Following the recent murder of George Floyd among too many other black men and women, a new resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign has grown urging their communities that it is not enough to be non-racist, that we need to be anti-racist in order to bring about the changes necessary for a fully free society. Even if you hear the phrase Black Lives Matter and answer it with "All Lives Matter", it is clear today that anti-racism is a necessary force for that response to hold truth for all.
So if you are impacting an organization how can you make sure your processes and policies are actively fighting racism and not disadvantaging individuals caught in systemic obstacles? Below are a few things to consider..
Training Against Unconscious Bias:
One of the biggest challenges in the fight against racism is that almost no one believes they are racist, yet, almost no one is unaffected by biases based on race. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns and make decisions based off of them without our input. But when we see images of black men depicted as violent criminals at a rate inconsistent with actual data, those decisions become ill-informed. Training your organization to interrupt these decisions and re-frame their references will help all of your employees and leaders to make smart decisions over biased ones. Below is a link to a Ted Talk I've actually included in my own organizations Diversity training because I think she explains the science of it just as well as the heart, and gives practical and simple actions that can be applied to overcome bias.
Holding People Accountable
All organizations are subject to Civil Rights laws and must keep discrimination out of employment practices, however, most incidents happen without real consequence, if any. Why? Because it's about intent and it's extremely difficult to prove what motivates a decision. Leaders should be in the habit of digging beyond the surface answers to uncover motivations and be ready to dole out consequences if they are left without a good answer. It may not be possible to prove a decision was based on bias without an admission, but it CAN be proven that it was not a good decision. If a hiring manager decides to promote one employee over the other even though the other has better credentials on paper, the leader should be asking why and not be satisfied with "I just felt the first candidate was a better fit with the team". The next question should be another "why not". Answers should cite observed behaviors or even assessment outcomes. Structured competency models can be especially effective in defining these qualities. If concrete behavioral evidence cannot be provided, the leader should inform the hiring manager that it was a bad decision and that will affect their performance evaluation.
Looking At AAaallll The Data
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with data. The numbers can be overwhelming and it's exhausting to constantly question where they come from and what other ways they can be viewed. But they are an incredible tool to tell a story and really diagnose some key influencers. When checking data to make sure your practices are free of bias, diligence past the first point of satisfaction is critical. It feels easy to stop when you see that your minority hire rate meets expectations, however, that's just one perspective that tells us if a minority applies they have about the same chance of being hired as anyone else. But if you take it a step further and compare the number of minority applicants to the local population, what story does that tell? If your applicant pool is not reflecting the population, and especially your customer base, then you have more questions to ask. Does my company present as unwelcoming to black or other minority groups? Does my industry have a history that isn't attracting a modern applicant pool? How can I make sure we are attractive as an employer equally across racial groups? These questions are difficult to face and uncomfortable to answer, however, the return is incredibly profitable. Especially if you are serving a diverse population, promoting your brand as an employer to a broader audience gives you the opportunity to better equip your business with the right talent. I don't really need to ramble on about how beneficial diversity is for your bottom line, it was definitely covered in that online training you absolutely didn't zone out during ;)
Scrutinize Processes that May Support Systemic Racism and Find Solutions
Systemic racism is a very nuanced concept and arguably one of the most difficult pieces of racism to fully grasp and be sensitive to. There are so many other facets of it (and I encourage anyone to look up property taxes and loan rates for people of color) but it's rooted in inherited disadvantages. You may not even be aware of how some of your policies target certain groups. The best example I can give of this comes from when I assisted a call center training team and asked about an attendance policy when I noticed a large number of high performers were being let go due to tardiness. Call centers typically have very strict schedules and attendance policies, however, I found it odd that so many otherwise excellent employees were unable to abide by these rules. The training program was long and intense and many of these employees had high scores, great reviews, and even started making sales quickly if they got to the floor. The trainers then revealed that nearly once a month they lost a high performer because they did not have reliable transportation. They had all either driven old cars they could not afford to fix, carpooled, or rode a very inefficient bus system from their minority neighborhood. Guaranteeing getting to work on time on a bus sometimes meant leaving 2 hours early for a job that was 20 minutes away. If you have children, that means securing childcare for an extra 3 hours a day. These were great workers, with great attitudes, who were ALREADY MAKING US MONEY.. who we were losing because they were not fortunate enough to have access to reliable transportation. I understand their past experience had nothing to do with us, but speaking solely to the bottom line, a simple shuttle service would pay for itself a few times over in savings on that amount of turnover. One process implementation that benefits your business' productivity could also change the trajectory of that entire families growth by overstepping those systemic barriers. Win Win Win!
If nothing else, the easiest to implement is facilitating an open conversation between people of color and those who do not share their experience which can educate and best inform the entire operation for moving forward. Ok, truth be told this is the easiest to put on the calendar.. but may actually be the most difficult and uncomfortable to carry out. Giving the floor to someone who may be armed with criticisms could feel like handing a sword to your enemy. In reality, you are handing your colleague a spotlight and mirror. After taking the spotlight to educate, they can then turn the light on your flaws and hold up that mirror. We are all looking at a new stage for business and our culture at large. You wouldn't step out on stage without checking that mirror for spinach in your teeth, would you?
You may have read this and thought "These are great, but if I'm not adding to the problem, why is it my responsibility to fix it? These things cost money and I have a business to run.". Often when trying to keep a business running, especially during a pandemic that has rocked our economy, it's easy to get caught in the weeds and focus on short-term consequences. The reality is, evaluating your role in equality and ensuring a diverse and engaged workforce is proven beneficial for both the community and the business.
And as far as responsibility, in counseling they will tell you that fears, mental blocks and trauma stemming from your childhood are not your fault, but if you don't want them to hold you back as an adult they are your responsibility to mend. Businesses and Organizations that employ people of a community have the opportunity to be greatly impactful on culture and even laws. Implementing anti-racism efforts catalyzes the turn from systemic racism to systemic equality.
Please feel free to share these ideas with your colleagues and leaders and open a discussion on how you can move forward responsibly. I hope you will also add to this list and further educate us all.