According to Catalyst’s new report, which surveyed more than 2,700 women from the U.K., U.S., South Africa, Australia, and Canada, 51% of respondents reported they had experienced racism in their current workplace. It’s interesting to note that nearly half the respondents were American—with 48% of them reporting experiencing racism at work. These findings point to a disconnect despite renewed efforts by organizations post-2020 to promote racial equity in workplaces.
This disconnect has led to a rise in a phenomenon described as superficial equity where organizations could be implementing popular DEI practices without tackling and engaging with racial history and embedding equity as an organization’s core value. Thus it becomes vital to re-examine our understanding of racial equity, biases, and discrimination and learn from successful implementations of workplace anti-racism to truly promote racial equity within our workplaces.
What is racial equity in the workplace?
Racial equity acknowledges the challenges posed by historical oppression, exclusion, and power differentials for employees of color and seeks to create an environment that empowers and levels the playing field. This means everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, has equal opportunities, access, and support to grow within an organization and succeed in their careers.
Racial equity in the workplace can manifest in many micro- and macro-policy shifts, such as:
- Striving for representation of employees of color at all levels of the organization,
- Policies and training that action anti-racism and embed cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in the organization, and
- Hiring and exit policies that are progressive and vigilant in monitoring any negative cultural shifts.
Why is racial equity important for business?
Racial equity is a vital growth driver for both organizations and the economy. When organizational diversity reflects the population, workforces are innovative and businesses outperform their less diverse peers enjoying faster, sustained growth.
Let’s explore some key benefits of promoting racial equity for businesses using interesting real-world examples to illustrate:
1. Foster innovation, creativity, and better decision making
Racial representation of employees at all organizational levels can bring fresh perspectives from lived experiences to inform changing customer needs and foster innovative solutions and ideas that drive sustained growth. Here’s how Airbnb learned diverse teams lead to better business outcomes
Airbnb, in 2016, initially displayed profile photos prominently on its booking platform to inspire trust between guests and hosts. This initiative, however, backfired as guests with African-American names were 16% less likely to get the rental. Airbnb’s CEO reflected that the all-white leadership could not foresee the biases being built into the system by their well-meaning business decisions. Airbnb has since taken concrete actions to improve D&I within the company, including disclosing the organization’s representation data.
2. Better employee morale and talent retention
In 2023, employees want their job to provide a sense of purpose, belonging, and fulfillment. By implementing anti-racist work environments and diverse hiring policies, organizations can attract and retain top talent by demonstrating their commitment to racial representation and social responsibility. Here’s an example of how Salesforce promotes racial equity in their workplaces
Salesforce’s employee-led “Racial Equality and Justice Task Force” is a great example of a racial equity plan to identify and address racism within the company. The group promotes racial equity by providing access to critical healthcare, ensuring equal pay, and expanding employee advocacy programs. These programs ensure employees get access to senior leadership, develop career roadmaps, and increase the talent pool for sourcing leadership across Salesforce.
3. Improved brand reputation and image
Today’s consumers are more diverse than ever, supporting businesses that truly value diversity and inclusion as part of their brand identity. By actioning racial equity within and outside workplaces, organizations can differentiate themselves from competitors and speak to a rapidly growing cohort of socially conscious consumers.
Here’s an interesting case study highlighting the pitfalls of superficial equity
Dolce & Gabbana’s 2018 ad campaign in China saw a model attempting and failing to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Their brand health score plummeted to -15.0 from 6.0 the week after the ad, and Chinese consumers, who account for one-third of luxury-brand spending, boycotted the brand. Consumers felt the ad stereotyped Chinese consumers and did not respect their culture.
4. Expanded market reach and customer acquisition
Employing a racially diverse workforce ensures businesses have a finger on the pulse of culture and emerging trends. With increasing globalization and demographic shifts, promoting racial equity can help brands connect with a broader, global customer base and increase market share.
Here’s how retail organizations are actioning racial equity and inclusion
Sephora dedicates 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses as part of its 15% pledge challenge. Through this initiative, the company is diversifying its supply chain and creating a platform to promote Black-owned brands while ensuring Black voices shape the industry to solve unique consumer needs.
The business case for promoting and implementing racial equity in our workplaces is clear. By addressing and tackling inequalities that disproportionately affect employees of color, businesses outperform financially, ensure long-term growth, and a positive work environment for employees but also reduce the wealth gap and improve economic mobility for these communities.
While there has been positive intent toward making workplaces anti-racist, progress has been slow with traditional diversity interventions failing to meet evolving organizational, shareholder, and community needs. This is because anti-racist, racially equitable workplaces require solid foundational work to recognize biases and problems within our organization before we can map out a strategy to promote racial equity.
So where can we begin? Here’s Goodera’s roadmap to succeed in your journey to racial equity.
