750 words, 4 mins to read
Co-op values have always been steeped in equity and equality of opportunity for all. In order to cooperate for a fairer world, we need to stay aware of the inequalities that Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups face. This means making a conscious effort to help level the playing field, as individuals and as a co-operative. Not just during Black History Month, but on an ongoing basis.
Co-op Directors Margaret Casely-Hayford and Stevie Spring share what Black History Month and Co-op’s commitment to racial equality and inclusion mean to them.
Black History Month
Margaret: Black History Month is important because recognising the contributions of Black people to society gives us a place and ownership of space that has too long been denied to us. It enables those growing up to see the achievements of others and see what is possible. We do succeed and achieve greatness but often it’s ignored, eradicated, forgotten or erased. If individuals realise this, it helps them see us with the right sense- as people with the same possibilities as others. Within organisations like our Co-op, it’s important this isn’t limited to one month of the year because we are Black and present 365 days a year.
Stevie: Every month should be Black History Month. Black history is part of our national history and should be taught as such to all students. But a specific time to reflect and celebrate the lives of individuals from African and Caribbean communities and remind us of events that shaped our history, can only be for the good. I’m proud to see so many Co-op colleagues coming together to do exactly this during Black History Month.
Stevie: For me, being anti-racist means staying aware of the inequality issues facing minority ethnic groups, and making a conscious effort to help level the playing field wherever I can.
Margaret: If others embrace anti-racism it means that they are willing to face into what is wrong in society or the workplace, and embark upon tackling it in a positive way. This is a massive difference from when people recognise racism as wrong, but think that if they don’t actively do anything, that’s fine. The maintenance of the status quo is wrong if what is happening means that one group of people have lesser rights, and are treated worse, just because their skin colour is different. Doing nothing is tantamount to condoning that situation. Anti-racism means positive engagement and action to tackle the wrong and that’s wonderful.
Co-op’s commitment to racial equality and inclusion
Margaret: I feel so proud of the very bold statement from CEO Steve Murrells in which he recognised that the Co-op hasn’t yet done enough, and stating that we need to be bolder in our actions as an organisation. When those at the top of an organisation initiate policy, and practices that start with recognition of what is wrong, it begins the right processes to gain systemic change.
Stevie: Diversity and Inclusion is in the spotlight of the entire team. We’ve made a public commitment to racial equality for for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. I’m most hopeful that our commitment to ethnicity pay gap reporting, which is in essence a ‘role’ gap report on seniority, will help us track progress over time. This will ensure we make pro-active efforts to recruit, promote and retain non-white colleagues into positions of senior influence and power in our Coop. Our partnership with BYP Network is an exciting step on this journey.
Helping Co-op become more diverse and inclusive
Stevie: To help Co-op on its commitment to racial equality and inclusion, I am leading by example as an ally. I’ve just contributed to a book on EDI and joined the EDI Global Advisory Group of Pladis. I’m also reviewing all our Co-op board decisions through a diversity lens. And holding exec feet to the fire on prioritising that agenda when there are so many other urgent business issues to address.
Margaret: Like Stevie, I too will be holding the board to account. As a member of the Board, I will continue to ask probing questions about progress and structure of change. With Co-op Council’s Diversity and Inclusion working group, which I chair, we are similarly asking the Co-op Council to look at itself and to consider how the democracy can be modernised to allow and encourage greater diversity. After all, Council can hardly hold the Board to account if Council itself is failing in this regard.
Margaret Casely-Hayford (Director) and Stevie Spring (Director)