From non-racist toward anti-racist: Corndel’s story

Wednesday 17 February 2021
The successful UK training provider Corndel recently took a pledge to have ‘no neutral position’ on racism at every level
Abstract, overlapping silhouettes of faces in many colours

When Corndel committed to becoming an anti-racist organisation, they knew they needed to bring everyone on board, from new starters and junior employees right through to senior leadership.

Corndel used the CMI's Moving the Dial on Race toolkit and other external resources as well as in-house expertise when they they pledged to become an anti-racist organisation. Incorporating this new strategy into their existing EDI initiative, their anti-racist pledge touches every employee at every level of the organisation as well as the clients and stakeholders they serve as a business.

It's also a crucial part of employee induction for new starters where issues like unconscious bias and race equality are addressed and discussed.

"Some companies say they're anti-racist just for the sake of it – but for us, it's about weaving in anti-racism as part of a golden thread into conversations at all levels," explained Aquilla Lindo-Cozzella, delivery director and chair of Diversity and Inclusion at Corndel, on a recent CMI webinar.

You are either anti-racist, or you are still perpetuating racist ideas and beliefs by your inaction, added Pavlina Wilkin, professional development coach and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion lead at Corndel: "When our CEO wanted to write about the Corndel stance in a blog post, he said, 'there is no neutral position on this'. That is his view."

Brave spaces and uncomfortable conversations

Senior leadership buy-in was ingrained from the start. Everyone attends monthly staff meetings to talk openly and honestly about race and white privilege. These conversations are at the heart of the Corndel approach to anti-racism.

As Aquilla explained, it's not about making people feel comfortable or making excuses, but facing issues head-on. "Conversations and situations are not always going to be respectful, especially when talking about race. People will be angry and defensive and guilty, but it's not for me as a person of colour to make you feel comfortable.”

These meetings are a chance to share lived experiences, listen and learn, and have challenging yet meaningful discussions. Partly they’re designed to open up conversations, but also to encourage individuals to take ownership of any gaps in their awareness.

This explains why Corndel decided to focus on the word 'brave' to describe the meetings rather than 'respect'. "We had to think about what those ground rules would look like. For us, it's about empathy underlying all of this which allows bravery to happen," said Pavlina.

Often, the conversations lead to employees reflecting on the actions and steps they can take within their roles and daily lives. Pavlina says it's led many individuals – including herself – to have critical conversations with clients, suppliers, coaches and learners.

"We're keen to make sure we're backing up our anti-racist commitment with action," she said. "Whether that's empowering people to take ownership over their own education and knowledge around racism; or individuals asking themselves, 'what power do I have in my day-to-day role to make those small bits of difference?’"

How to run an anti-racism meeting

Corndel’s monthly meetings are facilitator-led and discuss sensitive subject matters around race and white privilege. Several breakout groups, made up of five people, work with pre-circulated material as prompts for deeper conversations. While these sessions are intended to be difficult and uncomfortable, there are several ground rules that participants are expected to follow, some of which include:

  • Welcome multiple viewpoints: Use 'I' statements to refer to your own experiences. Don't assume you know another person's identity or experience.
  • Own your intentions and impacts: Try to see and hear other people's experiences and feelings. Take responsibility for the impact of your words.
  • Take responsibility for your language choices: If using a term that may be considered inappropriate, explain your choice of language sensitively.
  • Work to recognise your privileges: Recognise and investigate the privileges that we all have.
  • Take risks and lean into discomfort: Sharing experiences may encourage others to do so. Challenge yourself to contribute your thoughts.
  • Challenge with care: Find ways to respectfully challenge others and be open to challenges of your views. Ask questions to understand the experiences and thoughts with others.
  • Share the message, not the messenger: Personal histories shared in the room should remain confidential, but team members can share general learnings and themes.

Measuring impact As with every business strategy, setting out key targets and metrics is crucial for measuring outcomes. Corndel carried out an internal EDI survey. It could see very early on that as a company, there was a very low level of ethnic diversity within the organisation. Comparing their diversity figures with the general UK population, it was clear its workforce was not representative of the UK population as a whole, either. It looked at the 2020 Parker Review around ethnic diversity on UK boards and their recruitment and hiring protocols, setting themselves targets along the way.

"We made use of HR metrics, too," says Pavlina. "We looked at what was happening in our recruitment pools, at our engagement and retention levels and at what stages we were losing people."

At the same time, it was important for Corndel not to see these metrics as a tick-box exercise. It was not, Aquilla insists, just about getting 'bums on seats'.

"We wanted to make sure it's not just a performance measure. While we want to make Corndel very diverse, it's not just about the numbers and hitting targets. It's about having this growth mindset and having some really difficult conversations. We don't just want to make a difference, we are making a difference."

You can watch the discussion in full here.

Find more CMI Race events including Better Culture on Thursday 4 March.

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