Take diversity and inclusion to the next level in your company culture

By Paul M. Mastrangelo

Have you ever thought you were doing all you could do, only to discover that you had another level of output? I remember feeling totally maxed out on my job some 30 years ago when I was given an additional assignment, and I learned that I could attend to my prior duties differently and still be successful while taking on more responsibilities. Necessity forced me to be more efficient. More recently a trip to the doctor’s office made me realize that I am no longer exercising as much as I thought I was, kicking off my serious effort to drop 20 pounds and firm up my core muscles (I’m halfway there, by the way). In this case, reality popped my illusion of being the person I wanted to be. In both cases my awakenings enabled me to move to the next level in my career and for my health, but only after I reflected on them and accepted opportunities to try to be better.

The Day of Reckoning, Awakening

The events of May 25, 2020, caused organizations in the U.S. and beyond to have a similar awakening. That morning, Amy Cooper, a white woman who had her dog off leash in a bird watching area of Central Park, called the police on Christian Cooper, a black man unrelated to Amy who asked her to put her dog on its leash as required by park rules. A viral video recording showed her warning that if he did not leave the area, she would tell the police that an African American man was threatening her life, and we see her do just that, hoping white privilege would let her escape wrongdoing and punish a Black man’s audacity. Later that same fateful day, in Minneapolis, George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, was killed by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 8 minutes until he died. Subsequent video recordings appeared on social media showing Floyd handcuffed on the ground, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” The Minneapolis police department fired Chauvin (and three other officers) and then arrested him for second-degree murder (others were charged with aiding and abetting).

One day and two examples of racial injustice truly woke many of us. We are not living up to the society we say we have. We need to do better. But how?

As soon as hundreds of organizations and business leaders responded to these events by publicly committing to racial inclusiveness and justice in the workplace, we at CultureIQ started getting calls asking what was missing from existing Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts. Here are five cultural solutions that we propose:

1. Specify Your Purpose

One obvious starting point in seeking racial justice in the workplace is to ask employees how often they have experienced bias or discrimination based on race. Defining what constitutes racial bias and discrimination, however, is more difficult than it appears. One of our clients wanted to establish a baseline frequency of racism, but in various forms. We developed a measure of overt racist behaviors (e.g., use of ethnic slurs), systemic racism (e.g., biases in hiring practices), and micro-aggressions (e.g., waiting for the next elevator to avoid riding with someone of a different race). Developing the assessment with these broad categories within racism not only helps to pinpoint problem areas, but also helps to gather examples for the purpose of forming formal education to eliminate cultural barriers that limit diversity and inclusion.

2. Kickstart Continuous Dialogue with a Statement

Some organizations have never had a strong statement against racism. And let’s face it: there are many white leaders who may not know how to do the right thing for a community to which they themselves do not belong. In these situations we strongly recommend honest dialogue. The simplest approach is to hold meetings that empower people of color to speak out about the challenges they face and the frustrations of not seeing improving outcomes. Leadership teams should listen without rebuttal, thank those who speak out, and follow up with them privately to create public improvement goals. Larger organizations may want to draft a new statement or pieces of a statement and then ask for feedback in a short survey, or better yet, a series of short surveys that ask different questions based on the prior feedback.

3. Uncover Systemic Racism

Research psychologists know that individuals are very good at deceiving themselves. Each of us likes to see our best side, our ideal self. Which is why many HR leaders deceive themselves by asking questions in their D&I assessments that have an obviously “correct” response. Questions such as, “Everyone can achieve here,” “My team supports D&I efforts,” and “I treat everyone with respect.” These self-biased responses can create a false sense of success in D&I efforts. Often a different story is revealed when looking at survey questions that do not overtly address D&I, but instead ask about workplace norms that should be taking place for everyone, regardless of race:  “Do you feel comfortable asking your supervisor questions about work? How about voicing your opinion?”

These and other questions can uncover potential causes of systemic racism when responses are analyzed by race/ethnicity. CultureIQ has identified topics with the largest differential response patterns when comparing white employees with black employees. Using statistical analyses, we also have the ability to measure alternative explanations of these differences, such as job type and management level. Science can detect what we humans are unwilling to admit, even to ourselves.

4. Listen to Everyone

Diversity within large organizations often involves the creation and development of formal groups of similar employees, known as Employee Resource Groups (ERG), Affinity Groups, or Business Network Groups. These groups certainly perform important functions among racial/ethnic groups (not to mention LGBTQIA+ communities, women, veterans, and other populations) by providing time to share experiences, provide mentoring, and otherwise help historically underrepresented groups attain leadership positions.

Employee surveys often ask about these activities as an evaluation of the company’s culture for diversity. But focusing on these groups alone conceals the voice of those not underrepresented (e.g., whites, men straights). And it is crucial that organizations know whether these majority groups want to work with people who are different from themselves if there is to be true diversity and inclusion throughout the organization and at all levels of leadership.

An Enthusiasm Gap

The other potential side effect of focusing on smaller groups as a measure of diversity is that if some individuals from the majority group feel they are being excluded, they will be less inclined to understand, support, and thrive in a diverse working environment.

CultureIQ has been collecting benchmark data on the extent to which employees want to work with people different from themselves, and we have found that white employees are not as enthusiastic as black employees are. Yet, they should be. Creating a consensus across all races/ethnicities in support of the goals of D&I seems like an overlooked metric in the evaluation of D&I efforts.

5. Focus on Anti-Racism and Allyship

The impact of May 25 has surfaced the vast difference between not being a racist (avoiding the negative) as compared to being an anti-racist (being the positive). Not using a racial slur or not expressing a micro-aggression, while meeting the bare minimum of acceptable social behavior, does nothing to put social pressure on those who fail to behave in a socially acceptable manner and does nothing to show victims of racism that they have an ally.

Most D&I efforts we observe tend to land in “non-racist” territory. They fall short in identifying, teaching, and rewarding how to be an ally to members of historically underrepresented groups. One of our clients is bucking this trend, using a survey on racism to also collect examples of allyship by asking if employees have ever been supported, protected, or allied in defense of inappropriate behavior regarding race or ethnicity.

How to Step Up

These examples can be used as part of an internal communication campaign to highlight model behaviors and show that coworkers are already engaging in allyship behaviors (much like the “see something, say something” campaigns to promote safety, but with the bonus of demonstrating how to say something). Training classes that focus on how to be an ally can help many non-racists turn into anti-racists who will create positive behavioral norms that will be embedded into organizational culture.

To learn more about making your company culture align with the emergent need for “next level” D&I, schedule a meeting to talk to CultureIQ’s experts.

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