The world is reeling from the show of mass demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. What quickly followed in the country was a complete examination of the systemic racism that is seen in all aspects of American life. One aspect of American life that has come to confront its own participation in systemic racism is the workplace. In a show of solidarity for the black community, companies have made statements and committed donations to civil rights groups.
Many, however, are pressing employers that these actions, while done with good intentions, are not enough. Instead, activists and employees urge companies to commit and operate businesses that are actively anti-racist.
University of Virginia professor, Laura Morgan Roberts, explains that “to be anti-racist is to acknowledge the permanence of racism through organizations, industries and communities, and to recognize that racism is a system of disproportionate opportunity and penalties based on skin color,” and thus systemic racism can “manifest in policies, procedures, unspoken norms and routines that push people into different paths of opportunity, where some individuals have greater access and others have less, due to race.”
The first step to lead an anti-racist business is to address one’s own practices that perpetuate racial inequality in the workplace. It is advised that these talks be straightforward as now is a time to be transparent. Especially since flowery comments in support of diversity cannot stop people from looking at a businesses’ records on the number of black individuals in senior leadership. Moreover, Mandy Price, co-founder of the company Kanarys, assuages the fears of companies hesitant to act, stating that right now it is a strength and not a weakness to admit that one’s business needs works on diversity and inclusion.
The next step is to examine practices in the workplaces that uphold systemic racism and change them to be more equitable. Vaneta Sandhy, a diversity and inclusion trainer at LifeLabs Learning, suggests that employers look to change practices that might limit the opportunities for black workers. Specific areas to look into and see how they can be reformed for inclusivity are recruiting and hiring, benefits and work conditions, assessments and promotions, meetings and social connections, and learning and growth.
Another approach that can help a workplace commit to anti-racism is training. A helpful tip to make training more effective is to have training not only focus on how to recognize internalized racial biases but to also train workers on how to respond to them. Yet, this training cannot be the bandaid to solve all the racial inequalities in the workplace and should be used mainly as a form of education.
The last step employers can do in their commitment to anti-racism is to allow employees a seat at the table when deciding what can be done to make the workplace anti-racist. One way to to do this is by allowing workers to anonymously give out reviews and feedback about the actions a business has done for diversity and inclusion.
Lauren Ruffin, Chief External Relations Officer at Fractured Atlas, a company that has put these anti-racist steps into action comments about the process saying, “How do you change your entire way of being to challenge systems and recognize your participation in those systems? That’s hard work,” she says. “That said, if employers don’t take responsibility to address their participation at all, workers will hold them accountable in one way or another.”
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