Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Sep 02 2020
Celebrating "Race, Ethnicity & Culture Month" at Palladium

Photo Credit: Chris Mongomery

“Creating a diverse and inclusive organisation is everyone’s job,” says Palladium Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Rosanna Duncan.

In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and following a successful series of employee initiatives around Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Duncan proposed that the month of August be dedicated to Race, Ethnicity & Culture – “REC Month” at Palladium.

“One of the most important pieces of advice I give to organisations looking to achieve true diversity and inclusion is to see everyone as responsible – from executives to the front line,” she says, driving home her point.

With this in mind, Duncan and the Palladium Leadership Team stepped back and let Palladium staff take the lead, with subject matter experts and anyone with a passion to get involved hosting daily conversations and activities throughout the month. Topics from office culture to decolonising development work were built into conversations on Yammer (Palladium’s internal social media platform) and live virtual discussions.

Staff shared personal experiences, discussed books, films, and essays, and attended presentations from expert speakers.

“Given the professional and personal commitments of our staff, I was overwhelmed by the level of engagement across these discussions,” says Ali Rizvi, a member of Palladium’s Talent Acquisition team and the Diversity & Inclusion Lead for REC Month in Europe. “It lends optimism that people are interested in change, in celebrating differences, and in stamping out racism.”

An Anti-Racist Organisation

Palladium has a decades-long history as an anti-racist organisation, but in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the company is taking a firmer stance on its identity and how best to address racial injustice and inequality across the globe.

“Racial injustice must be fought on every front, now and for generations to come,” CEO Christopher Hirst wrote in a message to staff earlier this year. “There’s no quick fix. Public statements, one-off donations, and other short-term initiatives have their place, but people and communities are in this for the long haul, and companies must be, too.”

In practice, the reality is that anti-racism work needs to be tailored to each context and set of challenges. For instance, the fight for justice for Black Americans may share commonalities with the plight of Indigenous Australians, but many of the solutions are unique.

According to APAC Managing Partner Ron Erasmus, decentralising REC Month’s planning and activities was key to its success, and allowed his team in Australia to focus on Indigenous issues as part of the region’s wider Diversity & Inclusion strategy.

“REC Month, combined with International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, gave us the opportunity to connect these discussions to the situation in Australia,” he explains. “While other Palladium offices focused on those issues of most relevance to their work and communities, we took the opportunity to accept and acknowledge that Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be discriminated against and that in many cases, the full truth has not yet been heard. There are still wounds and intergenerational trauma and all of us need to be part of the solution.”

Technical Advisor Ryan Ubuntu Olsen, REC Month coordinator for the Americas, agrees: “We’ve seen a groundswell of support for these conversations around the world,” he says. “Independent but interrelated activities have taken place in our offices in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya and more. These offices have developed their own events which will inform future actions around diversity and inclusion.”

For CEO Hirst, it’s the willingness to have difficult conversations that maintains an anti-racist culture – something REC Month encouraged and enabled. “We need to learn what we don't know,” he told Palladium staff. “Learning is the key of listening, and we have the tools and the culture to do it – we just need to continually look at where our focus is and make sure we are giving people the space to do that.”

Hosting Your Own REC Month

For organisations seeking to implement something similar to REC Month at Palladium, the team shared some insights and tips from their experiences:

• Garner full support and participation from the top-down across the organisation, and ensure that the initiatives aren’t a one-way communication from leaders to staff. The goal should be a genuine dialogue.

• Tap into existing staff expertise. Those who may have lived experiences addressing racial inequality and justice issues can offer insights into stigmas, discrimination, and violence.

• Utilise conversations to actively examine company policies, processes, and practices as a means to identify ways to build anti-racist tenants into the fabric of your organisation.

• Get everyone involved. Topics of this scale cannot only be designed and delivered at the central corporate level. It’s key that teams feel ownership of the topic, and a voice is given to those who may not always feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.

• Understand that people may be apprehensive about speaking up or asking basic questions for fear of looking appearing uninformed or out-of-touch. Combine transparent communications tools with opportunities for anonymous Q&A to foster full engagement.

• Recognise that this is a process and that both the organisation and employees will always have room for improvement and progress. While these conversations can be difficult, they are essential for your company’s growth and your ability to have a robust and sustainable impact.

Contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com to learn more.