With cricket’s racism crisis, we ask how E-Learning can help combat institutional racism

31st August 2022

First it was English cricket, then it was Scottish cricket. The issue of racism has been dominating the front pages once again, with accusations of ‘deep-seated’ racism in English cricket, and institutional racism in the Scottish game

That racism should be happening so casually and blatantly in this most multicultural of settings has shaken the popular assumption that racism in sport is under control or improving. Rather, the evidence suggests that in many situations, racism is being overlooked or downplayed until an incident brings the issue out into the spotlight. 

In the case of English Cricket, that incident was off-spin bowler Azeem Rafiq speaking out about systemic racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In the case of Cricket Scotland, an independent inquiry investigated 448 racist incidents reported by players and officials, concluding that institutional racism was present throughout the ‘governance and leadership of the sport’.

A case study for anti-racism training

Amongst many criticisms, the investigation into Cricket Scotland – described as a ‘watershed moment’ for the game – highlighted a lack of training on diversity and anti-racism within the organisation, with those who did raise concerns being ‘sidelined or ignored’. It’s a powerful illustration of the value of anti-racism training. 

‘Without anti-racism training, people often fail to recognise when to challenge those who perpetuate racism, and when to support those who are victims of racism,’ explains David Marshall, managing director at Marshall E-Learning. ‘Sporting institutions have come to the fore because of the multicultural nature of sport, with players and supporters coming from many different backgrounds, but everything that has become visible in sport is going on in every facet of life.’ 

‘We have been approached by numerous sporting organisations who have told us that some of their long-term supporters have outdated attitudes that would be challenged in wider society, but are not being challenged within the microculture of that sporting organisation. There’s growing awareness that ‘banter’ amongst players and supporters can mask racism or provide a smoke screen behind which racism can be hidden.’

 

Is anti-racism training enough to stop racism?

There is no magic bullet in the world of bias, prejudice and discrimination. However, anti-racism training is the start of a conscious conversation that can – with active engagement from the top of the organisation – lead to a more diverse, respectful and effective workplace

Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace from Marshall E-Learning is specifically designed to break down the barriers to speaking up about issues of racism at work. These issues have been identified even within major organisations such as the NHS, which has broad policies in place to confront racism and discrimination.

Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace is intended as a constructive gateway tool, supporting individuals to reflect and learn in a safe and private environment, before engaging with these issues with colleagues more broadly in the workplace. 

‘We cannot become anti-racist without full awareness of the subtleties of racism, without knowledge and understanding of lived experiences, and without the commitment of those with influence.’ explains Ann Allcock, Head of Diversity at Marshall E-Learning. 

‘Yet we know that many employees, including senior leaders, are uncomfortable talking about race, to the extent that even using the terms ‘Asian’ or ‘mixed race’ is problematic for some people. Without a tool such as Let’s Talk about Race, the necessary conversations may not happen at all.’

Is E-Learning an effective platform for anti-racism training? 

E-Learning is a particularly effective approach within a wider suite of techniques for challenging racism and entrenched and biased views in the workplace. First and foremost, as a platform for learning, it’s discreet. Rather than being compelled to examine and confront problematic views in a group situation, surrounded by peers, learners can initially explore the issues in a private and safe learning environment. 

For many people, particularly those from the dominant majority group in society, discomfort about speaking up about racism is the result of fear of misspeaking or misunderstanding, fear of sounding ignorant of the issues, fear of causing offence, and fear of revealing unintentional or unidentified unconscious biases.

Marshall’s Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace training was specifically created to remove the ‘fear’ element from the conversation, allowing people to start engaging with the topic in a positive and proactive way, without the worry of being judged or criticised over their understanding of the issues. 

‘The opportunity to learn independently, at least initially, is helpful where the topic is sensitive and challenging,’ explains Ann Allcock. ‘The module does not apportion blame – it’s constructively challenging and offers practical advice. It can start a conversation that leads to action.’

Does anti-racism training make a difference?

If toxic attitudes are left unchallenged and unexamined, a toxic culture can become normalised in workplaces and institutions – particularly where leaders fail to take steps to confront entrenched attitudes and behaviours. 

These attitudes and behaviours are not always overt. Many organisations with a positive attitude towards diversity and inclusion still place structural obstacles in the way of people from minoritised groups, something highlighted in the 2020 report Ethnicity And Disadvantage In Britain from the Centre for Social Justice

This commonly manifests itself as a set of assumptions about the kind of person who will ‘fit in’ at an organisation, which selects for people from a particular race, gender or background. Active training on diversity and anti-racism can play an important role in raising awareness of toxic patterns of behaviour within organisations, including the obstacles that are unwittingly placed in the way of employees from minority groups. 

‘We hope that E-Learning is a discreet gateway to the topic, where people can investigate issues of racism and discrimination without fear or embarrassment,’ says David Marshall. ‘From this starting point, organisations can bring people together to ask important questions, as it is when questions are asked and moderated by a skilled facilitator that we see real change. At Marshall E-Learning, we supply both the E-Learning and the facilitation.’

 

Can anti-racism training change an organisation’s culture?

In many high-profile racism cases, investigators have drawn attention to the way toxic attitudes and bias have become institutionalised within organisations. Often, this kind of systemic racism is subtle rather than overt, for example, a culture of hiring people using a specific set of criteria for skills and experience that is more likely to be fulfilled by white people.  

