Over the last few months, tragic events have brought to light that the systemic injustice and racism that both African American and other marginalized communities continue to face across the United States is very real. This is evident in the unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others.
Communities of color are deeply impacted by this inequity. As a result, racial tension in the workplace has increased. Employees may be more emotional, stressed, disengaged, or feel the need to cover more than usual. These factors lead to a decline in happiness, collaboration, motivation, and productivity.
While the protest and riots have subsided, overt acts of racism have not, and the systems that have led to the fever pitch of frustration remain. Employers have a role to play in being a part of the solution and must keep the conversation going. To create a forum for employers to work through these challenges together, Talent 2025 convened a series of diversity and inclusion (D&I) roundtables. The roundtables revealed tangible next steps employers can implement to educate and support employees during these challenging times.
It is time to listen, learn and act
A list of employer practices found to be impactful are outlined below.
- Self-reflection. Leaders and companies are conducting internal audits to identify how bias and inequity may emerge in the workplace. This could include completing a wage analysis, as well as reviewing hiring practices and internal career development programs.
- Make D&I a strategic priority. D&I is not the role of one person or one department. It must be embedded into all functions and levels of an organization to increase both accountability and impact.
- Provide learning opportunities. Implicit bias and structural racism are the primary topics for training. Employers have started both book and movie clubs to learn and talk about relevant diversity, equity, inclusion, and race topics. Many have updated their internal websites to provide literature, videos, TedTalks, discussion guides, and online training modules. Companies are better equipping leaders to engage in difficult conversations.
- Create safe spaces to have open conversations about current events and race. This has been done through listening sessions, lunch and learns, focus groups, and leveraging affinity groups. One on one conversations have provided unique insights into the lived experience of some colleagues. In small to midsized companies the CEO has even reached out directly to employees to ask how they are coping and how the organization can better support.
- Intentional spending. Employers are shifting funds to purposefully spend with minority enterprises. They are donating to organizations that advocate for racial equity, ending police brutality, and other justice reform. Additionally, employers are investing in education, health and workforce development programs that serve historically disadvantaged populations.
- Issue a public statement. Statements vary by company. Common themes include taking a stand against racism or standing in solidarity with the black community. The statements that resonate well with employees and communities include action-oriented steps.
Hundreds of years of systemic racism and oppression cannot be dismantled overnight. Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is not easy. The topic makes people uncomfortable. Leaders fear saying the wrong thing. Employees often feel corporations are not moving fast enough. Remember, silence is often interpreted as consent for social injustice. It is time for action. We all have a role to play to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable workplace, community, and world.