How to start a conversation about racism and unconscious bias

Conversations about racial injustice are louder than they’ve ever been and people are sharing their stories to educate others. We need to check our own bias and take action.

Today I have a guest post for you by Gihan Hyde on how to start the conversations and gauge if your team member or colleague has suffered from racial injustice or unconscious bias, either from yourself of anyone else in the organisation.

At the end of her article you’ll find some new research from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and a plea for help from the UK Black Comms Network. The CIPR report found a profession with declining levels of ethnic diversity and with insufficient action being taken to address the issue.

A profession good at ‘talking the talk’ but not at ‘walking the walk’. The result is a profession in which BAME talent is unable to access the same opportunities as white colleagues and, too often, treated unfairly or inappropriately. It’s a sobering read, but a critical one. I encourage you to download it. I’ve extracted the definitions of microagressions and unconscious bias from the report.

Gihan is an award-winning internal communicator who describes herself as an enabler, an includer and an activator. Through her strategies, business acumen, creativity and curiosity she can bring organisations’ purpose/ambition to life and energise employees by transforming them into story tellers who tell vivid and inspiring stories that would result in business and reputational growth.

She says she “casts very few judgements because judgements can hurt so why do that? We are all the same and we are all equally important.”  You can find her on Twitter @Gehanam. Regular readers of my blog will remember Gihan from her Diary of a female communicator in a world of 30,000 men.

I’ll hand you over…

How to start a conversation about racism and unconscious bias with your Black employees

As a black Arab/African I have felt that throughout my career my clients, my peers and my colleagues have found it challenging to deal with me. My passion is being misjudged for aggression so for the past 10 years I had to change the way I speak and tread on eggshells for being judged wrongly because of my ethnicity.

In addition to being misjudged, I was also being unconsciously biased against and for me this was harder than being discriminated against. Racism in my opinion is easier to spot than unconscious bias. Why? Because it’s clear and evident in the way people dealt with me whereas unconscious bias is very subtle like the morning dew, you can feel it but can’t really see it or catch it.

With the current global racial unrest, I can only feel disheartened about what is going on, but things are changing for the better. In saying this you can only do better if you know better and that starts with educating yourself.

My top values are transparency, kindness, fairness and recognition, hence I opted to apply a different approach which is educating my clients and colleagues on who I am, how my culture differs from theirs and how they can get the best out of me when working with them. War, aggression or violence is not the answer… education is.

We need to equip our line managers on how to support their black community and eliminate unconscious bias and racism. PWC called it “being colour brave” meaning to have candid conversations about race. They can help us better understand each other’s perspectives and experiences so that we can make better decisions and secure better prospects for future generations.

Here are my recommendations on how to start the conversations and gauge if your team member or colleague has suffered from racial injustice or unconscious bias, by either yourself of anyone else in the organisation.

1. Start with empathy and state the purpose of the conversation

Empathy is not sympathy, so do not confuse between them when connecting with your black team members or colleagues. Empathy allows us to interact effectively, It is also the “glue” that draws us to help others and stopping us from hurting others (Baron-Cohen), whereas sympathy is when you feel sorry for the person in front of you and you feel you have to help them.

When speaking with your team member or colleague make sure you understand that you need to:

  1. Embrace the fact that you will be uncomfortable approaching the subject
  2. Assure them that the conversation will not have any impact on their career or personal dealings with you
  3. Constantly use “I” statements and not “we” this is not about what the organisation thinks, it is what you think as a line manager or a colleague
  4. Stay engaged and ask questions to try and understand their point of view and thoughts
  5. Do not cut them off while speaking. Your role is to listen and show that you care
  6. Be honest and speak your mind. This is not the time where you hide your feelings or thoughts

For example, you can say: I am aware of the current events and I really wanted to make sure you are ok. I don’t know how this is affecting you or how you are feeling about it but I wanted check in with you and say I am here for you if you ever wanted to speak about it.

Remember: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee

2. Be open and admit mistakes

Admitting your mistakes and failures shows how vulnerable you are and showing your vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. You are showing yourself as a human being with all your flaws and that is valued much more than showing yourself as a robot who never falters.