While most workplaces aspire to grant opportunities based on merit, often this meritocracy only works for people who are already advantaged – a problem highlighted by the 2022 report Broken Ladders: The myth of meritocracy for women of colour in the workplace from the Runnymede Trust and Fawcett Society.

The problem of systemic racism significantly reduces opportunities for advancement for members of ethnic minorities – according to the charity Business in the Community (BITC), people of colour account for just 1.5% of top managers in private companies, 1% of leaders of public sector companies, and 1% of head teachers. 

Anti-racism training is an important early step to encourage reflection on the culture within an organisation and start a conversation about what needs to be done to create a workplace that recognises and values the differences, abilities and skills of every individual. There is a growing awareness that simply having a policy on diversity is not enough – policies must be backed up with actions that are embedded in the day-to-day running of the organisation. 

Many organisations have discovered that policies to increase diversity and inclusion have primarily increased the representation of people from already privileged groups, with white women being the biggest beneficiaries. The proportion of women progressing into top management roles in the UK has risen by almost 25% since 2010, but Black women are still half as likely as white women to be in the top 1% of earners. 

Drawing on the learned experience of people in leadership roles, Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace was designed to help organisations move beyond tokenism and superficial gestures of inclusion, such as featuring people of colour prominently in marketing materials without taking actual steps to increase representation.  

 

Anti-racism training is part of an ongoing process 

The business case for diversity is widely understood. There is widespread awareness that drawing on a diverse workforce and diverse perspectives can improve decision-making and staff satisfaction and contribute to a more effective workplace. However, many organisations fail to follow up on the initial stage of introducing policies on inclusion by making structural changes to the way they do business. 

Organisations may make the mistake of thinking that once policies have been put in place to confront racism in the workplace, the work on diversity is ‘done’. In fact, this is just the start of a process – something highlighted by the McGregor-Smith Review on Race in the Workplace in 2017. As with other measures to create a safe workplace, diversity and inclusion is something that needs to be regularly revisited and reviewed to ensure that best practice is being followed. 

No company would be content to say that health and safety was ‘done’ simply because staff had completed a session of health and safety training. Instead, a culture of health and safety is embedded into workplace practices at all levels, with regular discussions, assessments and training to stay abreast of the latest developments and risks.

Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace was designed to embed an understanding of key issues around anti-racism at an institutional level, allowing leaders to move beyond tickboxes and exercises. Module content is delivered by real leaders with real experience of managing diversity in the workplace, with an understanding that the conversation on diversity has changed significantly since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.

How does E-Learning help leaders create a positive workplace culture? 

Separate investigations into Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Cricket Scotland highlighted a lack of leadership on diversity and racism as one of the key factors in the problems faced by these organisations. At Cricket Scotland, investigators observed a culture of ‘racially aggravated micro-aggression’ that had been allowed to develop within the organisation, with staff who raised issues being ignored or sidelined by those in leadership roles. 

Marshall’s Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace is focused on promoting a top-down awareness of issues of racism and discrimination within organisations. Amongst the people sharing their experiences in the course, Maggie Semple OBE has board-level experience at Cambridge University and the Bank of Jamaica, bringing a strong message of inclusive leadership to the learning experience.

‘If you are in a position of power and you have some prejudice, that is likely to show itself in the way the organisation works,’ she explains. ‘When we talk about systemic racism, it’s embedded into the policies, it’s embedded into the “way we do things around here”, without very much thought into whether this is actually going to benefit everyone, or just a few people.’ 

Another issue highlighted in Plan4Sport’s investigation of Cricket Scotland for Sportscotland was a lack of diversity at all levels within the organisation, from the board to coaching staff. Let’s Talk About Race in the Workplace addresses the needs of managers who have started a conversation about racism in the workplace, but are unsure about the next steps to institutionalise diversity within their organisations. 

How E-Learning can help organisations track their progress on diversity

As well as facilitating a conversation about racism with employees and managers, E-Learning gives leaders oversight of how training has been implemented across the organisation. With an E-Learning programme, leaders can verify that all members of staff have participated in training, and follow up with any individuals who have missed or not completed the training to ensure that nobody is left behind.

E-Learning also provides proof that an organisation has taken reasonable steps to prevent racism and discrimination that can be presented to any external body, providing an audit trail of action taken to tackle these toxic issues in the workplace. It also provides visibility on how steps to confront racism in the workplace are penetrating through to different parts of the organisation. 

Marshall’s training focuses not only on learners but also on the people facilitating wider training within the organisation. Marshall’s Head of Diversity, Ann Allcock, helps organisations embed awareness and understanding of diversity in their operational culture, through train-the-trainer guides to accompany E-Learning modules. The model at Marshall’s is to provide support to all levels of the organisation, rather than delivering a static, tickbox exercise. 

‘What stands out for me when these cases come to light is how normalised a toxic culture has become, seemingly without people seeing it for what it is,’ explains Ann. ‘Leaders are often distant from what is happening on the ground. It is critical for leaders to make a calm assessment of the issues, avoiding a head-in-the-sand approach or a knee-jerk defensive response, and that’s where our training comes in.’

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