Recent tragic events and reactions to them have not only generated strong demands for racial justice in the U.S., but they’ve also heightened calls for the same in the workplace. Data from Strategy + Business revealed that in 2019, nearly half the S&P 500 companies they polled had diverse professionals on staff. Those numbers are expected to rise even more quickly. Nearly 66% of the 234 started their jobs within the past three years.
Racial equality is important, not because it’s the law, but it’s overdue and the right thing to do. It’s important from a business perspective, too, because workers are demanding it and the younger generation of workers expects it. Millennials and Gen Z have identified workplace culture as an important part of their decision on whom to work for. Those same generations of shoppers echoed the same values.
Companies of all sizes have an excellent opportunity to begin implementing plans incorporating programs that foster workplace equality. For those wishing to begin, here are some ways to plan and successfully achieve that.
Start with an audit of where the brand currently stands in areas of diversity and racial equality. Send an anonymous survey to employees to get their perception of racial bias but be sure to capture enough data to be able to sort based on occupation, seniority, etc. Identify and correct any biases in existing policies, promotion/succession planning, and procedures.
Consider essential job functions. If existing descriptions don’t include the ability to communicate and work in a multi-ethnic environment, include that in both the job description as well as future performance reviews. Racial boas can often be avoided and discovered early in screening job applicants by inserting behavior-based questions.
Equip current employees with the kind of training that will help them learn how to ensure everyone’s equitable work environment. Breaking up the training into several sessions is more valuable and memorable because it also keeps the topic top of mind and encourages continued reflection and feedback. Inviting employee response and ideas is also motivating and empowering.
Companies large and small might consider slowly migrating some of their participation and presence to local organizations that focus on equity and inclusion. This includes grants and employee volunteer programs, where available.
As author David Nichols said, “This is where it all begins.” For racial quality to succeed, a company’s leaders must embrace and demonstrate it. Senior management’s participation in training sessions, leading free-flowing workplace meetings, and volunteering alongside their employees add unmeasurable credibility and encouragement.
While workplace meetings are important, it’s also wise to regularly solicit and gather employee feelings through follow-up surveys. Many employees will be more candid and open responding anonymously to surveys than speaking up openly at meetings. Those same surveys may also wish to ask for and compare employee attitudes about the company before, during, and after the rollout of a racial equality initiative.
Any vehicles the company uses for internal communications must also be used to keep employees informed about updates and changes to policies as well as to highlight and recognize any employee who’s exemplified the best in fostering and practicing racial equality.
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