As we write this, our nation is expressing its collective outrage at the systemic injustices that have plagued our country since its inception. George Floyd was not the first and will not be the last black man to be the victim of brutal violence that stems from ingrained racial bias in the police force. And although we have had to endure many murders caught on video in the last several years, for some reason, this time feels different. This time people are demanding real and lasting systemic change.
Many organizations in the past several days have joined their voice with protestors and have condemned not only the killing but also racial injustice. It has been encouraging to see companies like Airbnb take bold action – they recently announced a donation of $500,000 to Black Lives Matter Foundation and NAACP to fight for real reforms. They also published a helpful resource prepared by the Black @Airbnb Employee Resource Group that talks about allyship, black organizations to donate to, how to have daring discussions about racism as well as helpful links to articles and books.
As DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) consultants and practitioners, we have a responsibility to not only understand the origins of systemic racism in this country, but to offer tools and resources to teams and organizations that might want to seriously address the inequity inside their workplaces. For far too long, D&I initiatives have been mostly about the “right thing to do” instead of a business imperative. Businesses have invested millions of dollars in trying to close the gender gap and find ways to create more inclusive work cultures for minority communities. However, we still see statistics that tell us that we have a long way to go in implementing deep and lasting change.
The reason for this, in our opinion, having worked with mid-growth and Fortune 500’s companies on these initiatives, is that they don’t go far enough to have the intended effect. Culture change is not something that happens overnight. It requires several important ingredients which oftentimes are overlooked or not implemented because of fear of backlash or not being PC. Whatever the case may be, here are some suggestions that we invite organizations to start thinking about as they tackle the work of creating more equitable cultures of inclusion and belonging.
1) Behavior Must be Role Modeled at the Top
As much as we’d like to think that employee resource groups and other internal initiatives drive change, the old adage still stands. Change must start at the top. Since 2015, the percentage of white men among Fortune 500 CEOs has been between 89% and 90%. These statistics make it hard to see how we can start making those changes a reality. While we build the pipeline of black and other minorities who can take on those leadership positions, we invite white male CEO’s into doing the inner work necessary to look at their own ingrained unconscious biases. This goes beyond a one or two day unconscious bias training.
This requires working 1:1 with a skilled executive coach who can facilitate deep inquiry around these issues, including questions such as:
- How would you describe your personal edge around topics related to gender and race? Describe a time where you felt discomfort.
- What did that feel like in your body? How did you react?
- What is the cost of not facing these edges?
- What do you and the organization have to gain from having honest conversations about race and gender in the company?
- What behaviors can you role model that would signal leadership from you around creating more equity and inclusion inside the organization?
- What type of policies would you champion to create systemic culture change inside the organization?
2) Conduct a diversity assessment
How many POC’s, women and minorities do you have on your teams? And in your leadership? And on your board? Many companies are getting pushback since they have more social media posts about Black Lives Matter than they have people of color working in their company. Changing the makeup of your workforce can be done through unbiased hiring practices, but you should also look to where promotions and horizontal moves could better position POC’s in positions of influence in your company.
3) Facilitate courageous conversations
While racial tensions and bias in the workplace can feel overwhelming in its complexity, one of the best ways to address this underlying tension is through open-dialogue. Avoiding these issues in the workplace tends to escalate them. A skilled facilitator can walk participants through exercises that help them face the issues surrounding race, class and culture. Participants walk away with tangible tools and develop self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, social awareness and non-violent communication skills that set them up for successfully navigating these issues at work.
4) Reward Inclusive Behaviors
One thing important to remember is no one wants to feel singled out. A set of rules should not apply to one group but not the other. It’s tricky to strike a balance between taking action to create equity for underrepresented groups and making sure were not excluding other groups at their expense. The best antidote for this is to make sure everyone feels included. While structural and policy level changes can address systemic inequities, our behaviors toward African-American, Latinx, Asian-Americans, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities and women should be the same. All of these groups have one thing in common: they are all human beings. And human beings have a need to feel safe in order to have a sense of belonging. Creating a culture of psychological safety inside the organization is imperative for ALL people to thrive in the workplace. It’s up to managers and leaders to role-model inclusive behaviour in order to do so. To encourage behavior change on the micro-level, companies must find ways to incentivize employees through gamification and connect the dots to performance reviews and rewards.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, organizations must do better to implement policies and practices that can make a real difference in driving an inclusive and more equitable workplace. If we are to see more people of color, women and LGBTQA+ communities represented in leadership positions, we need to recruit, reward and promote diverse talent. Companies that are willing to do the deeper work through skills development, courageous dialogue and policy change will not only meet this challenge, but will attract and retain talent that represents the wide majority of the customers they seek to serve. And that is a win-win for all.