Elephant In The Room: Is Your Workplace Racist?
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
How Can We Create An Anti-Racist Environment at Work?
While we can't solve institutional racism and oppression in a day, and we can't do it by ourselves (related – vote, people), we can take steps within our own workplace to be more inclusive and actively anti-racist.
Inclusive companies are 1.7x more innovative.
You spend around 90,000 hours at work, or 1/3 of your life. You might as well make sure you love – or, at the very least, enjoy – your work. At The 2.o Collective, we're all about helping professionals like you create careers that work for you, not just your employers. Why should your career be defined by them? Do they care? That means actively providing resources and opportunities for not only career advancement but also making sure you are valued within your workplace. Let's start with the basics.
It's that elephant in the room. It's that thing that bosses and CEO don't really want to recognize. It's the racism that has become normal practice within what is usually considered a "post-racial" society. It's not overt. It's ingrained within companies, governments, and systems.
Let me guess. Someone out there is saying, "It doesn't exist!" Well, this is our response. Let's talk examples.
Black applicants are half as likely as white applicants to get called back to an interview. Ready for a wake-up call?
The average net worth of white families is around $171,000.
The average net worth for Black families is around $17,000. This is because of the way the ownership of wealth is distributed. 1% of the people on a majority of the wealth, aka white families. Dive in here.
Mary Jane Does Not Approve
According to Pew Data, despite Black people making up about 12% of the US population, they make up 33% of the incarcerated population. Oh, and get this – Black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate, but Black people are around 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for it.
No One Gets a Pass
Even companies that consider themselves to be fairly progressive can be hostile toward BIPOC. The Wing – a "girl power" coworking space and women's club in New York City – has faced tons of flack for its "casual racism," despite touting liberal, Instagram-ready ideas about social justice. The CEO just stepped down. We have other thoughts on this - like how come their male counterparts didn't step down for doing the same thing?
BIPOC didn't choose this system. Think cycle of poverty. Think wealth gap. Think redlining. Think segregation. They're due to years and years of oppression, laws, and historical practices meant to separate them from the majority-white population. Just because we're not openly racist doesn't mean our systems aren't.
The man who literally wrote the book on being anti-racist, Ibram X. Kindi, says the difference is pretty
"One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist."
Anti-racism is all about active participation in making sure racism doesn't persist. In this case, where does the root of the problem exist in your workplace? Is it one person? It is at the executive level? What is in your control?
One: Stop saying, "That's just how things work"
I've been watching "America's Next Top Model," and often on the show the contestants use the phrase "That's just how the industry is" to justify some pretty f'd up things about being a model. And to be real, that's often how we look at things – if we want to make it, we have to put up with a bit of shit first.
But, it shouldn't have to be that way for BIPOC (or anyone, for that matter). They shouldn't have to be complacent about oppression in order to "make it." Support your Black and Brown colleagues when they express concern about their work environment. Stop using "paying your dues" as an excuse for others to be kept down by institutions that are inherently against them. Be their back-up, and give them a "hell yeah, I'm here for you!"
Two: Call out racism from colleagues
Turn the phrase "If you see something, say something" on its head. You don't have to "cancel" your colleagues, just approach them in an educational way. No need to start a fight. There's a saying I love that I saw on a print in New Orleans a few years ago, "If you know, teach. If you don't know, learn."
Try something like this:
I noticed that when Ashley told you where she lived, you said, "Isn't that the ghetto?" I know you meant nothing harmful or rude by it, but I wanted to let you know that stereotyping areas by the people who live there perpetuates racial inequality and enforces segregation.
You're a lovely person, and I know you don't agree with either of those things, so I thought it'd be helpful to let you know that using racially-tinged language can be hurtful to people of color – whether you consider them your friend or not. If you need any further explanation or resources on this topic, I'm more than happy to give you either! I, myself, am constantly learning how my privilege affects those around me, and I hope you'll join me on that journey.
Thanks, and much love,
Three: Kill the idea of "culture fit"
In hiring, often employers use the term "culture fit" to find a new employee. The idea that they fit in well with the pre-existing work culture is often pretty important, but what exactly is that pre-existing culture? Some people think it's personality, similar interests, or hobbies.
Let's take a trip to The Rest Stop, a metaphorical pause for reflection on your career-goals trip.
The culture of a workplace is precisely what contributes to its lack of diversity. In your company, ask:
If we're hiring people who are all the same, how is that going to contribute to inclusivity?
How will there ever be different voices?
How can you create a conscientious product or service if there are no people of color in the room to tell you how it affects them?
This is an issue in hiring, yes, but it can also be an issue in employee culture. Who are we including in our conversations and happy hours? Right now most of the country is working from home, but are you checking in on your BIPOC colleagues? Answer these questions, and be active in expanding your idea of workplace culture.
Four: Start with inclusivity first
In an article for Quartz, Kyana Wheeler, a strategist for Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, says that diversity initiatives alone don't foster anti-racism because they're about numerical categorization rather than tangible results.
“Any time you start with the end goal already in mind, you’ve lost your anti-racism effort,” Wheeler said.
Inclusivity, according to Wheeler, means removing the barriers that keep employees from equally participating. It's like the difference between equality and equity. What are the barriers to entry? What's keeping BIPOC in your workplace from being on the same playing field? Identify the ways you can actively make sure their voices are heard AND taken into account.
Here are some things you can ask your employer to do their part:
Employee-led resource groups (ERGs) - common for corporate
Proper well-matched mentorship
Companies can recruit diverse candidates, but they have to invest in creating an inclusive workplace to foster that diversity first.
If your employer doesn't know how to implement this, you can send us their information (email@example.com), and we'll reach out with info on all of these things and more. Please specify if you'd like to be kept anonymous.
Here's an email you can send:
Hope you are well. I wanted to check in to see if we could find a time to discuss inclusivity measures at [COMPANY]. I have a couple of actionable ideas that can help make it a more inclusive workplace and ensure retention. If you need a resource to help implement, I am happy to send a company that is working to do this. Please let me know when you have some time to discuss! Regards,
Five: Be aware
Not everything has to be broad and sweeping. Your company put out a statement about Black Lives Matter? That's fabulous, but that's neither the first nor last step. We have to start putting a human lens on company action. Start internally within your workplace to take tangible action toward anti-racism. Chose your words. Prioritize well-being. Ask people if they're
okay. Pay attention to your manager's actions. Express your concern. Stand up for each other. Keep moving forward towards your 2.0. If we all collectively try, think about how awesome it would be. 💭