From the MOBOs to MOBOLISE: what Kanya King’s doing about racial equality at work

Written by Jermaine Haughton Tuesday 19 January 2021
The founder of the MOBO awards has turned her attention to workplace racial equality – we’ve got an exclusive interview insight

Kanya King CBE founded the MOBO Awards in 1996 and is now launching a new initiative called MOBOLISE to help Black people make it to the top in the creative industries. Here’s how she thinks the race question is changing in the workplace.

Employers and businesses are talking more about race, diversity and inclusion at work. Why now?

Kanya: Organisations have seen the inequality out there and stood up to say they want to make a change. Many have realised that this will not change overnight and that they need multiple approaches over a longer period of time, but they must still prioritise it now.

After a challenging 2020, the business world needs to focus on “the decade of opportunity”, driven by an ideas economy, which should be powered by this untapped diversity of thought.

The business case for increasing management diversity is absolute. More diverse, gender-balanced teams outperform less diverse, unbalanced teams. It is a commercial imperative as well as a societal one. It will ultimately help the bottom line.

What are the main challenges for employers and leaders in creating a truly “anti-racist workplace”?

Kanya: A lot of organisations find diversity and inclusion issues tricky and don’t do anything because they’re concerned about doing the wrong thing. That is no longer acceptable. We’re in a different time now.

Never in my lifetime have I been in a situation where these issues have affected not just the Black community but all races, religions and creeds. What has happened with the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that exist with regard to poverty and health and wellbeing, while also focusing attention on the fact that lots of Black people are working in roles that parts of society perceive as being less worthy of support, status and recognition.

These are really big issues, founded on structural and systemic prejudices. It’s no surprise that businesses are finding it difficult to counter them.

In your experience, how can embracing an inclusive culture improve a business’s success?

Kanya: I grew up surrounded by creatives who were immensely talented but frustrated by this huge void in the music industry’s idea of popular music. Why would you miss out part of the population? That just didn’t make sense to me.

At the heart of the MOBO Awards is the idea that creativity is a powerful expression of identity, capable of transcending racial and cultural divides. That also makes it an effective tool for social activism and business success.

As well as increasing profit and influencing an organisation’s sense of purpose, diversity of thought makes and keeps companies relevant and helps them meet the needs of their stakeholders today and in the future.

What are the most important practical steps that a manager or leader can take to support people from diverse ethnic groups in the workplace?

Kanya: Mentoring, networking and support with CV writing and interview practice can open up career opportunities for underrepresented individuals, while also giving those who may be held back by unconscious bias in the hiring process the chance to showcase their skills.

It’s also worth remembering that there’s a really scary underrepresentation of Black talent in business, especially in senior roles. So everyone must do more to demonstrate that true diversity is possible. This is why we’ve launched the MOBOLISE platform, which is being developed in conjunction with Accenture. It’s designed to connect Black talent with organisations and companies, initially in the creative and technology sectors, to provide that all-important career support and help them change the picture at the top.


In October, CMI’s Race network published ‘Moving the dial on race: A practical guide on workplace inclusion’, featuring a host of tips on building a fairer workplace culture. Read it here.

This article was originally published in CMI’s magazine, an exclusive member benefit. Find out more.

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