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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

Transforming how we practice workplace inclusion

For the first time ever, almost all of the books on the New York Times bestseller list are focused on race in America. In contrast to previous incidents of widely publicized police murders of Black people, increasing numbers of White folks are taking this moment to educate themselves on the far-reaching impacts of racism within our society. Not only is this exciting from a social progress and civil rights perspective, but this is also a crucial opportunity to overhaul the way we approach workplace inclusion.

Traditional diversity and inclusion efforts have primarily focused on two types of interventions: 1. One-off trainings e.g. unconscious bias, being an inclusive manager; and 2. Diversity-focused hiring initiatives. To date, neither of these have yielded much progress. Information presented in trainings is rarely integrated into the company’s daily processes, and more often than not these sessions simply allow organizations to check a box that they made some level of effort. On the hiring front, employees who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) continue to leave organizations at two times the rate of their non-BIPOC leaving company demographics largely unchanged.

Much of this excess turnover is due to non-inclusive cultures that fail to support underrepresented employees. As discussed in our previous post, the overwhelming majority of BIPOC employees are subjected to daily micro and macroaggressions that prevent them from feeling included and in many cases even welcome in their organizations. From discriminatory remarks in casual conversation to being repeatedly passed over for promotions, the daily strain takes a real toll.

Once-a-year trainings and diversity-focused hiring cannot solve the problem of workplace inclusion when the problem is internal company cultures. With more people finally opening their eyes to the ways that racism and exclusion are perpetuated through systemic means as well as through their own words and deeds, we might finally be able to move the needle on the way BIPOC employees experience work in America. In order to do so however, we have to change the way that we conceptualize and operationalize inclusion.

Per diversity advocate Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” While some have argued that this is too passive a comparison, as employees should not have to wait to be asked to join in by their employer, the point is that bringing diverse employees to the table is just the first step. We must stop tokenizing people just to improve diversity numbers, because the benefits of changing those numbers come from those employees being able to exercise their full array of gifts to advance the organization on a daily basis. Workplace inclusion is an ongoing practice that requires education, empathy, and evangelism from every employee. The whole organization must be committed to recognizing and uplifting each other, and for many companies, it’s going to take quite a bit of work to get there.

The first step however, is to position employees to actually come from a place of knowledge and understanding in their day-to-day interactions. Rather than focusing on mandatory trainings that can backfire, time-bound efforts (e.g. Black History Month), and other token commitments, help employees get to know one another. Foster camaraderie rather than competition. If you’re a manager, learn to really check in with your employees and encourage your team to do so for each other as well. Offer opportunities to learn about employees’ experiences as a way of changing minds, rather than continuing to fall back on the same old sessions that have gotten us nowhere.

For example, without the historical context of White/Black race relations that many are just beginning to open their eyes to now, it will be difficult to cultivate the depth of empathy that’s needed to build truly inclusive workplaces for Black employees. Accordingly, consider working with one or more of your ERGs to organize an event with a Black historian, and also be sure to offer Black employees the opportunity to honestly share their own lived experiences without fear of judgment or reprisal or, crucially, the expectation that they must share. Invite others to discuss times when they saw or experienced bias, as well as when they perpetrated it themselves. Holding space for people to share and learn from each other on an ongoing basis will do far more for your organization than trying to simply hire more women engineers (which is also an important effort, but one that can only go so far if those employees don’t stay).

Let’s stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. Now is the time for companies to decide whether they want to continue to pay lip service to workplace diversity and inclusion, or if they’re ready to finally put in the effort necessary to reap the far-reaching benefits. If your company is in the second category and is looking for a tool to help support you on your journey, from event ideas and activity roadmaps, to analytics that actually monitor inclusion, visit workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more about where you are currently, and where you’d like to go.

Categories
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

Combatting anti-Black racism in the workplace

As many organizations have rushed to engage in performative solidarity with the Black community while they continue to support oppressive internal cultures and business practices, it’s time for HR to seize this moment. The industry is in a unique position to play a central role in dismantling the structures that have compounded and perpetuated centuries-old inequities. Given the extent of the issues we’re facing, it’s going to take a lot of work, but the first step towards making change is to name the problem outright. The majority of our workplace cultures are racist against Black folks by design, and we need to first acknowledge that before we can begin to move forward.

It has long been considered unprofessional to talk about race or call out instances of racism in the workplace. This has not only allowed White people and others to remain ignorant to the challenges Black folks face every day, and in many cases to actively participate in creating/preserving those challenges, but it has also denied Black employees a true place at the table. Despite the estimated $8 billion that is spent on diversity and inclusion training every year, Black employees at many companies are still forced to engage in a sick series of contortions to simply get through the day. From covering, in which people can’t bring their whole selves to the office and must pretend to be someone that fits their workplace’s implicit and explicit expectations, to enduring both micro and macroagressions with no recourse, even a light workday becomes completely exhausting.

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that all of the systems we grow up with in the U.S. are designed to oppress. Anti-Black racism is embedded in our housing system, our education system, our medical system, our financial/economic system, our employment system, certainly in our criminal justice system, and beyond. In our workplaces, what appear to those making them as merit-based decisions are much more frequently based upon a credentialing system that is already stacked against Black folks, coupled with our innate compulsion to favor those who look like us. A senior White person may choose to promote a White colleague based on the ‘potential’ they see in them, when in reality it’s simply that that person reminds them of themselves when they were younger. Compound this with the dynamics mentioned above, and without even touching upon the complex landscape that Black folks with intersectional identities must navigate, the crucible of conditions we’ve created becomes inescapable.

