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As the injustice Black people face in society becomes difficult for the world to ignore, corporate firms begin to ramp up their diversity and inclusion strategies. Companies seek to create a safe space in the workplace, but can they really exist?

Black people are often weary to express how they feel regarding racism, fearful they will be penalised, gaslighted or fired. Due to the lack of diversity in firms, many Black people have to report racial discrimination to their non-black counterparts. Who is to say unconscious bias will not play a part in how they receive this complaint?

This fear makes it difficult for many Black employees to believe that there is really a “safe space,” amongst many other things. Performative statements, unconscious training and recruiting Black talent is not enough. Until firms understand that creating a safe, anti-racist and open environment is what will resolve the retention of diverse talent, they will continue to have this ongoing problem.

Over the past weeks, Black Lives Matter has been a focal point for organisations. I spoke with Agency Lead Tatiana Osei, who shared that the recent conversations around BLM had certainly boosted the confidence of Black employees to speak up, creating a safe space. Tatiana acknowledged the huge shift in behaviour, stating that prior to these developments, many would not speak up. She went on to further explain, now that safe spaces are being formed, empathy is vital, as this gives Black people a space to have a voice, be transparent and educate allies.

Educating allies will require Black employees to be transparent. This highlights the importance of safe spaces existing, as those who wish to educate others may not feel comfortable if they do not recognise the space to do so. Transparency is key, and without this, education on racism is void. It is important for non-Black employees within the workplace to understand racism in it’s entirety in order to work toward having an anti-racist environment.

However, many have opposing views about racism in the U.K., making it difficult to protect and ensure these spaces are safe. How do businesses prevent this from happening? I mean, can they? As organisations work toward creating a safe and welcoming workplace for their Black employees, does being disruptive in these spaces become misconduct? Who is to say that challenging others on an opinion or fact is offensive?

To an extent you could argue that organisations have created a safe space by creating Employee Relation Groups, which create a community for individuals to belong. To name a few, there are Black, Asian, women and LGBTQ networks that focus on providing a safe space for those that either identify or are in allyship with these groups. Founder of Black Girl Festival Nicole Crentsil gave her opinion on the topic stating, “There are to some degree safe spaces in the workplace, which have been siloed into different groups. However, this can be problematic as organisations fail to understand the intersections of these spaces. I am a woman, but I am also a Black woman, meaning my narrative will be different to others.”

Intersectionality is an important topic that needs to be discussed. Due to the lack of emphasis of intersections, firms are now reviewing the figures and now noticing there is a disproportionate amount of Black employees vs. other ethnic minority groups. This arguably stems from organisations judging how diverse their workforce was.

Whether employees believe there is a safe space within an organisation is subjective. Firms must take the time to listen to their employees, and understand what Black employees believe a safe space would look like, as this is likely to differ to those that aren’t oppressed. Creating a safe space for all marginalised groups is vital and requires a joint effort from an entire business. If groups continue to be siloed with no education and transparency, this is not progressive. The aim of working toward building an anti-racist workplace will never be met until employees feel comfortable to have a voice in any space — and not just within their employee relations group.