2020 has witnessed what may be the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history. We have also experienced an unprecedented global pandemic that has disrupted our work and home lives on a massive scale and had a disproportionate impact on people of color and women, among other groups. These events have sparked a lot of questions regarding how racial and other forms of inequities operate at all levels in society — especially in the workplace.
Companies all across the U.S. have produced statements denouncing the actions taken against George Floyd, for example, but that’s only a drop in the bucket, points out Serilda Summers-McGee, Principal and CHRO at Workplace Change, LLC. “That’s a micro-moment of a macro-issue that permeates all systems, companies and sectors all the time,” she says. The issue is larger than the effects we see on the evening news. It affects BIPOC individuals within your workplace, too.
In the past, diversity and inclusion initiatives have relied on “check the box” metrics, but that hasn’t moved the needle. Here’s what the future holds for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Tangible Changes Will Trump Performative Allyship
Examining policies and structures that perpetuate racism in the workplace is far more valuable than just adding a BLM banner to your social pages. “Most of the people and culture policies that exist within organizations today were established in the ‘50s,” Summers-McGee says. “Those policies need to be reviewed and recast through a diversity and inclusion lens.”
Identify behaviors that perpetuate workplace inequity and take steps to change them. “A lot of employers are focused on diversity but not inclusion,” says Jessica Pharm, HR professional and founder of Blackness and the Workplace. “You have to have both.” Companies will bring in diverse employees but then expect them to conform to the existing company culture, which can drive high turnover rates. Look at your policies on professional appearance, for example. Do they exclude braids or culturally significant ways BIPOC employees might wear their hair?
Look at the unspoken company norms, too, such as opportunities for promotion within the company. What practices and behaviors are at play that lead to an all white C-Suite? Propose tangible solutions to eliminate these factors. For example, DEI strategist Arthur Chan suggests implementing sponsorship or mentorship programs to help diverse talent at lower organizational levels move up the ladder.
Diversity Will Finally Be Perceived as a Business Imperative
Over the years employers have showcased diverse talent in their branding, but signaling diversity doesn’t always signal a great place for diverse employees to work. “Nowadays people want to know that what you’re selling is actually congruent with your internal policies,” Chan points out. The numbers back that up: 83% of millennial consumers prefer to support companies that align with their values.
Improving equity within your organization is an ethical imperative, and it deserves to be treated like any other business imperative, too. “There’s a level of sophistication, due diligence, thoughtfulness and professional support that you would require to move that initiative forward with any modicum of integrity,” Summers-McGee says. Treat diversity and inclusion efforts the same way.
This might mean allocating more funding and resources to your diversity initiative. Here’s an easy starting point: Pay your interns, Pharm suggests. Unpaid internships exclude a huge portion of the talent pool in lower socioeconomic status levels. Talent comes from all places, but not everyone with the skills you need can afford to work for free. Paid internships sourced from diverse talent pools will help you diversify your workforce.
Ongoing Anti-Racism Education Can Reduce Future Bias
Staying aware of how bias and racism affect the people in your organization is critical to building an equitable and inclusive company culture. HR can lead DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) efforts, Pharm points out, but ultimately it has to be embedded at every level. Managers need to be trained to recognize policies, practices and behaviors that perpetuate racial inequities at work. Ongoing anti-racist education at all levels helps companies become more aware and intentional about equity and inclusion in the workplace.
You may already implement unconscious bias training, but in most cases that won’t be enough. “It’s more important to talk about anti-racism,” Chan says. This accounts for both unconscious and conscious bias, which still saturates many organizational cultures. Ongoing policy evaluations, along with recognizing and penalizing racist behavior, can lay the groundwork for more equitable practices.
These changes in practice and policy are the future of equity in the workplace but don’t expect them to change overnight. “This is not a sprint: It’s a marathon,” Pharm says. “Surface-level diversity isn’t going to cut it.” Checking boxes to stay compliant takes little effort and produces little effect. If you really want to move forward, prepare to put the work in.