The Great Downing Street Resignations and Race: Why Workplace Culture Matters

Over the past 24 hours, Boris Johnson’s cabinet has witnessed mass resignations because of an unethical culture. Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned on the 5th July, alongside ministers and parliamentary private secretaries under Johnson, to uphold ministerial standards and integrity. The two cabinet members have been replaced by Nadhim Zahawi and Steve Barclay, which in turn has reduced the pioneering representation of ethnic minorities in Downing Street. 

Javid’s letter to the PM spoke of “The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues”, reminding us all of the importance of values, culture and integrity in the workplace. Though unrelated to race, these actions can represent why employees often leave.

 

So, can the leading examples of Sunak, Javid and others highlight the link between workplace culture and resignation?

How does the culture, treatment of staff and use of power in the workplace impact ethnic minorities?

Many ethnic minority employees feel they are not valued in their workplace and their values do not align with that of their employer. In Race Equality Matters’ most recent event, in June 2022, 65% of attendees felt their organisation does not tackle racial inequality well and only 30% felt their leaders were comfortable talking about race. It is clear more needs to be done to retain ethnic minority employees through creating an inclusive and equal working environment. 

Johnson’s former race advisor at No. 10, Samuel Kasumu, resigned in Spring 2021 and there is speculation, most notably by The Guardian, that Kasumu’s departure was over the controversial findings of the race report earlier that year. Those in government act as a prescient reminder that feeling valued and aligned with your workplace is crucial for employer retention. This is especially the case for ethnic minority employees.

A 2021 study conducted by Savanta found that four in ten (42%) of Black employees resigned from their job, giving a lack of diversity and inclusion as the reason. This compared with just two in ten of white employees. WorkL Consultancy identified from 20,000 people that Black women are the least likely group to feel empowered in the workplace and that Black men are the least happy in the workplace. As new data continues to recognise the issues ethnic minority employees face in the workplace, workplace culture is also consistently linked to resignations, as demonstrated by the Tech Leavers Study. Many ethnic minority employees are leaving because of workplace cultures that foster racism, power misuse, lacking integrity and prejudice.

 

So what can we learn from this week’s resignations?

Those in government have demonstrated employee ability to stand up for what is right and challenge what is wrong. Instead of continuing words of condemnation, they have chosen the route of action instead. As Javid told fellow MPs at his speech in PMQs:

 

“Not doing something is an active decision.”

This is not a racial issue, but parallels ought to be taken. It isn’t enough to not be racist, we must be actively anti-racist. Action ought to be taken to reduce the resignations of ethnic minority employees triggered by racist culture and values. This is the work of allies, ethnic minorities, Race Networks and leadership. 

 

How can we start calling out racism, not stepping away from it?

We would value your thoughts. If you want to see change and race equality in the workplace, join the Race Equality Matters’ movement.

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