After the latest act of hate and violence in this country, I feel compelled to take a detour from my typical blog post and comment on the topic of tolerance. As the wife of an African American business executive and member of a biracial family, I am acutely aware of the professional and personal challenges African Americans face. Being White, I don’t pretend to understand what racial intolerance feels like, but I do hope that empathy will guide my ability to reflect and act in a way that helps to eradicate racism.
With the recent prevalence of brutality, riots, and killings in the US, it is clear racism has not gone away or even abated in our society. And while we would like to believe it does not exist in the business world, I think we still have a lot of work to do to change mindsets and promote equality. Evidence even exists in our paychecks. Research by the American Institute for Economic Research found that Hispanic, Asian, and Black skilled workers earn a lot less than their White counterparts, as reported by USA Today’s Jessica Guyunn.
But, we can’t lose hope. Even small changes can make a big impact towards increasing tolerance in our society and organizations. In fact, I’m going to suggest three actions you can take in your workplace today:
Say something. Be aware of comments and don’t let them slide. When someone makes an inappropriate or racist comment, or puts another group, race, or culture down—show civil courage. Say it’s not okay or ask them to think about how they would feel if someone said something negative about their culture, race, or group. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation to emphasize how hurtful these comments can be and how prejudice can permeate the entire organization; slowing innovation, productivity and growth.
Include others. Examine your workplace and pay extra attention to how cultural and racial groups are integrated. Who is sitting with who in the cafeteria? Are you friends or work with others from diverse backgrounds? Are you truly engaging in conversation and work projects with those that have diverse perspectives? Chances are if you look around and it is more segregated than you realize, there may be an issue around inclusion in the workplace. People may not feel included or comfortable mixing with those that are different from themselves. This can be detrimental to your organization’s company culture and its ROI for talent. Research shows that organizations profit from being able to leverage Diversity because workers feel more engaged and thus are more productive.
Refresh your Diversity programs. Many companies have in-house Diversity and Inclusion departments that offer Diversity training, unconscious bias workshops, and other types of programs to help bridge differences, encourage empathy, and breakdown barriers. This is commendable. But many of these companies may need to reexamine whether these programs are meeting today’s needs. Programs may be focused on addressing the needs of gender and race while not addressing today’s issues around generation, sexual orientation, and culture. As our organizations become more global, we need to recognize that needs have changed. Ensure your Diversity programs are reflecting what’s happening in society and that your organization has a clear stance on advocating for the rights of all groups and dimensions of Diversity—not just a few.
While it is painful to witness our society’s struggle with racism, I have hope that as individuals we can take the opportunity in our personal and professional lives to speak up, observe, and learn more ways to increase tolerance. By adopting these three best practices in our workplace, we are on our way to making a social impact in our teams, companies, societies and the world.