Racial discrimination is a global issue that has been an ongoing and commonly ignored problem. Staying silent has proven to be deadly, making one complicit in the system of oppression. 2020 has proven to be a historical year surrounding the pandemic, and now, the uprising against racial injustice after George Floyd’s recent death.
Protests have spanned across the nation with over 30 countries bringing awareness to the racism that exists today. These protests in combination with social media have exposed companies, brands, individuals and even the NFL for their behaviors, comments and practices.
While many brands are posting black squares in response to #blackouttuesday or tweeting #blacklivesmatter, very few are creating conversations or doing anything more than that. David Weisenfeld, J.D., XpertHR podcast host, advised: “Don’t make a statement just to make a statement. It needs to be meaningful.” More than ever, consumers and communities are looking to brands and individuals to see how they’re responding to the protests and what action they’re taking to promote equality and social justice.
There are four ways employers can take meaningful action to tackle racism in the workplace.
Keep The Conversation Going
This is a turning point in not only the workplace but throughout the world. The first step is acknowledging the injustices currently present and expressing your commitment to doing better. It’s critical that there are actions to back up your words or else they’ll remain empty promises. Employers can do this by initiating productive and respectful discussions, forming employee resource groups, training on preventing harassment and discrimination and creating channels where employees feel safe speaking up about racial issues.
Chief people officer at PMI Worldwide, Tammy Perkins, said, it’s important for managers to seek input from missing voices to help obtain different ideas for a diverse point of view. Jessica Lambrecht, founder of The Rise Journey, explained “ensuring you have diverse voices represented at all levels of the organization will help to create an inclusive workplace.”
Tina Charisma, founder of Charisma Campaign, explained “diversified work forces support empathy and compassion between people beyond their race in that the awareness shared during conversations goes on to influence relationships and eventually work practices.”
Embed Anti-Racism Into Your Values, Training And Actions
Building a stronger, healthier and better workplace culture is dependent on having a solid set of core values that are integrated into every policy, decision and process. Now is the time to denounce any weak policies, behaviors, partnerships and client relationships that contradict your company values. Maudette Uzoh, owner of Amazing Days Nursery, said “companies should focus on how they can cultivate an environment where it’s impossible for racism of any sort to sprout or thrive.”
Anti-racism training should never be conducted to check-the-box, but to educate and drive positive change. Training alone isn’t enough to shift people’s perspectives. This is because racism exists in attitudes, cultural messages, stereotypes and beliefs due to implicit bias. Companies can actively reduce bias through training along with embedding processes, policies and expectations that help create a culture rooted in diversity and inclusion.
Ultimately, it’s management’s responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and the value it brings to the company as well as holding others accountable. Furthermore, they need to actively communicate their stance on racial discrimination and what won’t be tolerated along with the consequences for violation. Racism, in any form, should never be overlooked, excused or tolerated, regardless of someone’s rank or title.
Aside from conversations, employers can spread awareness by providing resources to educate individuals about the culture of racism and the history of different races. Most individuals are unaware of racial injustice and the comments they unconsciously make towards their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) colleagues.
The unfortunate reality is victims of racism often remain silent for fear of retaliation or being unfairly judged. This is where management falls short because they turn a blind eye to the discriminatory comments made or downplay the severity of the remarks or behavior.
More awareness needs to be brought to racial discrimination. Justifying or letting one comment slide sets the tone that racism is acceptable. This is how toxic cultures breed. It starts with one incident that’s overlooked and then turns into two, five, ten and soon becomes the norm.
Companies need to hold themselves accountable on what they stand for as well as bringing more awareness to social issues by utilizing their platforms to stand up for the cause. Publishing a statement on the company website, similar to Ben & Jerry’s, is a powerful way to show support for the movement and take meaningful action. Taking one look at Ben & Jerry’s website or social media platforms, there’s no question they are fighting against white supremacy.
Likewise, on their website, they share four ways readers can dismantle white supremacy in addition to releasing a new ice cream flavor called Justice Remix’d. This has undoubtedly given Ben & Jerry’s a competitive edge over other ice cream companies such as Halo Top, Carvel or Breyers who have yet to acknowledge the current situation.
Cultivate Diversity And Tackle 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 actively support BIPOC. Talking about diversity and inclusion efforts means little when there’s no action taken.
Many employers unknowingly perpetuate racism in their own workplace because they fail to acknowledge the flaws of their own internal company culture. Tackling unconscious bias with the help of a third party, accepting feedback from BIPOC colleagues and taking an honest look at ones culture can help minimize the constraints that prevent the culture from thriving.
The Harvard Business School wrote an article on how minority job applicants are deleting references to their race on their resume in hopes of boosting their chances at getting a job. The article explained how “Asian applicants often change their foreign-sounding names to something more American-sounding” as well as Americanizing their interests by using common white western culture activities such as snowboarding or hiking. Furthermore, African Americans tone down their involvement in black organizations by removing the word “black” from a professional society or scholarship.
Katherine DeCelles, Associate Professor at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, shared “a bias against minorities runs rampant through the resume screening process at companies throughout the United States.” Applicants should not have to sacrifice their achievements, cultural connection or human capital for fear of not being hired.
Companies now have an opportunity to recognize their unconscious bias and prioritize creating a more diversified workplace. One way of doing this is adding blind hiring into the recruitment process. Madison Campbell, CEO of Leda Health Company, said “name-blind applications will increase the focus on qualifications and merit rather than the biases that even the best allies can have.”
I’m a Leadership Coach & Workplace Culture Consultant at Heidi Lynne Consulting helping individuals and organizations gain the confidence to become better leaders for themselves and their teams. As a consultant, I deliver and implement strategies to develop current talent and create impactful and engaging employee experiences. Companies hire me to to speak, coach, consult and train their teams and organizations of all sizes. I’ve gained a breadth of knowledge working internationally in Europe, America and Asia. I use my global expertise to provide virtual and in-person consulting and leadership coaching to the students at Babson College, Ivy League students and my global network. I’m a black belt in Six Sigma, former Society of Human Resources (SHRM) President and domestic violence mentor. Learn more at http://www.heidilynneco.com or get in touch at Heidi@heidilynneco.com.