BLOG: A month of focus, but a lasting commitment to change

Ian McDermott, Chief Executive of Catalyst

  • 11 November 2020

Catalyst is an organisation that is passionate about creating a diverse and inclusive environment for our colleagues and customers. Like our G15 colleagues, we are a commercial organisation with a social purpose and we are dedicated to making a positive difference to the world. However, we cannot do that if we ignore the obvious inequalities and structural racism that people of colour face in our society.

2020 has been a difficult year for us all, but it has highlighted some of the extreme biases and barriers that black people and people of colour face in our society. We saw that in the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America and across the globe following the murder of George Floyd, and we have seen that here in the UK, in the way that the coronavirus has disproportionally affected people of colour.

In order to create a truly inclusive work place, we must recognise that these barriers have also existed within our organisation. At Catalyst for example, there are very few black and minority ethnic colleagues in our executive and leadership teams. This is something we are committed to changing.

This has been an important year for Catalyst for many reasons, but we are pleased to have made progress in our goal to become a more inclusive place to work. We developed a new Diversity and Inclusion strategy that will target real structural change over the next three years, including in recruiting and retaining black and minority ethnic people in leadership roles. We have publicly committed to change by signing the G15 diversity pledge, and we also introduced several initiatives to promote equality and fairness within Catalyst.

This year’s Black History Month felt like an important opportunity for us to make it clear that we wanted to change the way we do things. We created a programme that celebrated diversity and promoted inclusion within Catalyst, but also helped colleagues learn more about black culture, black history and the experiences of black people.

Over the course of the month, we invited several speakers to share their stories and experiences with us. We heard from Alain “Fusion” Clapham about his experiences of growing up with migrant parents. Dr Ricardo Twumasi, Lecturer in Organisational Psychiatry & Psychology at King’s College London, led a fascinating discussion about intersectionality and decolonisation, Ateh Jewel highlighted the struggle for black people trying to work in the beauty industry, and we also heard from Dudley “Tal” Stokes and his incredible Olympic journey with the Jamaican bobsleigh team.

In addition to the speaking events, we hosted a poetry co-creation workshop with Sidney Belony, where colleagues were able to get creative and work together to create an amazing poem. Our colleagues were also invited to submit poems of their own and we received some truly powerful poetry.

Alongside the events celebrating black history and culture, we also ran some workshops to explore what inclusion means to our colleagues and to Catalyst. These sessions gave colleagues the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas on what inclusion means and why terminology is so important. We’ll play the feedback from these sessions to our Leadership team so we can determine tangible next steps and enact real, informed change in the way we do things.

Finally, our social campaign. Here at Catalyst we use social networking tool Yammer to connect and engage with each other and, as part of our celebrations, we posted a new article, video, or piece of information every day to keep the conversation going. It was incredibly powerful and inspiring to see so many people getting involved and replying to our posts.

For us, this year’s Black History Month has been a profound opportunity to learn, celebrate and enjoy black culture. Our speakers taught us so much from their life experience and their journeys, and our listening sessions helped us understand how the organisation can improve.

Black History Month may only last for October, but the conversations we started at Catalyst are for us consolidation of fundamental and committed transformation. We have a dedicated three-year strategy now to enact purposeful change and for us this agenda is integral to the business we want to be moving forward.