Addressing Workplace Racism With Intentionality

A year has passed since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality, and the cycle of lives taken continues. Among them, Daunte Wright who was murdered at the hands of police in Minneapolis only a few miles from where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered Floyd, took place. And although Chavin was convicted, that is still not justice.

Among calls for abolition, policy change, and personal education in anti-racism, the murder of Floyd sparked a long overdue conversation in addressing racial injustice in the workplace. From the renaming of sports teams, to the re-branding of products, to restructuring organization policies and manager trainings, to millions of dollars donated, the ongoing fight for racial justice has touched workplaces around the world, calling for a move from talk and failed promises to concrete actions that yield results that support Black communities and honor the dignity of Black workers.

We’re not solving racial injustice, especially not in the workplace after a year, nor should we pretend we can. However, we can and must take this opportunity to reflect on how our unconscious AND conscious perpetuation of racist systems continue to harm Black people at work.

More must be done to center Black lives, listening to our Black colleagues and giving them the support they need. This includes, but is not limited to, forums for safe conversations in trusting spaces, where listening, understanding and believing happens and allowing Black people to choose when, if, and how they speak up about these issues that directly impact them. Building and maintaining authentic trust should be the priority when it comes to honoring dignity.

In the paraphrased words of political activist Angela Davis, and abolitionist organizer Mariame Kaba, and so many others, none of this will be enough until it is. Ensure you are building trust individually, but also impactful changes organizationally: how are you supporting and advocating for Black employees in the leadership pipeline? What goals have you set for hiring, retention, and promotion of Black employees? What have you done around Board diversity? Or pay equity? How are you supporting Black employee resource groups and ensuring intersectional lenses in those groups? How are you ensuring that these changes that you support are a part of your philosophy and business models? How are you checking and using your privilege and resources to demand change and advocate for your Black employees?

Many companies are beginning to forge a meaningful path forward. Apple’s commitment to fighting injustice internally and externally through the launch of the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative focuses on global education, criminal justice reform, and economic equality for people of color, but also supports programs that develop a more diverse pipeline to Apple and the broader tech industry itself. Nike devoted advertising resources to messages that fight injustice. Coca-Cola set diversity targets for their lawyers with reduced payments for those firms who choose not to comply.

For investors, this meant a push to disclose demographic breakdown in the industry, including race and ethnicity, of their company’s workforce to ensure transparency; increased investments into Community Development Financial Institutions Funds to ensure sustainable economic growth in historically marginalized and under-resourced communities; and actions through proxy voting to advocate for diversity on corporate boards.

A year has passed and the work is far from over. We have a long way to go. Moving from performance means a focus on dignity in the long-term and closing the gap between what companies are saying and what employees are feeling.

Reflection is vital, but it doesn’t mean standstill. As Robert F. Kennedy noted in his speech on race, “those who are serious about the future have the obligation to direct those energies and talents toward concrete objectives consistent with the ideals they profess.”

Say his name. And keep fighting.