Goodera’s Miniguide on how to promote racial equity in the workplace
Step 1: Recognize and commit time for racial equity training to learn about race and implicit bias
Empathy and understanding are critical for progressing toward racial equity as it builds the foundation for racially-just decision-making among employees. Here are some ways leaders and DEI teams can encourage introspection and dialog among employees to nurture racial sensitivity:
- Leaders can set an example by recognizing and acknowledging their potential for bias
Take an online assessment with the team to uncover implicit biases together. Encourage team members to accept their implicit biases with compassion, as this can help teams progress collectively in the journey to equity.
- Dedicate time for racial equity training sessions to interrogate biases and build empathy
Make these sessions a part of the onboarding experience to embed inclusion into the organizational culture.
Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, a nonprofit focused on closing income and wealth gaps in America, in 2014 realized that his organization was a hard place to work for employees of color—despite the organization boasting a diverse workforce.
The root cause of the problem? An exclusionary organizational culture that did not acknowledge and value the life experiences of employees of color.
The leadership took a decisive stance to invest in racial equity training for all staff to understand the history and build a shared vocabulary to ground all future conversations. Living Cities has made these training sessions a part of the onboarding process for all new staff.
Scale your DEI efforts by making social impact everytime your team comes together for racial equity training, explore DEI team activities with Goodera.
Step 2: Make racial equity discussions familiar and commonplace
Organizing periodic discussions to confront and address complex topics like race, discrimination, bias, etc., in a psychologically safe environment is key to tackling subconscious bias and challenging the status quo.
These vital conversations can improve employees’ ability to contribute to the diversity of thought and experience and ensure all employees feel supported at their workplace. Here’s how people teams, team leaders, and ERGs can plan these discussions:
- Structure the dialog by planning the agenda in advance
Managers and team leaders can work with DEI teams and ERGs to do prep work before starting race-based dialogues to ensure conversations are authentic and positive. Here are some reading resources to familiarize yourself with history and the modern-day impact of racial dynamics:
- Set clear goals for discussions
Conversations about race, equity, justice, and bias require continuous and phased discussions to be productive. However, setting clear goals for initial discussions can keep conversations purposeful and goal-oriented. Here are some goals to guide staff conversations:
(a) Learning from each other’s experiences of racism
(b) Collating suggestions for a team plan to respond to and reject micro-aggressions among team members
(c) Discussing literature to understand the history of racism
Step-3: Action anti-racism at work
- Ensure belonging through explicit actions
Managers and leaders can, for example, encourage a culture of allyship among employees by regularly attending and participating in Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other race-based ERG events. Acknowledging and appreciating DEI work done by employees of color is another way to foster belonging.
- Use town halls and employee resource groups (ERGs) to foster belonging
Leaders can role model anti-racism by openly addressing issues of racism in the workplace and rejecting racist culture during town halls. By encouraging safe spaces, like affinity groups and ERGs, leaders can ensure employees of color engage with the organization and create an inclusive culture for existing and potential talent.
- Cultural celebrations to prevent isolation while fostering understanding and inclusion
Cultural celebrations can help underrepresented employees, who often experience emotional isolation in the workplace, feel seen, heard, and supported in the workplace. These celebrations can also be an opportunity for allies and employees to educate themselves through workshops, panel discussions, and fun employee activities on the historical significance of these celebrations.
Goodera executes volunteering opportunities that engage teams and help 400+ enterprises celebrate diverse cultures while powering equity and inclusion in the world.
Step-4: Establish processes to embed racial equity
- Proactively monitor shifts in culture
(a) People experience and HR teams can proactively monitor patterns in employee retention and engagement rates disaggregated by race, role, and level along with participation in DEI training programs and initiatives to assess organizational culture.
(b) Tailored exit interviews that collect data on specific challenges faced by employees of color can ensure timely intervention to prevent workplace racism.
- Ensure collective ownership to promote racial equity
Advocating for racial equity can place an enormous burden and induce trauma for employees of color. Organizations can take the initiative of advancing equity by
(a) Ensuring leadership buy-in to participate and support conversations and initiatives around racial equity
(b) Encouraging accountability among employees by setting individual racial equity and inclusion objectives as part of annual performance reviews
- Leverage corporate social responsibility initiatives to advance racial equity goals
Employees of color face distinct inclusion challenges in the workplace and often experience isolation. Offering community outreach and employee volunteering opportunities that address their issues—such as education, career support, and empowerment—can help employees of color form strong interpersonal relationships and develop critical leadership and problem-solving skills.
Establishing racial equity requires conscious and continual effort from staff across all levels of the organization touching all points of the employee lifecycle from hiring and onboarding processes to exit policies. By engaging the right stakeholders and embedding inclusive organizational culture, organizations can ensure employees of color feel heard, seen, and empowered throughout their growth journey.