd be quite nice for people to know a bit more about that, like how it came about, and sort of what it covers, if you could sort of just tell us something around that that would be lovely. 

JG: Well, I've got to thank Emerald, because I was delivering a talk. And one of your editors was in the audience and said, oh, gosh, that but that topic sounds really interesting. And I wrote a book proposal, which you like, wonderfully accepted, and the book was born. So thank you all at Emerald very, very much. Yeah, it's all about the idea of equality versus equity. And I think it's a really important idea. Because equality is not working for us. I talk about in the book, this idea of a seesaw that if one person is heavier on a seesaw and one person is lighter, even if you give them both exactly the same weight, you'd just be reinforcing the status quo, the heavy person would still be heavy, and the lighter person would still be lighter. What we're trying to do with equity, is we're trying to balance that seesaw. And that means that we give the person who's lighter, a little bit more, so that we can balance it out. Now, that little bit more can be things like sponsorship, which I mentioned earlier, which is someone advocating for you who's really senior, it can be things like diverse panels, where actually when I go to a panel, you know, at least one person on that panel is from my background, it could be women could be someone from an ethnically diverse background. And the diversity on the panel means they're going to have more robust conversations, especially if each of them has the same power to debate. And means that it's more likely that I will get a fair chance and opportunity. And it also looks like things like making sure everyone gets the same stretch opportunities in the workplace. Or it looks like not being biased because someone has an accent, and thinking perhaps they're not leadership material because of it. So it's about adding the sandbags in place so that we even things out and an understanding that that's challenging that the person who's always been heavier on that seesaw might resent it a bit, because now they don't have that power to bump the other person and, and control what's going on. And also the person who now has the sandbags might, it might take them a little while to learn how to make the most of it. Or they might not trust that they've got those sandbags that they might think that they're going to be taken away. But ultimately, we're trying to get to a place where there's a push and pull, and we're all working together. And people get what they need to be successful. And we understand that what everyone needs is different. And to really unlock the potential in each of your colleagues. If you're a manager, for example, you need to understand what that person needs, and you need to give it to them so that they have an equal opportunity to actually be successful, because what we're doing right now doesn't really deliver that. So we're moving power and sharing power. We're focusing on outputs, not just inputs as we have in the past. And we're really trying to appreciate difference. Rather than tolerate difference. It's sort of what does this person bring? What can they add? Rather than how can I make them fit in? Is what we're doing when we're thinking about equity.

RT: I think you'll your books really thought provoking. And, you know, even the concept of what is equity. You know, I think people really understand equality. But why isn't equality enough? You know, and I think just sort of unpicking that and understanding sort of like you've just explained that it's really helpful and what I particularly liked about the book as well is how practical it is. So in one section, you share people's lived experiences of racism and discrimination, and then you sort of encourage the reader to reflect on the story, and then you asked him a series of questions, helping them prompting them to do that. And, yeah, maybe you could just sort of give a little bit of an idea to our listeners on how you structured the book, and sort of how the practical tasks and tips can support change. You know, if they just knew this one that maybe they won't be able to do the coaching part of it, or the organisation part of it, but maybe just from, you know, someone wants to read the book, and actually, you know, try to do this in their organisation. How, how could it help them? 

