Toby Mildon, a Diversity and Inclusion expert, highlights why some internal discomfort is to be expected when white people are truly doing the inner and outer work to achieve equality.

Firstly, we must recognise that addressing institutional racism is important. We need to have conversations about race. The workplace plays a key role in challenging societal problems like racism, as well as the more subtle expressions like systemic bias. Talking about race in the workplace gets employers playing their part in educating and informing staff. Employees then go home and talk to others which creates a ripple effect of awareness.

For many people race seems to be harder to talk about than other forms of diversity. An example is that people seem to be happier to talk about LGBT+ at work. But if we want to create inclusive work environments we must have those conversations. What that means at both the personal and organisational level is that we have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway' to borrow the book title by Susan Jeffers.

It is understandable why we feel discomfort from a psychological perspective. Many Western societal contexts are created by the influence of a white majority. Whilst a minority group will be keenly aware of this, the black child growing up in a white world or the disabled person navigating an inaccessible environment, the majority don't notice their advantages. When this majority group is faced with recognising some of their privileges and the negative impact of those on others, it can be a shock, a feeling which some people will avoid.

Humans are prone to unconscious bias. Social conditioning creates a similarity bias. We create ‘in' groups that look like us. A safety bias means we avoid situations that feel dangerous. Whilst we are unlikely to be in physical danger in the workplace, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, perhaps offending someone in the process, is still a psychological threat. This means that certain situations or conversations are avoided with different colleagues, perpetuating bias rather than breaking it down. These factors may partly explain why race is seen as a harder diversity topic to talk about. To create inclusive workplaces, it's vital to recognise that difficulty in ourselves and understand why we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

Leaders need to sit down and listen to the lived experience of their people from ethnic minorities before they can develop a culture of inclusion. Without that understanding, the majority group can make assumptions and stereotypes. Too many times, this results in the majority group deciding what action should be taken for the minority group, without really understanding the issues.

Before starting conversations about race in the workplace, get the timing and the context right. Think about how and when to put out an invitation to participate in a listening exercise. It shouldn't come out of the blue. It certainly shouldn't involve picking on someone unexpectedly in a meeting.

Make sure that the lived personal experience that people share is heard, but remember that's not everyone's experience, so try not to generalise from what one person says.

Make a commitment to open up your world. Go home and watch a TED talk or listen to a podcast or read a book like ‘White Fragility' by Robin DiAngelo. Educate yourself about the lived experience of others. Learn about your reactions and work through them. We can do this work ourselves, providing we make that commitment and stick to it.

Toby Mildon is a Diversity & Inclusion Architect, founder of Mildon, a consultancy and advisory business and author of new book Inclusive Growth: Future proof your business by creating a diverse workplace.