The devastating murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery ignited a demand and sense of urgency for equity and justice now in America and in some places around the world. This tragedy shined a bright light on the need for accountability within institutions and leaders of historical power and positionality, and corporate America is no different. Following worldwide protests demanding change, America’s leading corporations and businesses proclaimed that “Black Lives Matter,” made internal commitments to diversity and inclusion, and poured billions of dollars into racial justice organizations (approximately $50 billion as of August 2021).
With that in mind, a few questions remain: are efforts making an impact, meaning are they resulting in change? Are we measuring the progress and impact of these pledges? Who is holding whom accountable for change? And most importantly, have we lost steam to make an impact; do we care enough?
For hundreds of years, not enough people cared enough about Black pain to take action. We saw that start to change in the summer of 2020. Now, nearly two years later, it is more important than ever to address issues of inequity and justice, particularly in the workplace. Leaders have to understand that employees no longer consider equity and justice the right thing to do, it has become the necessary thing to do. Increasingly research is showing that all employees report that they want a workplace where there is gender freedom and racial equity for everyone. So, what can companies do to ensure they are doing their part to disrupt systematic racism and bias and create and nurture a culture where everyone feels included, empowered and valued? Here are a few ways companies can do better:
Lead by example—it is imperative that company leaders, particularly c-suite level, examine their biases, uncover their blind spots, lean into discomfort and do the work. Roughly 72% of executive leaders in the United States are white men, who have benefited from the status quo and almost never felt the need to examine how the system has harmed non-white communities. I get it. Why would you if it’s not your lived experience? The world is changing. Today, people expect corporate leaders to walk the talk and demonstrate their commitment to equity by dedicating time and energy into exploring where they fall short and how they can be better allies and then do the work in a visible way. Setting the expectation at the top and role modeling has a ripple effect on how other managers show up. This will ultimately contribute to employees feeling seen and heard.
Diversify, include and empower simultaneously—numerous companies rushed to accelerate their DEI efforts by committing to diversify their workforce by a certain percentage. While diversity is crucial, it simply means “the mix of people.” These efforts will fail if not accompanied by intentional inclusion efforts accompanied by a strategic plan to empower employees. Often, the tendency is to focus on getting “diverse” people in the door, and pay less attention to whether existing diverse employees feel seen, heard and celebrated. Worse yet, we fail to examine the role we play in perpetuating microaggressions, gaslighting underrepresented communities and prioritizing those “who look like us” in the hiring and promotion process. We must disrupt behaviors that further contribute to inequity. This can look like reevaluating the hiring process, conducting roundtable discussions to understand employee experience, creating clear and transparent pathways to career development, or examining who we give more airtime to.
Increase data transparency—to understand where you are in the journey, it’s important to look at your demographic data and set a plan in motion to hold yourself accountable to creating an equitable culture. Aspiring to even the playing field is a significant step towards change. Looking at cross level representation, promotion rates, retention rates and employee surveys should paint a clear picture for how well the company is doing in promoting equity and justice. Without transparency, there cannot be equity.
Hire for skills not education and be up front about pay—we know that systematic barriers and historical context prevent so many communities from accessing higher education. By continuing to prioritize education-based talent, we are narrowing the pool and missing out on incredible and diverse candidates. There is no doubt that there is a plethora of candidates with the skills and life experience to preform and excel at the job. We must include and empower. Furthermore, making job descriptions accessible and transparent by exploring pathways to non-web-based applications and providing the pay range up front is a good place to start. Better yet, simplify job descriptions. We know that research tells us that men typically see job descriptions as a guide and women see them a “must have” list. Upset that dynamic by changing your job descriptions. It will also help push you to hire for skills and capability. Further, we know that men are hired by potential and women for experience. Disrupt this data point as well.
Hire a senior executive in charge of DEI—ensure they are among the company’s executive committee with a reporting structure on par with other C-suite executives. This leader will increase transparency, disrupt silos and hold the company accountable for driving equity-and-justice-for-all efforts.
By no means is the above list an exhaustive one. Rather it’s a pathway towards achieving a more inclusive environment. Inclusion matters. Purposeful Leadership matters. It goes without saying that without governmental and policy change, systematic barriers will persist. Yet, there is a great opportunity for leaders and corporations to lead. Change happens by choice, not by chance. What choices are you making?