I’m sure you’ve noticed the ubiquitous statements against racial inequality in recent days. Such statements are being issued by public organizations, educational and nonprofit institutions, and for-profit companies. These statements are, sorry to say, generally mealy-mouthed in nature. It is very unusual for any entity to come out publicly to disavow both explicit racism and microaggressions. (Kudos to Ben & Jerry’s for taking an aggressive stance.)
The United States was built on slave labor, and that history is something that is still felt more than 400 years after the first slave ships arrived. Overt and covert racism have shaped the business world. Corporate America is predominantly white. Although business leaders understand that racism is divisive, that it brings about the worst in people, and is bad for business, the topic remains taboo in many organizations. And so, by not encouraging meaningful conversations about race in the workplace, companies inflict self-damage through their silence, inaction, and, dare I say, ignorance.
It is not enough to have policies about zero tolerance for workplace racism. That is reactive. Forward-thinking, competitive companies need to be proactive. That means:
- Taking an exhaustive look at your culture. Is your culture open and accepting and non-racist? It is? That’s great. Is it also actively anti-racist?
- Evaluating your leadership. Are they diverse? Do they represent the world as a whole or just a microcosm?
- Looking into implicit and unconscious biases in your hiring practices.
- Fostering a culture of open and honest communication, in which people can feel free to voice legitimate concerns without fear of retribution.
For non-minority employees, here’s what you can do:
- Check-in with your black colleagues. Don’t just pretend that current events have no impact on them. Don’t just ask them how they feel. Shut up and listen.
- Educate yourself. The more informed you are, the less ignorant you become. Learn about the history of systemic racism and white supremacy and how both have informed corporate culture.
- Be a vocal advocate. That means calling out racism and microaggressions in real-time. Don’t visit your colleague’s office after the fact to offer your support. That is not enough.
- Don’t just be intolerant of racism. Be vehemently anti-racist.
- Be empathetic. You don’t, and can’t, understand what it is like to be institutionally marginalized. But you can understand, validate, and identify with the other person’s emotions and perspectives.
- Do not tolerate “All Lives Matter.” All lives won’t matter until black lives matter just as much as white lives do.
We like to pretend that personal beliefs, biases, and inclinations do not make their way into the workplace. They absolutely do. The onus of ensuring that repugnant views are not tolerated in the workplace is up to both management and employees. #BlackLivesMatter