Blog | 30 Jun 2022

We Cannot Be Afraid to Talk About Race

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

We Cannot Be Afraid to Talk About Race

Having joined Community Business in April, my first introduction to the company and the members/clients of this organisation through our conference “What’s Race Got to Do with It?.” We spent three days attempting to narrow down what race and racial discrimination consisted of in Asia, and how we should approach it individually and within organisations. We walked through our research which demonstrated that this is a priority – 81% of 2000+ employees surveyed highlighted that they expect organisations to address it internally and externally. While there were a lot of great takeaways from this conference, do you know what the biggest was for me?  

It is not being discussed in many organisations, which means it is not being addressed. That leaves a major gap in our D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) agendas.  

As someone who is considered a minority here in Asia and in my home country of the United States, the first thing that comes to mind when working with organisations that are deciding whether to discuss this is that this decision, this choice, is a privilege. The impacted are not given a choice on whether to have this conversation. The Employee Stories from the second phase of our Race & Culture research project show that racial discrimination impacts several groups of people throughout Asia, from subtle microaggressions to systematic barriers. This is supported by our research which details racial discrimination in organisations impacting access, job opportunities, career development and more.  

If creating diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces is our end goal, we cannot continue to shy away from this discussion. The data to support this is substantial – from our own survey to McKinsey's research statistics on diversity and inclusion improving business’ bottom line, to metrics around employee engagement and satisfaction; all these numbers demonstrate the need to discuss racism within business walls and outside of them.  

I am not saying this is easy; I am saying, however, it is imperative. One takeaway from the conference is that we all should see addressing racism as a social responsibility. We see increased articles highlighting racial discrimination and the awareness of it, from the CNA study in Singapore to the most recent hate speech case in Japan. If we continue to use the reasons of 1) racism does not exist in Asia, 2) racism is not as prevalent as it is in the West and 3) we must define it before getting started to delay our actions, we will lose the trust of our employees – many of whom do not have the luxury of waiting.  

So how do we do this? As a Black woman from the United States, I recognise the way I am accustomed to having this conversation does not necessarily work in this cultural context; however certain aspects remain the same:  

  1. Education: Along with the training on unconscious bias, we need to actively train on what racism is and how it impacts organisations, from points of talent attraction and recruitment to performance management and more. Educate on what it means to be anti-racist individually and organisationally. What are the expectations of employees in calling this out?  

  1. Awareness: Shed light on it. This could be through storytelling and lived experiences – which can be quite powerful in bringing this to life and demonstrating the harmful impact on individuals and organisations. Ensure your stance against racism is clear, and that there are transparent policies in place.  

  1. Creating safe spaces: We are all familiar with the need for psychological safety, but I would be remiss if I did not reiterate it here. Give spaces for the marginalised to speak, ask the appropriate questions and listen effectively. Be transparent about the reason for having these conversations and let actions speak louder than words in demonstrating the objective of fighting and eradicating racial discrimination.  

We have put together our recommendations on how to address racism in Asia-based organisations, which can be found in the third phase of our research.  

My own personal recommendation? Just start. We often want and strive for perfection – we gather data, we create plans, and we vet said plans, all in the hopes of being 100% right when creating policies and processes. What employees value more in this space is transparency – acknowledging the problems and being transparent, with plans along the way which allow for accountability. This is much more important than perfection.  

Let us all be open to learning and trying. We may stumble and get it wrong, but the beautiful part of this journey is the learning and growing on the way to getting it right.  


About the AuthorJanelle Mims, Senior Programme Manager, DIAN at Community Business