In this episode, I talk to Laura Durrant, Chief Executive of the Black Talent Charter. We cover why the charter is needed, how itwill set about achieving its aims and the tangible results Laura anticipates.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast. I am Toby Mildon, and today I'm joined by Laura Durrant. And Laura is the Chief Executive of the Black Talent Charter. And today we'll be talking about what is the Black Talent Charter, why the charter is needed, how the charter is going to go about achieving its aims, and then lastly, when Laura thinks progress is going to be seen and we're gonna start to see some real tangible results materialize. So Laura, it's great to see you on the show today. Before we dive into those questions, could you just let us know a bit more about who you are, what you do in your background?
Laura Durrant: Sure. Thank you. And thank you very much Toby, for having me to here today and it's wonderful to speak to your listeners and really to just amplify what the Black Talent Charter is doing. We're at the beginning of a journey. There's a lot of work to be done and the more that people can follow us and be aware of our profile and support us the better. We're very grateful for support. So my background is, actually as a lawyer in the commercial sector. So I became a lawyer probably almost 20 years ago, actually when I count back too many years. Big commercial organization where I started as a general litigation lawyer. So dealing with organizations, with individuals, with challenges, disputes, regulatory issues, internal investigations. In 2008, I became much more focused on events in the financial sector, partly because I was representing organizations that, had been caught up in the global financial crisis.
Laura Durrant: I moved to be a Head of Litigation Regulatory and Investigations at the Royal Bank of Scotland. So one of the high profile near casualties of the issues then and latterly became a partner at a global law firm. But looking back over my career, it became clear to me, and this was pre-COVID, just it became clear to me that so often it was about the systems that were set up within organizations and the ways that there were unintended consequences and so often good people trying to just live their lives to make reasonable decisions with the right information. And yet not being able to navigate the very, very complex world in which we live and it being very difficult to bring everyone to the party. To really break down hierarchies, hear about different issues, headwinds. And I think that's just a human trait and it's really difficult.
Laura Durrant: And so, in 2019 I decided to look at that more closely and became really interested, increasingly in my career and then became more professionally involved in cultural analysis. So, I run a consultancy looking at that. But then in 2020, I mean obviously with the murder of George Floyd, the focus moved to race quite significantly in that context. And perhaps naively I had not appreciated that people didn't realize that race was still a challenge in this country. And so I began to think that it was necessary for me to have a new vocabulary to talk about it and to interrogate it afresh. So I put myself back in education. I started a master's at UCL on race, ethnicity and post-colonial studies, which I've just finished. I did that part-time alongside my consulting work and through all of that, met Harry Matovu KC, who had been, the founder and visionary behind the Black Talent Charter, which had a lot of very engaged businesses supporting it as founding signatories, but required a little bit of development in terms of what it was actually going to offer. And so I have now found myself leading that and we really became operational at the beginning of this year.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. And let's go a bit deeper into that. What exactly is the Black Talent Charter?
Laura Durrant: I like to think of us as a hub, a hub of knowledge, a hub of challenge, best practice. So we have a very clear objective, which is working with business to turbocharge the progress that I know business wants to make. An awful lot of commitments were made in 2020 about Black representation in business and seeing and unpicking systemic inequality. But actually it's really hard to do. And it is increasingly apparent that progress that was committed to optimistically, people thought that in seeing barriers they might melt away. It's just simply not the case. It's a much more complex issue than that. So sectors like financial services, professional services, accounting, technology, they all need additional support, challenge and actually ideas from each other because everyone's trying different things in silos. And the core objective of it is that we want British business to match UK population demographics for Black representation at all levels within 10 years.
Laura Durrant: And that is quite a challenging goal because the latest research is that actually we are slipping behind in British business quite significantly. So if you look at census data from 2011, we were about 30 years away from Black representation matching population demographics in British business. The 2021 census, it looks like it's more like 50 years. So we have not made any progress at all. It's not to say that business hasn't been trying, it's just that the population is shifting rapidly and we're just about to release some new research. And this is from Bain, the consulting business. They have done this work for us and we're slipping further than 50. So we really do need some new ideas.
Toby Mildon: This is probably a bit of a daft question, but I'll ask it anyway. Why is the charter needed and why did you decide to lead the organization?
