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Four Ways Employers Can Support and Uplift Black Voices in the Workplace

February 22, 2023

February is Black History Month, and we are providing tips and advice for employers wanting to support black employees, not only during the month of February, but all year long.

A survey from Gallup found that one in four black workers report feeling discriminated at work. In the same report, Gallup also discovered that black workers on average make 24% less annually compared to their white peers. This not only emotionally impacts black workers, but also can physically affect them and their families when their needs are not being properly met.

Read below to learn more about what workplace leaders can do to end discrimination and uplift black voices.

Implement Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices

According to Glassdoor, 69% of executives cite diversity and inclusion as an important issue to tackle in the workplace. But how does one go about fixing that issue? By implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) practices and strategies.

According to McKinsey, DE&I is defined as, “closely linked values held by many organizations that are working to be supportive of different groups of individuals, including people of different races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations.”

The first thing employers can do to start these practices, if they are not already present, is to initiate a demographic survey of the organization. This is a way to highlight any discrepancies in mindful hiring and employee retainment. Here are some of the demographics to survey for:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Job Role

After compiling this data, take a broad look at it and ask questions about the hiring and promotion process at the organization. Some of the questions to ask include:

  • How many black employees hold leadership positions?
  • Are white males the ones predominately in management?
  • How many people of color work at the organization?

Asking these types of questions may uncover white bias in an organization and show that hiring strategies may need to be reassessed and changed with DE&I practices in mind. Keeping this information in mind when conducting screening and hiring of new candidates, can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace and foster a more welcoming space for all employees.

For more information on creating a DE&I centered workplace, check out this article from the Time’s Up Foundation on building an anti-racist workplace.

Create Employee Resource Groups

A great way to help black employees feel more welcomed and appreciated in the organization is to offer employee resource groups (ERG) to the organization. ERGs have become increasingly popular at organizations, especially with world events shaping the way that many people think. SHRM found that about 90% of Fortune 500 companies are supporting and investing in ERGs in the workplace.

An ERG is a voluntary internal employee group that members all share the same characteristics or goals, building inclusivity and community. These groups allow the employees to speak to, and spend time with, other peers that are like them.

For example, if there is only one black worker on a team of all white people, there is a high chance that they may feel isolated due to their different experiences and hardships. Having an ERG with other people of color gives the opportunity to talk about this type of isolation and find community at their organization.

Some of the activities that an ERG member can participate in include:

  • Panels discussing important topics (Ex. Mental health, parenting, world events)
  • Volunteering efforts
  • Team-building events
  • General hangouts

ERGs can create a great sense of community for workers that may feel marginalized due to their skin color, interests or background.

Educate All Employees

Every worker has different backgrounds and experiences which can cause workplace discrimination both directly and indirectly. Direct discrimination is when a group of people are treated differently due to their skin color and/or background directly while indirect discrimination, which is the act of discriminating against a group of people without even knowing, can be common in organizations that are led and mostly staffed by white people. 

A way to combat this problem is to provide direct education to employees. This can help them understand the problems others face due to their skin color, what they can do to minimize bias, how they can support colleagues and much more.

Organizations can provide specific training on the inequalities of people of color not only within the workplace, but in all of society. Here are some examples of training and programming that organizations can provide to employees:

  • Webinars
  • Anonymous testimonials from black employees
  • Workshops
  • Volunteering
  • Guest speakers

Offering these types of trainings can help change the workplace for the better in regard to creating a supportive and understanding culture for black employees.

Avoid Performative Behavior

It is easy to look at hiring practices, see that there is a diversity problem and “promise” to make changes. However, it is the actual act of making the change that makes a difference in an organization.

The act of saying that changes will be made but are never executed is also known as performative activism. Performative activism is defined as, “activism done to increase one’s social capitol rather than because of one’s devotion to a cause” according to Boston Medical Center.

Conducting an internal audit of demographics and diversity should not be done just once. Consider having an audit every six months or on a yearly basis. If an organization is basing their hiring strategies on old data, it is not doing the employees of color any justice which can directly and negatively impact employee happiness and retention.

Also, consider continuing to support and lift ERGs at the company. Showing solidarity and support to these groups can make employees feel much more welcomed and included by having a safe space to talk about their goals and problems. For example, when a new employee is starting or even interviewing, mention the ERGs that are available to all employees and provide them information on how to join.

Lastly, continue educating all employees on racial discrimination and what can be done to help coworkers of color. Keep up with current headlines and societal events, as addressing and changing practices due to current events is crucial in avoiding performative activism.

Consider these practices and implementing them within your organization to better the environment for black workers and let their voices be heard.

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