JG: Yes, thank you so much. Yeah, I am very practical. That's, that's me. I'm always thinking about what someone going to take away that's going to be useful for them. It's lovely to provoke thought, but actually, what can we what can we actually do? And I wanted to start with my own lived experience, because I wanted to start with actually what have I experienced in my life, and why this is really important to me. And so, you know, that's where I started, I record some incidences even from childhood that I'd experienced, which probably are shocking to some people, because I think that if you've never experienced any of these things, it can be amazing to think that you know, people can shout at you in the street or exclude you at dinner, all of these different things in, in the last, you know, few decades that this could still be going on, but it absolutely is. I think people feel it's quite powerful, the first just introduction to sort of ground the book. Then I talk about a little bit more about the history of race in the UK. And this idea of meritocracy. You know that that idea that everyone says, yes, we want to give people roles, but we've got to make sure it's on merit, and challenging that idea. I think we all need to challenge that idea. We've all had opportunities, because someone knew someone, because of your network. Some people don't have the network, we might have had opportunities, because we've got some commonality – we went to the same university as someone else. And they have an affinity with us. Some people have been educated in a different country, these things all hold them back. And so when we say, you know, merit, I think we have to challenge that we have to say what can someone add, culturally, rather than how can we just describe what the right credentials are, we know there's preferences for particular universities, particular ways of speaking, all of these things mean that actually, someone who's highly qualified, highly experienced, still might not get the role. So we challenge this idea around meritocracy. And then I provide tips, and I provide tips at every stage. And then I move into a case study. For me, it was about bringing it to life, I kind of brought lots of conversations I've had with lots of different people together into one person's life. So it is a totally fictional character, then I talked about his experience from childhood, and the adultification that can happen for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the higher levels of exclusion that can happen, just because you speak up and you stand out, to his experience in education, and getting a first role. And even how you know that sounding like perhaps the fairy story had happened and he was living a happy life and the different things that could be happening in the work environment and the lack of understanding of his cultural background. Now, that could be misconstrued and misunderstood, and maybe lead to him leaving a role where his line manager hadn't intended any of those things to happen. And I think you know, the chapter in many ways that I think is really helpful to people, and you might be hearing me turn in page in my book on the podcast, is this idea of being an empathetic change maker, I think this is the mindset is a lot of the work that needs to be done. So how we can develop empathy, and also be a person who makes change happen. And that can be in the world, in ourselves, in our organisations. So how we can hold two truths to be true. You know, the fact that you and I were could go to the same party and have very different experiences and both of those be completely correct. I think that really key. The fact that our understanding if we open up our understanding and realise that actually some people are just generally having a different experience, because they have different privileges to us, and start to think about how we can humbly use what we have. I’ve talked about this with you before Rebecca, but this idea that actually, I'm a black woman and therefore there are those two levels of discrimination, sexism, I can experience. And that is a compound effect. When we talk about intersectionality, this idea that one plus one doesn't equal two equals a lot more, when we're talking about layers of discrimination and prejudice. So yes, racism, and sexism can be things I experience. But as a heterosexual woman, I don't experience homophobia, and therefore, in spaces where I'm with someone from the LGBT community, I can use my privilege really humbly to be the one who speaks up, rather than them holding that or, you know, having to carry that on their shoulders, and always speak up for themselves. And I talk about what that sort of radical humbling looks like the people, what does it look like in practice? What might you do? What might you say? And the idea that we need to persevere, and really keep going with this, even though sometimes it can feel hard. But yeah, there are tips at every stage, and I talk organisationally in chapter four. And then chapter five is about how do I do the work myself? How do I challenge my thinking? What are the questions I should be asking myself. And I'm a real fan of journaling. So I have a lot of journal prompts, that you could just wake up, write that question down and reflect on and I often on a Sunday, just take some time out in the morning, have a prompt for myself, and do a bit of journaling around that. And then reflect on that, that what I've journaled for the rest of the week. And lastly, is one of the most exciting things in the book, actually, that I nearly forgot is a glossary of terms. Because the language is constantly changing and evolving. And a lot of people confuse language like privilege with meaning I must be really wealthy. And have had, you know, silver spoon in my mouth, for example. So all of the language is sort of listed and explained as well. 

RT: I'm glad you mentioned that, actually. Because I think often people that don't understand, you know, all of the issues and, and obviously, that's where your insights are really revealing to people that have never experienced it. I think the terms and the right thing to say is why people don't speak out, isn't it, often because that, you know, they don't want to get it wrong, but like what you're saying, actually, you know, we need to look beyond ourselves. And we need to have that empathetic approach to it, making change and being open. And I think it's really, it's very useful to just have those, you know, start like, like you've structured, I think it's just, it's so practical, because you can put yourself in someone else's shoes then, when you sort of understand what actually happens, you know, these are things that have happened. And I suppose this sort of leads me now to the future because you've done so many incredible things, and you're making such a difference to people's lives. And you do lots of talks and your awareness and I think you're very selfless in you give out so so much to people in terms of tips and hints and things and, and it always comes from the heart. And people see that and that's why it is touching so many people's lives. And I just wonder what sort of what, you know, you see next really for yourself, and, and maybe what needs, you know, if there's like, you know, one or two things we can take away from this talk in terms of like, if we're leaders listening in, or if we're individuals listening in, you know, what can we do, you know, to make that change. So, a bit about sort of what we can do, but also what's next for you? And, you know, is there going be another book, maybe? 

JG: Yeah, it's really interesting. So when I, I have written a book before this book, and it was a long time ago, 10 years ago or so. And after I wrote that book, everyone said to me, are you going to write another one? And I remember saying, I don't know, I don't think I've got much to say, I think that that was it for me, a one off book. But actually, immediately when I finished this book, I thought, oh, I could write another book tomorrow. So I think definitely, I would like to write more around this topic, anything that can help people, it might be more conversations, tips. So actually, how do I have conversations? Or it might be more about coaching and sort of diversity? I'm not sure. But yes, I've definitely got some ideas for writing more books. I think tips for individuals here. One of the things I always talk about is your trusted 10. If you wrote your closest people to your trusted 10 who are not your family, and then sort of look at who they are in terms of gender, ethnicity, religious belief, education, you know, all of just think about look, you know, ability etc. Look at that. Often we surround ourselves our trusted term are pretty similar to ourselves. And I would encourage everyone to just do the exercise and then think, who am I going to reach out to, to bring into my trusted 10? Of course, it takes time to build relationships. But we can have a lot of people that we know on the outskirts of our life. So I could say, yes, I know lots of people from this background in that background. But if they're not in my trusted 10, it's quite a superficial relationship quite often. And I think if we're really going to break barriers, we need to have more diversity in our trusted 10 people. And so that would be one thing that I'd encourage you to do. Just look, write down your trusted 10. Notice the diversity within it, or lack of diversity within it and then go out of your way to get to know someone to bring into your trust 10. It will take time, but I think it will make a huge difference.

RT: Thank you for listening to our episode on How to achieve equity in the workplace? You can find more information about Jenny Garrett’s book Equality vs Equity, and a transcript of the episode, on our website. I'd like to thank Jenny for joining me and sharing her insights and experiences. My thanks also goes to Podcast Producer Daniel Ridge, and the studio This is Distorted. 

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