Laura Durrant: Yeah, [laughter] I ask myself that question every day, Toby, it's not daft at all. Because this agenda is hard and uncomfortable at times and raises lots of thorny questions. And is [chuckle] so broad that [chuckle] it can be a little bit overwhelming at times. But I know that, with the best of intentions because that is the case. Without a laser focus on Black as a racialized category, we're just not going to be able to make progress where we need to. I, as I said, put myself back in education because race is such a difficult topic. I want to have the breadth of knowledge, historical context, political context, social context to feel comfortable having these discussions.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: Now with the best will in the world, not many people have the time bandwidth or are at the right point in their career to do that. And so, really there is a need to have that external resource expertise to push the agenda forward and to think about answers and not to... A key part of what we're doing with the Black Talent Charter is not duplicating what anyone is doing. There's some brilliant efforts going on out there already, and I'm very aware of many of them. But actually being a hub for referrals to talk about the amazing things that have worked, that haven't worked. I'm a trustee for a charity called Action for Race Equality, which does a huge amount of work in schools, in criminal justice, in employability, all of these things are important. And we don't want to
do any of that.
Laura Durrant: But has this charity, which has been operating for 30 years, been introduced to all the businesses that it could support? No, of course it hasn't. Has the work and the things that have made a difference, have they been talked about in the sorts of business circles that the Black Talent Charter is operating in? Probably not. Certainly not consistently. And that's just one example. There are hundreds of examples, so that focus on Black, the need for answers, the need for... You know we're a not-for-profit, so we're not competing with anyone. It is about amplifying great work already underway and maintaining that momentum at a point where actually is, it's awkward for leaders to just focus on one cohort. It's really hard.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And so, people talk about there being pushback and what about me? What about this cohort? Why is it justified focusing there? Well, as a leader in an organization, you've got to answer all of these questions and it's really difficult. Whereas actually, if you can work with us and say, we're working with this organization that is going to provide answers and provide training and challenge us on that specific topic. Then hopefully we can build some momentum behind it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. There's some real commonalities with what you're saying and what I'm experiencing with clients. So, there's a huge amount of overwhelm when it comes to diversity and inclusion because I think a lot of leaders feel overwhelmed with the amount of groups that they need to think about. And I suppose I'd like to get them to think more about how do we actually create equity? How do we level the playing field? And also, how do we focus on inclusion so we're not just focusing on like one or two demographics, we're trying to include everybody.
Toby Mildon: And when it comes to talking about specific topics, I know there's a lot of fear about saying the wrong thing causing offense, and that often leads to inaction. 'Cause they're like, you know, I get it. I've got a disability, I'm a wheelchair user, and I'm also a member of the LGBT community. And I go along to a meeting with clients and they're like, "Oh, how do we even talk about disability? What's the right language we should be using?" And also, I know that they also have the same questions when it comes to talking about race as well.
Laura Durrant: Yeah. And I mean, I see this in all of our discussions. Incredibly good intentions are undermined just by the human frailty of not wanting to upset people, and therefore failing to engage with it and worry about saying the wrong thing. And let's face it in a difficult moment where things never disappear, they remain online forever.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: Mistakes are publicly criticized and therefore it's completely understandable as to why people find this awkward. And race is a created social construct that we have mapped a reality onto. So, the health inequalities don't exist innately. They are created by social inequalities and economic inequalities, political inequalities, etcetera. But it race as an idea, you just have to think about the words that we use to describe race. Some are colours like Black and White, some are about locations, Asian, it's just obviously made up.
Toby Mildon: It is. Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And so, when you're approaching it in that way, and of course people are of mixed heritage. My own heritage is Black-Caribbean and White-British. But actually, if I look through my heritage in more complexity, there's a whole host of different origin stories there. What am I? It's really difficult. And so, putting people into boxes, trying to advocate on behalf of anticipate how different interventions will land and progress different groups is really, really hard.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And I absolutely understand the sorts of discussions you are having where people just hope that by, let's face it, often people hope that by solving one issue, say gender inequity, they solve for everything else because you can roll out the same thing more broadly. And unfortunately, it just doesn't seem to be working that well.
Toby Mildon: Now, when I worked at Deloitte, the partner I worked with had this catchphrase of, "We're gonna create a culture of respect and inclusion, but we're gonna take targeted interventions where required." And I thought that was really cool because that was about creating that kind of overarching culture, which was basically based on respect. The understanding that you do have to take targeted, specific actions to create equity for different groups of people.
