As protests against systemic racism continue across the U.S. and the world, the business world has had to, in various ways, acknowledge its role in promoting equality. Some organizations offered statements, while other leaders took more concrete action.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced his resignation from the company's board, urging it to replace him with a new black board member. He also pledged to donate future gains on his Reddit stock to serve the black community and made a $1 million donation to former NFL player Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp.
Even the NFL, which has stayed mostly silent on social matters, released a statement from commissioner Roger Goodell in which he apologized for "not listening to NFL players earlier" in their protests against police brutality.
While organizations' goals and inclusivity journeys will vary, the important thing is to make an honest assessment of the current state and recognize the need to move in the right direction, Janine Yancey, CEO of Emtrain, told HR Dive.
"Society is clearly in the middle of a big paradigm shift," Yancey said in an interview. "As business leaders and businesses, the first thing we can do is just be as authentic and candid about what we're all experiencing, in real time, as possible. I think a real starting point is to have business leaders and organizations weigh in as authentically as they can."
Prospective customers and employees appear to be watching the business world and its response to protests against racial inequality carefully. This year there is a significant potential for impact on employment brand, and words alone may not be enough to succeed.
Reach out and listen
The first step for companies looking to enhance diversity and inclusion initiatives is to open up channels for communication, being sure to listen closely to employees from underrepresented groups. "Just spend some time and widen your lens and understand what the concerns and what the experiences are of more marginalized communities," Yancey said.
Gartner offered similar guidance in a recent article, emphasizing that there are no quick fixes to developing an inclusive culture, and included recommendations for managers to handle sensitive conversations.
"Don't rush to give advice or offer solutions," research director Lauren Romansky wrote. "Seek to understand before you are understood. If someone shares a fear or challenge, resist the urge to suggest a premature fix. Expect that some employees may not want to or be yet ready to discuss recent events."
Yancey also recommended sending around a list of suggested books, articles and documentaries to help employees better understand the perspectives of people with different backgrounds.
If they are not already, business leaders should be cognizant of their organization's demographics and how they compare to the community and customers, Yancey and other experts suggest. Even the ways businesses use demographic categories warrant scrutiny because, as recent research has shown, assumptions often are built into older methods of assigning identity.
Once a demographic audit is complete, it is important to be transparent about data and subsequent findings, Sage Quiamno, CEO of Future for Us, told HR Dive. Future for Us describes itself as "a platform dedicated to advancing womxn of color at work through community, culture, and career development."
"By figuring out the gaps in the company, your diversity, equity and inclusion team can have a starting point," Quiamno said, via email. "Have your leadership team develop and create a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion mission statement and goal with your employee resource group leaders."
Not all employees will fully buy into the goals of more inclusivity or strong action in the interest of that cause and discussions of certain issues may be uncomfortable for some. HR should encourage managers to have open conversations with those people as well.
"We need to approach them where they are, and get them to widen their mind," Yancey said, encouraging acceptance of all views and acknowledging that workforces will have "a continuum of where people are at and how they're thinking about these issues."
For managers who are particularly resistant, employment experts have recommended tying diversity and inclusion buy-in to their personal success.
Talent sourcing, recruiting and development
New recruiting channels can be a significant driver of diversity. With emerging technology, and a particularly available class of students and young professionals due to the pandemic, such efforts may be more achievable than ever.
"Once the internal audit is completed, it is time to change the processes in which to recruit diverse candidates. Invest in organizations [...], cultivating a diverse candidate pool," and develop programs for underrepresented groups to advance into leadership, Quiamno said.
If the recruiting process is the front door of employment, business leaders must be aware of who is allowed through that door. Liz Wessel, founder and CEO of WayUp, an early-career recruiting platform, told HR Dive that her company works with clients to break down the rate at which different demographic groups proceed through different stages of the recruiting process. If there are discrepancies at, for example, the aptitude assessment, recruiting leaders may want to investigate the assessment for potential bias, Wessel explained.
Wessel also said she recommends most clients stop focusing on "elite" schools, GPA requirements and degree type when considering applicants. These requirements can be barriers for diverse candidates and often have no tangible ties to the quality of the hire or their tenure, she said.
"Bias in the hiring process is real," Cynthia Overton, director of tech workplace Initiatives at the Kapor Center wrote on Emtrain's blog. "What has your company done to eliminate it? What have your leaders done to create multiple pathways into jobs in your company to circumvent larger societal inequality?"
Beyond actively attracting underrepresented groups into the recruiting process, HR leaders have more to consider once applicants are through the door. Overton outlined six symptoms of racial injustice in the workplace, highlighting development opportunities, manager accountability and underpayment as barriers to advancement.
"It's well known within the Black community that you have to be twice as good just to be perceived as average in the workplace," Overton wrote. "If Black talent is being overlooked in your organization for in-demand job assignments and promotions, do leaders think it's really due to inferior performance, or could this be tied back to [lack of manager accountability]?"