So here we are, in the middle of the largest social movement since the 1960’s. Employees are asking for your organization’s commitment to social change and the only response they have heard is the sound of crickets. But you have cultural sensitivity and awareness training modules in your LMS. A mission statement that includes the words “Diversity and Inclusion.” You might even have a policy that includes the term “Zero Tolerance” (if you’re cutting-edge progressive). What more do these employees want from you?
Employees want to know that combating racial discrimination within your organization is important. Symbolic gestures of fairness and racial equality are no longer an acceptable form of resolution to the ongoing covert forms of daily discrimination prevalent within the workplace. Now more than ever, employees, customers, and even communities are looking to your brand to see how you are responding to antiquated, ridiculous notions that any race is actually “supreme” or has “power” over another. They want to know what action is being taken to promote equality and social justice… you’re on the watch list.
First steps to fostering equity, inclusion and anti-racism
It’s time for organizations to do the work – to create programs that foster growth along racial lines and inclusion for all employees. If you are unable to create a separate department dedicated to diversity and inclusion within your organization, consider a collaboration between Human Resources, Training and Development, Communications, Legal, and your IT Department.
Collectively such a team can establish goals for
- career pathing,
- conducting compensation reviews for pay equity adjustments,
- programs for ongoing cultural awareness training beyond new hire orientation,
- tracking and measuring outcomes, and
- embedding equity, inclusion, and anti-racism into your values, training, and culture.
Gone are the days of simply checking the box by declaring Affirmative Action. You may feel that a conversation about one’s thoughts and experiences don’t belong in the workplace but now is the time to make these issues real and personal. Don’t know where to start? Consider the following tips to launch your initiatives.
How to launch a meaningful initiative for social change
You must keep the conversation alive.
This is a turning point in not only the workplace but the world. The first step is acknowledging the injustices that exist and expressing your commitment to the global initiative to do better. Next steps should be initiating meaningful honest discussions, forming employee affinity groups, and creating a safe space for everyone to dialogue about race. Most importantly, seeking input from missing voices to help obtain different ideas on how to promote an inclusive workplace at all levels.
Just be real.
Be honest about the lack of diversity among your employees and how it has impacted your organization. Stop acting like you haven’t noticed. We all see it, some of us more clearly than others. There is nothing like coming to the realization that ascending the ranks may be a struggle because nobody on the leadership team looks like you. One of the advantages of the white privilege that people wear like a badge of honor is not having to think about it. You may be surprised at how one can be impacted when they don’t see themselves in the “portrait” of an organization. In essence, some organizations unintentionally perpetuate racism by failing to acknowledge issues within their own culture. This may be a good time to ask someone how they are impacted. As uncomfortable as this conversation maybe – have it! You will set yourself up for a progressively better and more productive dialogue with each successive conversation.
Make a public commitment to diversity and eradication of unconscious bias.
The hiring process is just one of many ways employers can combat racial discrimination. Leaders are the ones who establish the company culture whether it’s intentional or not. Taking meaningful action against racism means leaders need to step up and support Talent Acquisition initiatives aimed at mitigating unconscious bias. The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge blog published an article discussing research findings that minority job applicants are omitting references to their race on their resume in hopes of improving their odds at being selected for getting a job. The article explained how “Asian applicants often change their names to something more American-sounding” as well as Americanizing their interests by using common white western culture activities such as snowboarding or hiking. African Americans will hide their involvement in black organizations by removing the word “black” from a professional society or scholarship. They do so because it has proven to get them more interviews. It’s time to acknowledge that unconscious bias is hardwired into our processes and a significant commitment is required to make meaningful change.
Organizations have a responsibility to shout from the mountaintop a commitment to diversity and the value it brings to the company as well as actively communicating their stance on racial discrimination and equity in the workplace. A stronger, healthier workplace culture is dependent on having core values that address equity, inclusion and anti-racism as well as ensuring those values are integrated into every policy, decision and process. Want to truly make a difference? Go beyond that to actively denounce any policies, behaviors, and practices that contradict your core values, thereby making it impossible for racism of any sort to thrive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He is an industry leader when it comes to building strong collaborative HR partnerships and leadership teams that focus on staff engagement, retention, career development, and staff recognition programs. William’s training curriculum includes Crucial Conversations, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, and EEOC 101.