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Big business looks for new ways to promote equality in wake of BLM protests

Richard Winchell
The murder of George Floyd and support for the Black Lives Matter movement saw thousands march from Front Street a year ago today. Bermuda-based companies were also galvanised to look at how they could make a difference. The Royal Gazette heard about some of the work under way.

An antiracism charity is expected to publish updated guidelines on how businesses can be more inclusive after a flood of requests from the corporate sector since last summer.

Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda has revived a decades-old document that could help track progress on the reduction of racial inequality.

The move came after a surge in interest sparked by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, who was killed by a White police officer in Minnesota on May 25 last year.

The Association of Bermuda International Companies said that Black Lives Matter campaigns helped spark increased the development of better diversity, equality and inclusion in businesses.

Cordell Riley, the vice president of CURB, said: “George Floyd's death last year triggered a worldwide awakening about the injustices inflicted upon Blacks.

“Prior to last May, we had done some work with the corporate sector, but our work was largely centred on individuals.

“It wasn't because we hadn't reached out to that sector, but that we had little response.”

But Mr Riley added: “Since last July, we have been inundated with requests for training from the corporate sector”

He said: “They really were just trying to come to grips with what they had seen before their very eyes and wanted to know what specifically they could do to bring about racial equity.”

International business

A spokesman for the Association of Bermuda International Companies said that statistics helped to show the make-up of international business employees.

He explained: “Leadership and culture are very important, we are seeing progress in those companies where the CEO and senior leadership are engaged.

“This is one area that we have relied heavily on the data to support anecdotal evidence.

“Bermuda Government data shows that similar numbers of Black and White Bermudian males receive college degrees yet with over 50 per cent of ABIC members reporting, our data shows that White Bermudian males outnumber Black Bermudian males in the international business sector by more than two to one.

“Further, ABIC data shows that Black and White Bermudian females lead in professional and technical roles – however Black Bermudian females are underrepresented in management roles.

“White Bermudian males make up 46 per cent of senior management and more than 60 per cent of executive management.”

About 800 people have taken part in CURB’s “intense” History of Racism in Bermuda workshops since last July.

Mr Riley said: “This workshop delves into the early ‘White affirmative action’ laws passed in Bermuda from the 1600s, to the negative impacts these and subsequent laws and policies are having today.

“At the end of these workshops, the common question was the same as the reason that they contacted us – what can we do now to bring about meaningful change?”

About 1,100 people in total have taken part in CURB programmes – including truth and reconciliation discussions and restorative justice training – over the same period.

Lynne Winfield, CURB’s president, has redrafted guidance published by the former Commission for Unity and Racial Equality in the 1990s.

Mr Riley said: “That was a document that provided guidelines to corporate entities on how they could become more racially inclusive.”

But he added: “Because it was guidelines and not law, nothing of significance was done with the document.”

He said: “It would still require voluntary compliance, but the social climate is more amenable to acceptance now.”

The guidance will be reviewed before it is made public.

Mr Riley said: “We believe that producing a document with specific guidelines will enable us to measure progress.

“We would then be able to highlight those efforts and encourage other companies to follow the examples set.”

He added: “To the question of what can be done now, we ask them to look at their hiring practices, where do they get their workers from, is it the same places that they got them from before?

“We also ask them to look at their remuneration packages, to determine if they are fair to all.”

Abic board members said that the association aimed to “lead by example”.

Richard Winchell, the executive director, said: “George Floyd and Black Lives Matter has got everyone thinking in this space and … an awful lot of people wanting to do something.

“We’re taking advantage of that awareness and support to share best practice, to make progress.”

Tawana Tannock, a fellow Abic board member, said that BLM’s campaign work had enlightened people “who did not understand that there was an undercurrent of discontent or that there were issues that required addressing”.

She added: “What we found was that it created the space for companies and individuals to be willing to have an open dialogue.

“We can hold a million information sessions, but really, sometimes, it takes a watershed moment for people to come together and understand, ’hey, this is something that we have to consider’.

“A lot of times companies will have diversity, equity and inclusion in a silo and I think what has happened as a result is that it’s come to the forefront and companies are now using it as a framework through which they attract talent.”

Ms Tannock added: “You have millennials who want to ensure that the companies that they work for care about the community, are inclusive and are diverse.

“Companies who want to grow their bottom line have to understand they have to grow with this sentiment.

“It is unfortunate that it took such a horrific event to bring this important issue to the fore, but really what it has created was almost a crash course and an education for companies who may have not understood how critical it was to embrace DEI initiatives.”

ABIC’s DEI committee was set up about three years ago.

Kirsten Beasley, its chairwoman, said that statistics provided “inarguable” context for the international business sector.

An ABIC spokesman added: “We recognised from the beginning that the greatest opportunity and need is to attract, retain and progress Black Bermudians in the IB sector.

“Our data shows that, while Black women are well represented in IB, they are not filling roles at the senior levels and Black men are underrepresented at all levels of IB.”

He said the association’s approach included support for students through needs-based education awards – started in 1977 – to try to make sure that “companies have a wide pool of qualified Bermudians from diverse backgrounds who are equipped to enter into international business”.

He added that human resources and operational managers benefit from monthly DEI sessions and that CEO round table talks take place every three months.

Kendaree Burgess, the chief executive officer of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said that the BLM movement was likely to have increased members’ interest in diversity courses offered by the Chamber.

She added that some attendees later sought private sector staff training.

The Human Rights Commission said that anyone who believed they were discriminated against based on protected grounds – including race – could make a complaint or ask questions by phone at 295-5859 or e-mailing HRC_Intakes@gov.bm.

A spokeswoman added: “Requests for information or guidance as relates to the duties and responsibilities under the Human Rights Act, 1981 are also welcomed.”

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Published June 07, 2021 at 7:56 am (Updated June 07, 2021 at 7:41 am)

Big business looks for new ways to promote equality in wake of BLM protests

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