In the midst of a global pandemic, many citizens around the world are engaging with the antiracism movement. Slowly building for years but ignited after another series of highly visible murders of unarmed Black Americans, individuals are pushing for social justice measures to break down racism in every corner of society. As these moments gain critical support for action and individuals refuse to stay complicit any longer, nor should companies. Systemic racism at all levels must be eradicated. The protests and calls for reforms speak to this desire in everyone to end racism. Starting this journey is hard, but there are concrete steps every company or organization can take now to commit to antiracism policies.
Entrepreneurs and business owners have a responsibility to play a part in putting an end to racial inequality and injustices. While many people are feeling guilty that not enough has been done before now, that can’t get in the way of the work to be done. The time to act is still here and much can be done. The work begins with every individual, and policies that address the systemic elements baked into our corporate lives are just as important as the efforts being tackled in the public spheres. In the sphere of influence that is your company, here are some of the efforts you should make to ensure that yours is an actively antiracist company.
It takes learning, both consciously and subconsciously, to become racist, prejudiced or racially-insensitive. Unfortunately, the dialogue has long been binary and strict – you are a racist or you aren’t – and that has prevented many from understanding where they sit on a racism spectrum. The good news is that anyone can unlearn the bias they knowingly or unknowingly hold. In addition to combatting bias, most people will need education on the ways in which societal elements intersect to create disparate experiences for Black people and other people of color. This means you will likely need to explore education around racial bias, equity, inclusion, systems of racial oppression and broadly, systemic racism, and maybe more.
Make it a requirement for everyone to attend organized racial-equity trainings and workshops. Create an environment where people are given the opportunity to be open and honest so they’re receptive to learning and then doing better.
The training can be in-house if you have appropriate experts on staff, but more than likely you will need to bring in outside diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts. Invest in as many of these workshops and trainings as you feel may be necessary to produce the desired impact.
It is, however, worth noting that it will take more than training sessions to disrupt thinking patterns. It will be critical to ensure the style of training is tailored to address the specific issues that your company may be facing. Discussions and skits portraying issues specific to individuals or roles within your company or within your industry and how to tackle these issues will be more beneficial than a generic or general training covering broad racial issues.
Any racial equity initiatives should be so tailored to produce a shift in thought and behavior patterns that is long-lasting. Assess the progress made after the trainings, and if dissatisfied, you may want to arrange follow-up trainings, among other initiatives.
This one’s a beast, so get ready. Believing you will hire Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) candidates with the right required skills, desire, and attitude to get the job done (or even committing to it) doesn’t address barriers to diverse hiring. A major element companies need to examine is how to proactively diversify their applicant pools. It is incumbent on the company to consider WHY their applicant pool isn’t diverse, and to make sure their corporate culture is inclusive. Some things to consider as you create a framework for your commitment:
Most importantly: you will need people committed to this work. If necessary, be prepared to restructure your HR department to address complaints about biased staff hiring and retention policies. Only by so doing can you ensure that your company is inclusive enough to truly attract the best talent and maintain a diverse roster of employees.
Related to this: There is no excuse for a racial pay gap, however small, since employees in the same job title will be tasked with carrying out the same duties. The same goes for benefits packages. Conduct a company-wide wage equity audit looking at past and current employees. Based on the findings of the audit, you make the necessary adjustments to ensure that every employee enjoys fair and equitable pay regardless of their race. Consider making this commitment public-facing so that candidates understand.
Growing BIPOC employees into leadership roles is equally important to the hiring side of the equation. More diverse leadership contributes to an inclusive environment that will demonstrate a path for applicants of color.
In looking at career growth and advancement, ensure that such opportunities are gained through a competitive process offered to all employees equally. Encourage employees from all relevant roles to apply to any new positions that are created. Have a transparent advancement roadmap to avoid the partiality that creates opportunities for advancement behind the scenes, where people of color are disproportionately disadvantaged.
In addition, think about how work in existing roles impacts performance reviews, which drive advancement. Similarly to what corporations have found to be true with women in the workforce, as Evelyn Carter noted for the Harvard Business Review, “assigning work is fraught with racial bias: Employees of color are expected to repeatedly prove their capabilities while White employees are more likely to be evaluated by their expected potential.”
Every business in this day and age has an opportunity to showcase talent, or partners with whom you work. Make it your business to strive to have diverse representation among talent, partners, and identify way you can share your platform with BIPOC experts.
As a company, who are your suppliers? To whom do you outsource your accounting, and other functions and services? Who are your shareholders and investors?
Every company looking to be an ally and participant in antiracism policies must also look beyond its internal environment. What level transparency are you undertaking to ensure there is equal access to bidding on business with your company? Vet every supplier and service provider based solely on what they bring to the table and the value they add to your company. This is another place where privilege must be examined closely.
Corporate lobbying and advocacy play a significant role in shaping laws at the local, state and federal levels. Most companies and organizations (unless you hold 501c(3) status) can play a role in ensuring the drafting, passing, and enforcing of laws and policies that contribute to dismantling systemic racism.
No effort is ever too small. Even if you cannot draft a bill focused on racial equity and justice, you can sign and support the passing of such bills. Lending your name and manpower to a cause is often times exactly what is needed.
Create space for your employees to be advocates, too. Invite employees to support each other in efforts that makes the most sense for them, whether through peaceful protest, volunteer work, education, or donation, and encourage them to be an ally to those who need support.
If there are employees who continue to show a blatant disregard for the policies, work, and culture you are all creating together, then you may have to let them go. The same goes for severing relationships with partners and shareholders who may not hold themselves to similar standards. You will also need to prepare employees to report illegal and overt discrimination.
Make your antiracism commitment known to all parties you interact with as a company and repercussions understood by those who may try to actively frustrate or undermine these efforts.
Lastly, everyone needs to be on the lookout for microaggressions. Although not individually necessarily a fireable offense, these should be closely monitored, and addressed quickly and directly. You may wish for employees to have tools for how to respond so they can feel supported to help with this work. Professors Shamika Dalton and Michele Villagran compiled a checklist for employees and managers to address microaggressions that may be helpful.
Every company should recognize that change starts right at your doorstep. You cannot do it alone, but you can do something to effect the change you would like to see. Eliminating racial inequalities and promoting social and racial justice calls for everyone to do their part, and business leaders can do so by implementing as many of the highlighted strategies as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Heidi Souerwine, CMP, is the Executive Director of ASAP and manages content strategy for ASAP and its portfolio of products, including the APC, EA Summit, EA Ignite, and PACE. Prior to moving to Maine and joining the ASAP team in 2017, she spent 15 years in Washington, DC managing training and events from 10 – 10,000 attendees for international membership associations, non-profits, and the federal government. Heidi is passionate about needs-based program development, purposeful event design, and cultivating active community and engagement.