Facing racism, and what to do next

Doing nothing is not an option. Educate and inform yourself so you can address biases in yourself, your organisation, and society


The killing of George Floyd raised our consciousness globally, not just because of the injustice of his death at the hands of US police officers but because of the systemic pattern of global anti-blackness that it is inextricably tied to. Diverse voices from across the world have come together to demand change.

How can business leaders adequately respond? For Aneeta Rattan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, doing nothing is not an option. Dr Rattan, whose evidence-based research insights identify structural and psychological barriers to diversity, inclusion and belonging, offered an open letter to CEOs published in the FT this week.

Dr Rattan points out that most leaders have had no meaningful education or training in diversity and inclusion. Her advice? “If you are going to ready yourself to respond to the current moment and make enduring changes, educate yourself first.”

“Engage with tough ideas and challenge your assumptions,” she advises. “If there seems to be an obvious answer, if the conversation is comfortable, this is your signal to work harder.” Just as importantly: “Listen, really listen to the employees from under-represented groups in the lower ranks of your organisation.”

It’s time to tackle the ignorance that underpins racism. A good place to start is by reading to address your own biases and assumptions. Dr Rattan offers this collection of personal recommendations from LBS faculty, alumni, and staff below, to help you take your first steps toward action on addressing your own, organisational and societal bias.

Biased: the New Science of Race and Inequality by Jennifer Eberhardt

Recommended by: Aneeta Rattan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour

BM Aneeta 236Business leaders need to start with themselves if they want to begin addressing issues of bias in their organisations and in society. While many will have had a light touch interaction with issues of implicit bias, sanitised and made friendly in an organisational context, few truly understand what it is, where it comes from, how it shapes behaviour, and how to address it.

MacArthur Genius Award winner Professor Jennifer Eberhardt, offers an alternative – a deep dive into her decades of research documenting the psychology underlying implicit bias against black people, and a path forward to addressing it. As she says, “unconscious bias is not a sin to be cured. It is a universal human condition, and one that can be overcome.”

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude Steele

Recommended by: Aneeta Rattan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour


People who belong to majority groups will never fully know what it feels like to experience the biases that pervade society. However, they can work to understand how it feels. If you want to fully comprehend the experience of your colleagues, peers, and employees who come from BAME or other underrepresented backgrounds, Professor Claude Steele’s book is the place to start.

In addition to summarising his career’s work, which reveals exactly how stereotypes undermine performance, this book also lays bare the extra work that minorities are forced to do, to navigate organisations and societies where they are forced to question whether they belong, or to prove and re-prove that they do.

Minorities and women reading this book will find that Steele puts words – and evidence – to their most internal thoughts, and everyone else will come to understand the complexities, challenges, and resilience they never knew their colleagues experienced.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

Recommended by: Misha Engineer MBA2012


This is an urgent, well-researched and strikingly argued book that is part autobiography and part history lesson – well, the sort of history lesson we should all receive at school! To understand the reasons why British ethnic minorities face inequalities and injustices related to health, representation in business, sport, the arts and at a broader societal level, we must look back in history so that we truly appreciate the foundations on which Britain’s more recent history was built.

Akala is exceptional at dismantling the falsehoods raised by certain sections of English society. For example, the idea that Britain colonised various countries to trade, as opposed to pillaging natural and abundant resources and decimating those economies over hundreds of years. Even I have been told how lucky I am to be ‘welcome’ in Britain, (being such a ‘tolerant’ country), as a result of my ‘mother country’ being colonised by the British.

The fact is, I was born in Britain and this is my country, but my skin colour somehow makes some people see me as less British! This is a must-read to confront race and class issues at the centre of the hangover of Britain’s racialised empire.

The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy by William Julius Wilson

Recommended by: Jean-Pierre Benoît, Professor of Economics; Chair, Economics Faculty

BM-Jean-Pierre-Benoit-236This controversial, well-researched, thought-provoking book explores the interplay of race, class, economic conditions and public policy. Written in 1987 it remains relevant today. The 2012 edition contains an afterword in which the author discusses some of the controversies surrounding his analysis. You may not agree with everything he says – I don’t – but you will gain an appreciation of the complexities involved in analysing the issues and evaluating the data.