Laura Durrant: Yes. Yeah. Some people talk about leveling the playing field and there's an image where I can send it to you afterwards Toby. Perhaps we can put it in the show notes where there's three people standing behind the fence watching a game.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And I've looked at that image quite a lot because it's quite popular in showing what we're talking about with inequality or inequity. And you've got three people of different heights and the smallest person can't see over the fence. But for me it's, I don't like the idea that the people are different in their innate characteristics, what we've done under some people, it's just dig a flipping big hole.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. [laughter] Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And sit there [laughter] we need to work out what that hole looks like. It's not about them fixing them, it's about filling in the hole so that they can all see over the fence in the same way if they choose to do so.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. Yeah. The practical example that I give when I do... 'Cause I use that image actually in some training that I do, but then I always brought it up with a bit of a practical example. So if I was to go and work for a company and I was given a standard issue laptop, that would be equality. I'm being treated the same as everybody else. I'm given the same piece of equipment as everyone else, but I still couldn't do my job because I can't lift my hands to type on a normal keyboard. So I need to have some software installed, which is called Dragon, which allows me to control my computer with my voice and write emails and documents with my voice. But this software costs like $200. Once that software is installed on my laptop, I can do my job just as well as anybody else. And so that's the equity piece. It's about giving me that little piece of assistive technology that helps me compete on the level playing field with everyone else.
Laura Durrant: Yeah. That active engagement.
Toby Mildon: So how is the Black Talent Charter gonna go about achieving its aims? What's your plans?
Laura Durrant: Oh, well this is the really intimidating bit, actually needing to move this agenda forward and finding the right solutions because it is such a complicated history to racial inequality and is related to so many different elements in terms of how society is structured, et cetera. We have to have quite a broad breadth of vision. We're looking at it through the lens of three pillars of activity. So the first one is research and analysis, learning from others who are already doing good work in this space and identifying areas that require more focus. And a key part of that actually is bridging what is often a gap between the academic world and the business world and translating it. I know from having gone back to education after 20 years out, it is hard sometimes to follow the academic train of analysis and we end up with concepts being pulled into the commercial world like intersectionality with actually very little corresponding analysis of the parameters of it.
Laura Durrant: And how to use it in a nuanced way. And there are so many examples of great research that just aren't quite translated or you simply are not aware of it. And so making sure that we are a hub that can analyze what already exists and the work that's been done and actually what further research is required. And obviously it's not just the academic world. You've also got brilliant people in the likes of Deloitte and The Big Four, Bain I mentioned have been doing this work for us. Data analysts, so important in terms of what we're really presenting here through the lens of Black experiences in a particular cohort, the British economy. So all of that research and analysis is absolutely key because that means that we are evidence-based in looking at what interventions are required, Black talent.
Laura Durrant: So the people who we want to see progress absolutely focused on them. So this isn't about fixing people, it's about seeing that hole and empowering them to drive their careers and support each other actually, and realize that there are lots of other people out there because there are so few people, particularly as you become more senior in organizations that can feel quite lonely. Whereas across the city there are a reasonable number of people. It's not representative of the population, it's certainly not representative of the London population. When I talk about the city, capitalized city in London.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Laura Durrant: And nationally, there are lots of people who feel quite isolated. So building that network of support, collaboration that I, in my professional career built ad hoc, but didn't really feel like I had much access to and laterally in my career felt I saw much more on the gender side. And it's not to say that a white man cannot be an amazing mentor and sponsor and source of inspiration at all, but actually having people who, with some of the shared experiences who you can go to at different points in time can be really powerful and useful. So that focus on Black talent, events, development programs, ready to give people an advantage. And then finally the charter. So I know it's in our name, Black Talent Charter, but I don't want people to get distracted by targets, etcetera.
Laura Durrant: Absolutely. Targets are part of this story, but not every organization for really good reasons, wants to set them or is in the right position to set them. And we also want organizations to be willing to be a little bit creative and to take a few risks and to work with us on thinking about what moves this agenda forward. And that means that they may not always be successful. So we do have a charter with commitments, which is really about everyone committing and moving this forward. It's about looking at their supply chains, particularly for large organizations and the diversity in that supply chain. It's about their own internal commitments and targets. Absolutely. But that is a third pillar. It's not the sole focus of the Black Talent Charter.
Toby Mildon: When do you think we're gonna see some real progress being made and we'll start to see some tangible outcomes materialize?
