Seven Steps to Develop an Anti-Racist Workplace Culture

The events of the past year have prompted many businesses to examine their diversity and inclusion policies closely. Corporate America is now undertaking a widespread and unprecedented reckoning with systemic racism. Leaders and human resources departments should consider what actions their own workplace can take to successfully develop an anti-racist workplace culture.

What Does Anti-Racism Mean?

The term “anti-racist” is used to describe a range of ideas and political actions intended to counter systemic racism, racial prejudice, and the oppression of groups of people based on race. The National Museum of American History & Culture defines “anti-racism” as actively fighting and taking action against racism.

Discrimination and racism in the workplace can severely impact businesses in every sector. The World Economic Forum has found that when employees are unhappy, creativity, productivity, and innovation in the workplace suffer. Modern consumers are also increasingly inclined to boycott a brand or business based on their responses to social or political issues.

A work environment that is diverse and inclusive is a happier and more productive workplace. But it can be challenging to undo widespread systems of discrimination and unconscious bias. Fortune reports that in United States, more than half of Black employees in corporate America have experienced racism in the workplace. Employees of other races can also be subject to racism at work. Without taking proactive action, businesses are unlikely to see change in work cultures that are inherently biased.

Multicultural team collaboratively working on project documents around a conference table.

Proactive Steps Toward an Anti-racist Culture

Many businesses may need to undertake significant and long-term changes within their company cultures in order to create anti-racist workplace systems. These are seven suggested steps for businesses to consider.

1. Take a top-down approach

As with any significant cultural change, actions to end systemic racism need to come from the top and be implemented across the entire business. Addressing systemic racism can be one of the toughest jobs a leader may face. Undoing structural racism may require significant changes in a company’s core culture, institutional structures, and learning, as well as changes in personal attitudes. To create a successful anti-racist workplace, you need buy-in and commitment from the highest levels.

2. Encourage community engagement

While cultural change needs to start at the top, everyone in the business should be involved in creating an anti-racist workplace. Anti-racism shouldn’t just be a subject for HR to tackle. Conversations need to happen throughout the entire business. All your employees should be engaged in the process and encouraged to speak up. You can work together as a community to create an inclusive environment. Companies should provide all employees with a safe space to express and share their concerns or ideas.

3. Change hiring practices

Unconscious bias often occurs during the hiring process, before employees even join the business. By implementing anti-racist hiring practices, you can help level the playing field and create more diverse workforces. By reviewing and assessing hiring processes for prejudice or inequality, you can then take actions to correct inherent bias.

The type of changes a business may need to make differ depending on the recruitment process. While individuals can have personal bias, even algorithmic recruitment processes can deter diversity.

According to Brookings University, recruitment algorithms are intended to reduce the bias that can come with human decision-making. However, the algorithms are often built with inherent bias, because the data used to determine a “good” employee is usually based on the existing workforce.

These algorithm flaws could create a situation where the process disadvantages minorities because the algorithm has never encountered candidates like them in the past. For example, if a company has never hired a candidate with a degree from a historically Black college, will the algorithm know how to effectively and fairly evaluate such candidates?

To really understand the biases in your business, you will need to closely monitor your recruitment process and gather data to pinpoint any problems that exist. Ensuring the hiring process uses objective criteria helps ensure equal opportunities and eliminates racial profiling or prejudice.

4. Commit to ongoing training

Training is an essential step in fostering an anti-racist culture within the workplace. Diversity and inclusion training at all levels helps ensure the executive team participates in the process actively. Wider diversity and inclusion training programs create awareness throughout the business about issues, such as unconscious biases and micro-aggressions in the workplace.

Training should be interactive and experiential to keep participants engaged. Diversity training may also be a new experience for many employees. It can help to set ground rules so that everyone feels safe to participate and discuss uncomfortable topics.

5. Seek and expand education

It’s hard to change what you don’t understand, have not experienced directly, or can’t recognize. It’s therefore crucial that HR teams and leaders educate themselves and encourage others to seek anti-racism information.

You can learn more about privilege, oppression, and the histories of racial inequality with the help of anti-racism literature, or by reaching out to educators and experts on these topics. Fireside talks or ‘lunch and learn’ sessions on diversity topics can be a more interactive source of education for people who prefer to listen than to read.

6. Ensure equal opportunities

Bias doesn’t end after someone gets hired. Fortune reports that in 2020 there were just four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. Businesses need to ensure diversity at all levels and offer everyone equal opportunities to excel. Professional development processes should be evaluated to ensure they are fair and free of bias. In a recent PwC survey of corporate directors, only 15% felt their businesses were “excellent” when it came to developing diverse executive-level talent. Mentorships, sponsorships, and promotions should be offered equally to all junior and mid-career employees without bias.

7. Continued reflection and long-term commitment

While anti-racism is currently a hot topic, businesses must recognize that systemic racism is not a new concept, trend, or short-term issue. Leaders should continuously prioritize diversity and inclusion as one of the essential pillars of their business. Training should be a regular activity and part of an ongoing discussion.

Advantages of Building an Anti-racist Company

There are many advantages to building a company that is anti-racist. Studies from the Harvard Business Review, among others, have shown that diversity promotes innovation. Additionally, employees who feel safe physiologically within a company have more interest in learning and connecting.

A culture of systemic racism can be harmful to a business’s reputation, both with customers and future employees. Toxic work cultures can also fuel staff disengagement, lower productivity levels, and higher turnover. A McKinsey study found that companies that performed poorly on diversity were also more likely to underperform financially.

Over the last 18 months many enterprise businesses, such as Salesforce, have started taking action to create an anti-racist culture in their workplace. Business Insider reports that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has vowed to double the number of Black leaders within its U.S. business. Making diversity targets public like this adds a level of transparency and accountability to companies like Salesforce to follow through on their promises.

Taking Action

Workplace racism won’t go away on its own. Becoming an anti-racist business requires a conscious decision to take consistent, equitable action. Proactive diversity and inclusion training can transform organizations, making positive impacts on employee happiness and overall productivity. Companies can work to build an anti-racist workplace culture that’s a force for change by taking action now.

Acknowledging and understanding the importance of anti-racist behaviors is an integral part of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. To further help you improve diversity within your team, download this free eBook on Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion.

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