How ATOC plans to improve the working lives of People of Colour

Sarah Finch

What's it like to be a person of colour at your organisation? It's an important question. But one that it can be difficult to find a satisfactory answer to. Large organisations with over 250 employees are required to report on their gender pay gap, but plans to extend this to ethnicity appear to have stalled.

Even so, such a high-level approach glosses over the day to day experiences of ethnic minority employees. Do they feel supported? How are racist events dealt with if they arise? How can inclusive cultures be promoted, and negative ones challenged?

Someone who hopes to answer these questions, and improve the working lives of people of colour, is Chidera Onyeukwu, co-founder of diversity and inclusion company A Touch Of Colour, and member of this year's Panoply Future Leaders Programme. On this eight week incubator Chidera has worked closely with Foundry4, receiving funding, training, and 1:1 mentoring from Senior Delivery Manager Lucy Hart.

As the Programme comes to a close, we caught up with Chidera to find out more about her experience over the past two months, and what's next for A Touch Of Colour.

A Glassdoor for diversity

Through A Touch Of Colour (ATOC), employees of colour can rate and review employers based on their experience of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Beginning life as a website survey, ATOC now also operates as a Slack application within existing community groups, giving under-represented employees the opportunity to share the extent to which they feel included at their organisation.

So what benefits can this provide when compared to existing diversity initiatives?

“It's very difficult to assess diversity and inclusion at an organisation from the outside,” Chidera says. “Currently it takes place through a lot of self-reporting, mostly through internal surveys. But when this information is collected from everyone in the company, and people of colour are typically really under-represented, this diminishes their voices.”

“We are trying to transform this industry, and the way diversity and inclusion methodology is done," she adds. "As people of colour, we always speak amongst ourselves and with our networks, sharing our experiences through word of mouth. With ATOC, we wanted to create a more accessible infrastructure that provides that information to people, putting transparency and visibility into this space to really help employees.”

Whereas traditional diversity and inclusion surveys might do the rounds every few weeks or months, ATOC seeks feedback more regularly through anonymous pulse surveys. This way, as Chidera states, they are more likely to build up an accurate picture of everyday life at an organisation, and can monitor how it is changing.

“We want to dynamically capture D&I changes within the company over time,” she says. “What we found with things like Glassdoor as well as our survey, is that people are more likely to report the extremes, whether that is the extremely positive or the extremely negative."

"While those experiences are still very valid, what we are really trying to capture is the day to day feelings of belonging and inclusion which other surveys miss out. How does your company deal with events, for example, that may not be a huge thing, but that make your work environment that little bit more pleasant or not so pleasant.”

Now is the time

With racial inequalities brought to the wider public consciousness last year through the Black Lives Matter movement, we saw many organisations state their intent to do better. Does Chidera feel like they have lived up to their word?

“Witnessing black death and trauma constantly is a very difficult experience, and was particularly so during the peak of the BLM movement,” she says. “The outpouring of statements and commitments, public acknowledgements - that's all good, it's good to take a stance against racism. But what's been interesting is the aftermath. There's been very little work – few companies have made long term changes. Of course, these are difficult challenges to tackle but companies can do a lot more.”

“I've read articles where people expressed the feeling that diversity is a bit distracting from work. We had this huge moment with BLM – then it was "let's get back to work, let's get back to deliverables…" But behind every injustice and micro aggression there is a human with feelings who has to live through that experience.”

Beyond beta

Looking ahead, Chidera and her co-founders have big plans for ATOC, with the ultimate aim of monetising their data – selling it on to HR leaders and D&I consultants – whilst continuing to help people of colour make informed choices about their careers.

“Together with our Slack application, we're also looking into other platforms such as Microsoft Teams,” Chidera says. “Ultimately we want to reach as many people as possible, and if there are limitations around what platforms people use we need to work around that.”

“At the moment we are in our beta testing phase, working with closed community groups, but we want to extend that to the public so any individual can download the application,” she adds. “We plan to launch a report with our research findings towards the end of the year, and we're also currently working on establishing a few partnerships.”

Life as a Future Leader

How has Chidera's experience of the Future Leaders Programme helped to inform ATOC's direction?

“I applied for the Future Leaders Programme because I'm very new to entrepreneurship and it was clear I needed that advice and mentorship from someone who has more experience,” she says.

“The biggest things I've got from this programme are firstly the support and structure from my coach Lucy. She's been amazing. It has been fundamental in driving the business forward, to have someone to discuss ideas with and to talk about different ways of approaching problems. It's also been amazing to tap into the networks of Foundry4 and the other companies in the Panoply Group, I've been able to get so many different perspectives.”

With the Future Leaders Programme now coming to a close for another year, we wish Chidera the best of luck in her business, and are looking forward to her successes in the months and years to come. As for now?

“I'd like to encourage every employee of colour to go on our website and leave a review of their employer," she says. "It's anonymous so you can be as honest as you need to be. You can also sign up to our newsletter from our homepage to stay up to date with news from our community. As people of colour, we've been having these conversations for a long time. We now feel it's time that people knew what it's like.”

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