The recent attention on Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement, and the plight of immigrants and indigenous people in this country has highlighted the need for companies to increase efforts around equity and inclusion. But actually doing that work is easier said than done. We asked Terrill Thompson, principle at Banyan Coaching and Consulting, what companies can do to get started.
Engage in self-education
If a company is made up largely of white owners and managers, a good first step is self-education. “It’s really important to be pushing ourselves, particularly as white folks and non black folks, to understand why anti-blackness is so pervasive in our culture,” Thompson says. “I also hope that as we’re doing that, we’re also looking at how we’ve treated indigenous people and the invisibility around native folks in this area.”
Thompson recommends the following books, articles and podcasts on race and combating racism:
- Me and White Supremacy: A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
- My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
- What Is Owed: ‘It is Time for Reparations’ from The New York Times Magazine
- Season 2, Scene on Radio podcast
Examine the company’s hiring practices
An important second step in making a company more inclusive and diverse is focusing on practices around hiring, promotion and professional development.
When developing descriptions for professional positions, only list education requirements if they are required to perform the job. Whenever possible include “or equivalent work experience” if education requirements are included. Many people of color can’t access a higher education, Thompson says, so requiring a bachelor’s degree can scare away Black, native or Latinx candidates right off the bat.
When companies go looking for new employees, executives and HR managers tend to recruit in circles where they’re comfortable. “Where we’re comfortable is with people who look like us,” says Thompson. “If you want to attract a more diverse workforce, you have to be really intentional about doing outreach to groups and places where people of color are.”
To do that, post job announcements in publications, schools or businesses frequented by people of color. Reach out to organizations that serve people from diverse backgrounds and ask them to share announcements with qualified candidates in their network.
During the hiring process, include employees with diverse racial backgrounds and life experiences in the interview process when possible. “If a person shows up for an interview and your panel is all white, that sends a message,” says Thompson.
Be proactive about promotions and professional development
All employees at a company need to be consciously given access to opportunities, especially those around promotion and professional development. “A lot of this is about access,” says Thompson. “We have policy, but organizational culture often trumps policy. Even if on paper everyone has access to professional development, who knows that and who feels they have access to it may be different.”
Don’t just send employees an email letting them know about opportunities. Verbally encourage them to apply. If people of color don’t take action, gently and kindly ask why they didn’t and if there are barriers that are preventing them from exploring a promotion or going to a conference.
Recognize and fight implicit bias
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University defines implicit bias as “attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” While most of us don’t believe we’re racist, we’ve been trained by our society and our interactions with others to subconsciously believe certain things about people who are different from us. Those stereotypes may rear their ugly heads at times and in ways we don’t even recognize.
In the United States, many doctors are white men. As a result, many of us have come to unconsciously think that men are smarter and better at this job. On the other hand, because we’re accustomed to seeing women as nurses or medical assistants, we’ve come to believe women are good at these jobs—but not well-equipped to become doctors.
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In a business setting, what implicit bias often does is lead individuals to pick certain people for certain roles because they “look the part.” In addition, we are often harder on people who don’t fit our expectation of who should fill that role and hold them to a higher standard.
Awareness of implicit bias is a first step in fighting it. Simple steps like doing an initial review of job applications without any knowledge of a person’s race, gender or age and ensuring that a diverse pool of candidates has a chance to interview can make a big difference in a hiring process.
Support minority-owned businesses
One easy thing businesses can do right away is examine where they spend their money. Are they making charitable contributions to nonprofits that engage in diversity and inclusion? Are they supporting organizations that purposely exclude people of different races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities or life experiences? Are they making purchases from companies owned by Black or native people?
“Oftentimes what is most convenient is not what is most ethically sound,” says Thompson. Trying to steer at least some of the company’s dollars to new partners can be a way to give people of color a boost.
Realize there’s no quick fix
Even if you do all of these things, you don’t get to check a box and say you’re done. “To really do equity and inclusion work means to take a look at all aspects of the organization and embed that lens into every part of a company’s work,” says Thompson. The process of evaluating the organization can take months or even years. And even then, the equity lens must be continually applied to the company’s work.
All of this takes time and effort, but it will be worth it in the end. Research shows that companies that employ people with a variety of backgrounds and life experiences—and ensure they feel comfortable and heard in the workforce—are more innovative, experience higher employee retention rates and may even have higher revenue. As our country becomes more diverse, businesses able to meet various customers’ needs and make them feel comfortable are more likely to succeed. There’s no better time than now to get started on this important work and make your business stronger going into the future.