Alleged diversity and inclusion efforts have gone on far too long without achieving legitimate systemic change for Black employees. While individual companies may have made some progress towards building more inclusive and supportive spaces for Black folks, the overwhelming majority have simply paid lip service because not only do those in charge not feel this impacts them, but in many cases maintaining systems of oppression actively benefits them. Without genuine buy-in from the top to work not just towards being not racist, but becoming actively anti-racist, every day, the movement will continue to struggle. That said, as the role of the Chief People Officer continues to gain sway within the organization, an opportunity may be emerging to drive an agenda that centers rooting out anti-Black racism, and delivers results.

The process must begin with education. Until White people and others are willing to face up to the reality of the ongoing systems, biases, etc. that factor into the status quo, and recognize and admit their active role in it, any ‘solutions’ will be superficial. HR professionals can begin by educating themselves, bringing in Black historians and anti-racism educators to share their knowledge with employees, and most importantly, by having difficult conversations with executives grounded in truth, rather than trying to preserve anyone’s feelings.

Examine your existing protocols (or lack thereof) and how they are enabling bias. Design and communicate explicit policies around the manifestations of racism and intolerance that you will not accept in your workplace. Include specific examples, along with step-by-step processes for lodging a complaint, how it will be handled, and the repercussions those found to be in violation can expect. Then actually follow through on building an environment where people can call out discrimination for what it is without fear of reprisal. Mobilize your entire workforce in the effort to identify and root out racism and oppression.

This may seem like a lot to ask, and maybe you don’t believe that you and/or your company are part of the problem. The fact is though, with centuries’-worth of unlearning and undoing ahead of us, we all have a part to play. As long as Black people continue to be murdered in the streets, in their homes, in their cars, and elsewhere, simply for going about their lives, taking the time for self-examination feels like the absolute least you can do.

We’re actively committed to starting with ourselves here at Workrowd, seeking to educate ourselves and unlearn the world as we know it. We’ve similarly been committed to diverse hiring efforts from Day 0, and continue to seek out partnerships and engagements with Black consultants and Black-owned businesses. As has been the case since our founding, we’ll be continuing to roll out additional educational materials and anti-racist resources through our diversity and inclusion-focused krowds, particularly around employee resource groups, in efforts to get critical learning tools into the hands of more employees. If you’d like to contribute and/or have recommendations for us, please keep them coming. We’re at hello@workrowd.com.

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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

The importance of affinity groups in times of crisis

The rapid spread of the coronavirus around the globe has highlighted a key feature of life today: we are all deeply and inextricably linked. As social creatures, almost everything we do in industrialized societies relies on a long chain of other people to make it possible. Across cities, states, countries, and continents, we are all interconnected in ways that we rarely acknowledge. Unfortunately, one of our most effective pandemic responses, social distancing, has forced us to reckon with almost total isolation.

While the economic impacts of this virus will be both wide and deep, even those who are lucky enough to be able to work remotely are experiencing interpersonal effects. In 2019, 16% of companies operated with a fully remote workforce. For those in the other 84%, the social distancing measures of late have required a whole new approach to the work day. The one-off interactions with people at their desks, before and after meetings, in the kitchen/lunchroom, etc. that we used to take for granted are now nonexistent. Our new coworkers for the foreseeable future are the people we live with and our pets. As people struggle to adapt to video calls and to navigate shifting priorities on projects facing uncertain futures, we need the support of our colleagues now more than ever.

We’ve written before about the importance of culture and employee communities, but it is in times like these that those elements really come to the fore. As life as we know it slips away and the weight of this new reality sets in, employees who were dissatisfied before the crisis will only disengage further. Without the daily context of the workplace to keep them tuned in, and no motivation to support a company they feel doesn’t support them, their performance will suffer even further. Those companies that have been resistant to allowing remote work up until this point because they were concerned employees would ‘slack off’ at home were likely right. It wasn’t an issue with the employee however, but an issue with the company and its approach to talent management. If the company doesn’t trust their employees and recognize them as more than just cogs in the wheel, they can’t expect their employees to go above and beyond for them, particularly at such a distracting and distressing time.

One of the key reasons employees cite for giving their all day after day for a company is getting to work with great people. When employees have deep connections with their coworkers, they have a built-in support system that makes the bad times manageable, and the good times even better. In a situation like the one we’re currently facing, having a strong network of colleagues through one or more affinity groups to commiserate, share tips, and just chat with to stay sane can make or break an employee’s success. Amidst fear and uncertainty, it’s your team that keeps you going and helps you muddle through in the face of the unknown.

In order to help employees build such connections, it’s critical to provide forums for them to interact substantively with others outside their department or project teams. The easiest way to do this is to set up the infrastructure for employees to self-select into affinity groups that resonate with them. Start a group for parents of young children to share tips and trials related to trying to homeschool kids while also working full-time out of the house. Start a group for the mass of new pet parents that the coronavirus has created so they can bond over animal antics. Start a group for those caring for older relatives who may be especially frightened at this time. Give your employees the ability to share what they’re going through with colleagues, rather than expecting them to turn off 70% of themselves and plow through their work like machines. We promise it will pay significant dividends when we can all return to the office and your team is reinvigorated by seeing their support system in person rather than returning to a group of strangers with whom they share no connection.

If you’re interested in providing more social infrastructure to keep your employees healthy, sane, and engaged throughout this trying time, we’re now offering free trials of our software as a way to support. It can be difficult to launch new employee initiatives such as affinity groups from behind a screen, but with Workrowd’s flexible engagement solution, you can set up employee communities in a few quick clicks. With everyone newly geographically distributed, our tools also provide you with critical insight into what’s happening, from what initiatives are being scheduled and who’s engaging, to which programs and sessions employees like the most.

If you think we can help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to hear how you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, and what you need to make things better. Stay safe, everyone!