As a result of yet another police killing of an unarmed black man in the United States, perspectives have begun to shift. Hundreds of thousands have protested, demanding an end to police brutality. White citizens have been publicly shamed and fired from their jobs for committing racists acts. Celebrities, athletes, and CEOs have been called out for bigoted social media posts. And organizations across the United States have emphatically denounced racism.
But marching, shaming, terminating, and calling out isn’t enough for the nation to eradicate racism. And it will require much more than denouncing racism for organizations to combat structural inequalities within their ranks. Leaders must first understand what systemic racism is, how it works, and how it affects the organization before they can begin to dismantle it.
Learning and development organizations have a critical role to play now and in the future by first learning and understanding the issues then developing plans to promote and cultivate change. When integrated with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DE&I), L&D efforts can help drive cultural equity in organizations. So, where do we begin?
What Is Systemic Racism?We need to understand the definition of systemic racism and its negative impact on society and the workplace. We’ve heard the term systemic racism used when attempting to explain the inequities experienced by black, indigenous people of color (BIPOC) in America. Simply put, it is a form of racism embedded in the practices of political and social institutions. It is expressed in disparities of wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, healthcare, political power, and education. Although many of the practices have been deemed illegal, they still exist today.
Organizations are a microcosm of the societies they serve. The racial inequities that exist in our culture is reflected in our companies. According to data reported in Fortune, seven in 10 executives are white males. Seventy-six percent of managers are white, 10.3 percent are Latino, 7.6 percent are black, and 5.9 percent are Asian. The number of Fortune 100 black CEOs in the country is only four. Resumes submitted by people with black-sounding names are 14 percent less likely to get a call-back. We see the disparities in all organizations, and we need to change.
Why a Demand for Workforce Diversity?We must understand the diversity data in our organizations. The millennial and Gen Z generations are the most diverse ever, with 44 percent of the 87 million being people of color. More than 67 percent of job seekers deem workplace diversity an important factor, and more than 50 percent of current employees want increased diversity. Although companies have invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) departments, diversity numbers are still dismal. Data indicates that companies that invest in developing diverse leaders enjoy 19 percent more revenue. Diversity is good for innovation, and it also increases the chances of advancing BIPOC to the executive suite.
A Plan of ActionWe must construct a plan of action to implement change. Author and McKinsey Chief Learning Officer Nick van Dam outlined five key areas in L&D which, when adapted for DE&I purposes, can prove effective.
1. Attract and Retain Diverse Talent
Learning and development opportunities top the list for joining an organization. With a dearth of professional affinity and social capital for BIPOC in organizations, L&D is the saving grace when advancement opportunities arise. Prioritizing L&D for the BIPOC workforce ensures we will attract and retain diverse talent. To do this, we must broaden recruitment strategies to hire for attitude and aptitude in addition to skill.
2. Develop BIPOC Capabilities
When companies invest in BIPOC, they reap an impressive return. Augmenting minority team members’ skill sets results in them being more likely to recognize customer needs, anticipate societal trends, and cultivate collaboration and connections within their network. To increase BIPOC capabilities in our organizations, we must curate learning experiences available to minority team members and foster pilot programs with diverse teams driving business performance results.
3. Motivate and Engage BIPOC Workers
One of the best strategies for creating engagement is to provide workers with the tools and space to succeed. Professor Laura Morgan Roberts believes that creating opportunities for BIPOC employees to talk about race and helping their white colleagues to contribute to the conversation is helpful. She also suggests supporting employees so that they can be themselves. If companies want to move the systemic racism needle, L&D teams must cultivate such opportunities and an environment where BIPOC feel they belong.
4. Create a Values-Based Culture
L&D can help to build a values-based culture and a sense of community. Through strategically crafted and expertly delivered learning opportunities, L&D can send a message about an organization’s goals, mission, and vision. Team members should also share their experiences and tips for building a values-based culture. This collaborative piece creates cultural interaction and appreciation among members of the workforce.
5. Build an Employer Brand
L&D can help enhance a company’s brand and boost its reputation as an employer of choice for BIPOC. Employers must work harder to create hospitable and professionally advantageous environments for a diverse talent pool. To do so, companies must explicitly communicate their brand strength through an employer value proposition.
The current situation presents a great opportunity for organizations to begin dismantling the racist structure that has historically excluded BIPOC from professional attainment. Employing an adapted and integrated L&D and DE&I framework provides business leaders with a promising strategy to back-up the statements of support they posted on social media into sustainable change in the workplace and society.