GUEST COLUMN: An era of heightened social accountability means change regardless of opinions and ideologies

Shereen Daniels

Managing Director & Author

HR Rewired

Shereen Daniels is the bestselling author of The Anti-Racist Organization: Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Workplace, the Managing Director of award-winning HR advisory firm HR rewired, that specialises in racial equity assurance, the Chair of The African Diaspora Economic Inclusion Foundation (ADEIF) and Senior Advisor to PR and reputation management firm Lansons.


In an unprecedented global election year, the financial services sector stands at a pivotal crossroads, where geopolitical unrest and societal shifts are redefining the landscape of corporate responsibility and what it means to be a responsible and sustainable business.

It is more important than ever for financial services companies, especially in the UK and US, to effectively communicate and act in alignment with evolving stakeholder expectations on sustainability, human rights, and ethical business practices.

My work with corporates focuses on addressing systemic racism and discrimination through the lenses of risk, sustainability as well as impact. I assess the macro environment to understand what patterns are emerging and how this should shape the way organisations approach this issue.

In a febrile political environment, the knock-on consequences of getting it wrong, of initiatives being misunderstood or discloses being interrogated is why social issues should be viewed as business risks and opportunities.

Firms therefore need to elevate this issue to the boardroom, rather than exceptionalising it as an inclusion item for the DEI or HR team. Actions to address racism and discrimination shouldn’t merely be a response to social movements or an opportunity to apply cultural enhancements when business is going well.

Firms should disclose more of the concrete measures they are taking to mitigate the negative impacts of their operations on their workforce, communities, consumers, partners and suppliers. They should substantiate commitments that go beyond putting Black and Brown faces in quasi high places, actions which tend to entrench the myth of a meritocratic society without creating meaningful change.

Meaningful actions will be shaped by the unique ways that racism, bias and discrimination show up within your company and your value chain. However, some examples of efforts that go beyond increasing representation could be:

  1. Conducting comprehensive voluntary racial equity audits that assess their operations, policies, and practices for racial biases, discrimination and disparities and investing in remedial actions to address these issues.
  2. Critically evaluating your approach to diversity, equity and inclusion to assess how well it has addressed the issues of racism and discrimination, for example.
  3. Running feedback sessions with racialised employees so they act as the barometer as to how much progress and impact you have made thus far. Life should feel different and better for them.
  4. Investing in communities and diversifying their supplier base. This means actively seeking out and partnering with Black and Global Majority businesses, investing in community initiatives that support racial equity, and providing platforms for racialised entrepreneurs. These initiatives should have quantifiable metrics associated and reported on as part of your sustainability and social impact disclosures.

Irrespective of what you think or do, navigating this path is fraught with complexities, where even well-intentioned actions can be misconstrued in public discourse. Retreating from initiatives due to changing socio-political climates bears significant consequences, particularly for those employees and communities most affected by these issues.

When global unrest, political instability and societal transformation is reshaping how business conduct themselves, as entities and leaders, there is a balancing act to be had. How does one monitor and respond to stakeholders who have conflicting or competing interests, and how does this impact on the ability to optimise workplace cultures so that they work for everyone, rather than just the dominant majority?

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