August 21, 2020

Addressing Racial Discrimination in the Workplace

When racial protests erupted following the killing of George Floyd several months ago, employers took immediate steps to express their support, solidarity and empathy for and with their employees. Some employers issued statements denouncing racism, while others supported donations, contracted for diversity training and reviewed corporate branding.

Fast forward a few months later and we continue to find our nation struggling with racism. Diversity experts emphasize the importance of employers continuing to support their employees, but to try and reach beyond words and donations in the immediate aftermath of a specific incident to make this a long term priority within their workforce. In a recent interview with HR Dive, Avalara Chief Human Resource Officer, Kathleen Weslock, recommend that employers consider revisiting succession planning, talent development and recruitment with a focus on diversity and inclusion. During the interview, Ms. Weslock emphasized “regardless of which long-term steps an employer takes, it's crucial, above all else, to ensure authenticity.”

Listed below are ways employers can take meaningful action to address racism in the workplace.

1.) Keep The Conversation Going. It’s critical that employers back up their words with actions. This can be accomplished 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. Facilitated conversations can cultivate empathy and compassion which can influence relationships, and eventually work practices.

2.) Embed Anti-Racism Into Your Values, Training And Actions. Review compensation practices, recruiting practices, policies, partnerships and client relationships that contradict your company values. If not already defined, create a solid set of core values that are integrated into every policy, decision and process. Implement training to educate your employees and managers about stereotypes, bias, and cultural attitudes/messages in order to drive positive change. Emphasize to managers that they demonstrate their commitment to diversity, address the issue in their annual reviews and talk about the value it brings to the company.

3.) Spread Awareness. Aside from conversations, employers can spread awareness by providing resources to educate individuals about the culture of racism and the history of different races. Some individuals may be unaware of the comments they unconsciously make towards their BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) colleagues. Unfortunately, a lot of victims of racism don’t speak up because of fear of retaliation or being unfairly judged, so the cycle continues to repeat itself. It is imperative that managers address discriminatory remarks and behaviors immediately. Justifying or allowing comments to slide can give the impression that racism is acceptable. 

4.) Cultivate Diversity And Tackle Unconscious Bias. One way employers can combat racial injustice is through their hiring process. An article published by The Harvard Business School reported that 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. To avoid unconscious bias and prioritize a more diversified workplace, some companies have implemented blind hiring - a technique that “blinds” demographic-related information that could bias a recruiter or hiring manager during the hiring process.

Sources: HR Dive, “We're the moral compass: How HR can take the long view on the racial justice movement” Forbes, “4 Ways You Can Tackle Racial Discrimination In Your Workplace"

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