While we are witnessing an apparent willingness of people to engage in discussions of racism and disadvantage, it is important to bear in mind that a painful Covid-19-induced recession is coming and, as this book reminds us, generosity of spirit and enlightened policies are often lacking in difficult times.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Recommended by: Herminia Ibarra, Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour

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Ta-Nehisi Coates has always been a brutally honest writer, forcing us all to think in ways that we wouldn’t normally dare and challenging the status quo in a considered and unapologetic manner. Between the World and Me is heartbreaking. Written in the form of a letter to his 14-year-old son, Coates’ personal narrative challenges our thinking about race and what it means to be privileged.

He talks to his son about what it meant for him to be a black man growing up in the US, gradually coming to understand the full, painful truth about its fraught racial history; and explores what it means to be a black man today, and what his son needs to know in the context of ongoing injustices. How many of us have had to have that conversation with our own blood?

The Person you Mean To Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh

Recommended by: Lisa Shu, Adjunct Professor


The idea that we’re capable as human beings of perfect fairness is its own unicorn. The truth is that all of us sometime favour the friend or stereotype the new hire. Fear of getting it wrong stops people from becoming better: Perfect is the enemy of good. Better, not perfect, should be our goal.

This deeply personal book offers evidence-based, actionable insights to help readers identify their blind spots and become more moral, inclusive leaders. It helps us move beyond having the identity of a believer to acquiring the skills of a builder - by equipping us with practical skills to fight bias in the organisations we create, lead, and serve.

Africa’s Tarnished Name by Chinua Achebe

Recommended by: Lamia Senousi, Director of Communications and Events

BM-lamia-236“’He needed to hear Africa speak for itself after a lifetime of hearing Africa spoken about by others’ – that’s the start of Chinua Achebe’s required read Africa’s Tarnished Name. It’s not a novel or book, it was adapted from a speech he gave at the OECD in the 90s. If you want to understand systemic racism and truly comprehend how interwoven it is with all that surrounds us and the lasting effects of colonialism, then read this. It’s honest, unapologetic and proud.”

Discovering Common Ground: How Future Search Conferences Bring People Together to Achieve Breakthrough Innovation, Empowerment, Shared Vision and Collaborative Action By Marvin Weisbord and 35 international contributors

Recommended by Vyla Rollins, Executive Director, LBS Leadership Institute

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Once again we are witnessing the emergence of activities and incidents that are sparking powerful dialogue on issues that impact us as a global community. As always, many people are wondering what we can COLLECTIVELY do to move our aspirations and intents forwards, or what types of processes are required to help progress the conversations required.

These are questions often posed by groups I work with – which is why I feel this book is a must-read, especially in the current climate. Through sharing real stories of how the processes showcased have made a difference, it is an invaluable resource that can help individuals and groups understand how to ‘organise for impact’ and empower people/communities/organisations to, as Weisbord states, ‘do the right thing without asking permission’, in a way that ‘encourages people to cooperate across lines of hierarchy, status, culture, gender, race and class.’

How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation by Lisa Laskow Lahey and Robert Kegan

Recommended by Vyla Rollins, Executive Director, LBS Leadership Institute

In 2003, I had the honour to be invited to act as a facilitator on the Ronald Heifetz Art and Practice of Leadership Development Programme at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Robert Kegan was a faculty member on the participant cohort I was a part of in 2002 as well as on the programme iteration I was a facilitator on a year later.

Robert shared a number of insights from his book as part of his session, which created a seismic shift in how I now work with groups and individuals to help them understand core feelings that stop them from making changes in their lives, organisations and communities.

The ‘immunity to change’ exercise in this book is unlike any I’ve ever experienced or witnessed; to this day I believe it is one of the most powerful ways to help individuals quickly unearth personal insights that can help them move from the ‘language of complaint’ and disappointment to the ‘language of commitment’ and action.

Further suggestions