The events of 2020 — including the COVID-19 pandemic, and racism pandemic that has reached a violent and heartbreaking crescendo with the recent murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans — has irrevocably changed all of us. These heart-wrenching events reiterate the urgent need to confront the effects of systemic racism. At Limeade, we support the groundswell of support for government, society and workplaces to push harder for racial equity and diversity in an explicit, sustainable and action-oriented way.
There are many resources for individuals who want to understand inequality and take action. But how should employers and organizations approach the issue through the lens of the employee experience?
Ensure equality and inclusion are an organizational priority
Organizations can be proactive in fostering inclusive workplaces and supporting all individuals to show up their best and do their best — at work and in life. Reaffirm strategic alignment across the organization by clearly communicating to employees how your organization views, defines and pursues racial equity, diversity and inclusion within its own walls. Ensure that rewards and recognition processes work alongside and promote inclusion, and that leadership is modeling speech and behavior that’s aligned with the inclusive mission.
How to address racial equity in company inclusion efforts
If you need an inclusion primer, download our guide: Inclusion in Your Workplace.
The following are targeted, ongoing ways employers can improve their employee experience to ensure all employees feel empowered to bring their whole, unique selves to work.
1. Make sure employees feel comfortable speaking up
Having a voice (and feeling heard when you use it) is central to inclusion. But employers can’t simply announce “speak up!” You need to create the space. This space goes beyond creating a time block on calendars or reserving a room in the office — it needs to be a psychologically safe space where employees know that you genuinely care and want to listen.
Dedicate time and resources to examining racial equity in your organization, and be honest about shortcomings, even (and especially) where it’s uncomfortable to do so. When you do, people will feel more confident that their voices will be heard. A strong sense of inclusion emerges when an employee feels uniquely known and valued — and you can’t achieve this without spending the time to understand their unique identities and experiences.
2. Foster an equitable environment for collaboration
A recent study found that only 31% of Black professionals say they have access to senior leaders at work, compared to 44% of White professionals. A collaborative environment with multi-level, cross department communication is essential to inclusion, and it’s critical to ensure equitable access. A collaborative environment can help fight against the existence of silos and promotes a sense of organizational inclusion, regardless of one’s role within an organization.
Next, address accessibility — have managers and leaders block time monthly for office hours or forums. Create a foundation that opens doors for your people to walk through, if and when they want to. From there, it’s about the action — the professional opportunities or recognition that typically result from discussions with leadership.
3. Provide resources and commit to change
From regular feedback and support from managers to employee and affinity groups, resources can take many different forms. The extent to which employees feel that they have access to these resources impacts the extent to which they feel that the organization invests in its employees and their feelings of inclusion.
Unconscious bias training is a great start. In order to ignite change, it takes continuous investment and action. Change doesn’t occur exclusively in day-long seminars. Change is a repetitive action that happens in our communities — ensure employees have the support to reach out to local social change or non-profit organizations. On top of that, by frequently soliciting employee feedback on resources, you can begin to see where there may be a need for more, or where resources may go unnoticed.
Once you’ve done the work listed above, keep working. Admit when you’ve failed. And make it clear that you’re dedicated to speaking up and taking action for the long haul.