  1. Take in what your colleague or team member is telling you
  2. Put your feelings and perceptions of your behaviour aside. This is not about you its about how you made them feel
  3. Unconscious bias is an action that not everyone is aware they are inflicting, so take this as a chance for you to know how you are perceived.
  4. Be the first to apologise for a suboptimal situation and accept where you have failed
  5. Work with them to determine new ways of dealing with their feelings and perceptions

For example, you can say: “I didn’t think of that before –I am so sorry for making you feel that way could you explain why you think that?”

3. Agree an action plan and walk the walk 

  1. Agree with your them on how you will support them. For example, you can establish a way where they will shine some light on some of the actions or language you use when dealing with them.
  2. Ask them to guide you and help you learn more about their culture, beliefs and ways of thinking.

For example, you can say: “to make a real change we have to understand each other, that takes talking and most importantly listening to each other to bridge our differences so let’s start there and I would love for us to work together on how we can do so.”

4. Educate yourself

There are numerous materials to help you learn about racism and unconscious bias, make sure you read about it and discuss the lessons learnt with your team member or colleague. This will demonstrate that you have listened and taken in their feedback.




  • Seeing white – podcast series from Scene on Radio
  • Code Switch – podcast from NPR


Post author: Gihan Hyde.

Thank you very much Gihan for sharing your advice and story with us. What do you think of what you’ve read? You can find her on Twitter @Gehanam or you’re welcome to comment below.

Race in PR report from CIPR

A new research report published this week by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) finds a public relations industry in which BAME practitioners tell of racism, microaggressions and unconscious biases faced and having to work within an inflexible culture that denies them opportunities and fair progression; ultimately making individuals question their ability to sustain a career in PR.

The report – ‘Race in the PR Workplace: BAME lived experiences in the UK PR industry’ – is calling on senior PR business leaders to take these findings seriously and work to change practices and cultures to “unleash talent and create a fair and equal workplace for all”.

The research follows the career journey of 17 BAME practitioners and highlights a worrying set of common experiences; a profession in which BAME practitioners speak of being afraid to make mistakes, of being unable to be their true selves, of having to work harder for fewer opportunities and of the racism they experience. They speak of being judged to a different standard to their white colleagues and of a lack of support when they speak up.

It’s a shocking read, but a timely and welcome one because it’s now time for action. There’s been a lot of talk recently and I welcome the moves to relaunch CIPR’s Diversity and Inclusion Network. The existing volunteer team working on diversity and inclusion is to become a member-wide group enabling members from across the CIPR community to become more actively involved in D&I matters, network, and work together to make a difference. The Network will soon be surveying members on the future direction of its work.

The Blueprint Commitments
The report includes details of The Blueprint – a brand new programme that launched yesterday by BME PR Pros and welcomed by the CIPR. The Blueprint is a practical and targeted scheme, initially for agencies, which offers communications leaders a pathway to improve their BAME diversity and rewards best practice with a Blueprint mark of quality through meeting a series of commitments.

Further reading: Why I’ve launched a diversity mark to promote racial diversity in PR and Comms – by Elizabeth Bananuka.

The report also details the work of BAME2020’s ‘No Turning Back’ programme and the Taylor Bennett Foundation.

Jenni Field Chart.PR, FCIPR CIPR’s 2020 President says: “This report has been a long time coming. You could say it is years overdue. I’m pleased we’re able to share these stories and I’m pleased with the work that has gone in to making our response a robust one. But I’m not proud of this report. None of us reading this should be.

“Although we never intended to published this at a time when the very issue we are focusing on is now a global discussion, it’s important that our profession acknowledges our own responsibilities and moves towards a position of fairness and inclusiveness where we can feel confident to call out racism before others need to call out for help. I hope this report plays its part in that important conversation. More than that, I hope that conversation moves us beyond words and into action.”

Have your say to help the UK Black Comms Network

Calling all UK PRs comms and social experts of African and Caribbean heritage – The UK Black Comms Network @BlackCommsUK and @OpiniumResearch have partnered to conduct the biggest* deep dive to understand your experience. Opt in to be a part of this by seeing the website.

*It will be if you take part!

Here’s how to sign up. I know they’d love to hear from more IC professionals, so do please check it out to have your say.

There’s a lot to digest there. As ever, I’d love to know your thoughts, you’re welcome to comment below.

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Thank you for stopping by


First published on the All Things IC blog 19 June 2020.


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