Laura Durrant: The million dollar question, Toby. I would love to significantly move the discussion on. Sadly, I don't think we're even in a place where people can automatically say, "Yes, this focus on black talent is the right thing to do." So we've got quite a bit of groundwork to lay first that requires this research and analysis piece. We simultaneously will be working with our cohorts to look at what they've already got in place and really support them to retain people and stop the exodus that happens mid-career for Black talent within the commercial sector. So those are the kind of two pillars of what we're immediately looking at over the next six months, 12 months. Our long-
term goal is to significantly change the face of British business within 10 years. And when I say that, [chuckle] it should be a really uncontroversial goal to simply match British business to population demographics.
Laura Durrant: Because if those businesses are equitable, then that should be easy to do. The talent is out there and challenges like well the education sector just is the barrier and people don't come through us. Not true at all. We've done our research so far and we can say that actually, the Black population is over represented in universities. It's just not translating into the commercial sector. So we need to, looking at the 10-year plan, it's to reach that core goal, but the steps that we will get in the intervening years, I hope we're seeing real progress within four or five years, but it's going to be very challenging.
Toby Mildon: So if a business signs up and becomes a signatory to the charter, what would you say are the top three benefits that they get.
Laura Durrant: Access to a committed cohort. So, cross sector, so often, if you have a law firm, they will have a network of other law firms. They will have a network of clients depending on their sector, but they're not talking about these sorts of things often with clients. And there can be a discomfort about discussing it with competitors, direct competitors, financial services. Again, they'll talk to each other in different contexts. But actually coming together as that cohort, bringing together the DEI lead, bringing together the head of the Black Affinity network, bringing together C-suite leaders in different rooms and saying, okay, what's on your plate? What does the strategy look like? And facilitating those discussions. That's one of the key benefits. They'll obviously also have access to us and our growing expertise and ideas bank. I hope as we develop our thinking in this area and their Black talent will get access to a huge roster of events over time. Opportunities like we're looking at a mid career for that senior Black individual who can't quite kick into the executive level. What does that look like? What would really move the dial for that? So there will be lots and lots of different opportunities for Black talent to progress their own careers.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. What does inclusive growth mean for you?
Laura Durrant: Well, first a caveat, because growth can, well, it's baked into our economic system, isn't it? For good or ill, and growth means that we're moving forward and change is occurring and that comes with risks that people are being left behind. So inclusive growth for me has to mean that we are filling in those holes that I was discussing earlier as we go at pace because otherwise they get deeper and deeper and deeper and everyone has moved on and change has occurred, and we have baked in systemic barriers and inequality and created additional cultural pressures. So inclusive growth for me means that growth only occurs with everyone at the table, at the party, whatever you want to say and however you want to describe it. But you pull everyone along filling in those holes as you go.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Now, if the person listening to us right now wants to learn more about the Black Talent Charter, maybe they want to share information with their colleagues, perhaps their own organization wants to become a signatory. What should they do?
Laura Durrant: So firstly, have a look at our website. If you search the Black Talent Charter, we should come up pretty quickly. And you can see on there the list of our signatory, some pretty large organizations. So people may already actually have access to our events and not realize it because we are increasing our profile. We do recognize that. So that's the first step. If your organization is not listed on there, please have a look at us on LinkedIn, follow us there, and then please approach us, ask for more information, flag up our existence to your leadership team, to your HR team, to your DEI specialists. And please get in touch. We would love to hear from you. The more organizations that we have as part of this, the greater our systemic impact will be.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. I know when I've worked for large organizations like the BBC and Deloitte, we were members of various charters and it's hugely beneficial to just be part of the community and to have that real focus on addressing the issues at hand.
Laura Durrant: Yes. No, I think there's a huge benefit just in terms of people being able to meet a broader networking cohort of people across business. So even just that without everything else for an individual is really exciting.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Laura, thanks ever so much for joining me today. It's been really great to catch up with you. Good luck with the charter, and please keep us posted on how things go.
Laura Durrant: I will do. Thank you very much for having me.
Toby Mildon: You're welcome. And thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast. Hopefully you've learned lots from what Laura and I were talking about today. And if you are interested in learning more about the Black Talent Charter and becoming a signatory, then please do reach out to Laura and her team and they will be more than happy to help you. Until next time, I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the podcast, which will be coming out for, soon. Take good care of yourself. Bye-bye.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.