The social justice movement of 2020 pushed companies big and small to pledge that they would create more diverse workplaces and tackle important issues, such as systemic racism. And with the emergence of remote work in 2020, employers and HR leaders have new opportunities to ensure that D&I policies have a real and long-lasting impact in the workplace.
“Beyond being effective, remote work has opened up some amazing opportunities for inclusion,” Amber Cabral writes for Fast Company. “For example, people who can’t afford vehicles or transportation to work are suddenly able to ‘travel’ to their jobs. Companies that struggled to attract or retain diverse talent due to location can suddenly hire talent from around the globe. Physically disabled talent can work from their accommodating homes instead of needing to go into a workplace.”
Cabral, author of 'Allies and Advocates' and a D&I consultant for Fortune 500 companies, notes that the wider universe of talent made available to employers via remote work invalidates past excuses that ‘there are no qualified Black/Latinx/female talent in this area.’ But, she warns that unconscious and conscious bias can still undermine diversity efforts.
“As interviews become largely virtual, discrimination against candidates on the basis of skin color and accents can still happen, but other judgments like background visuals and sounds can take center stage,” Cabral writes. “Also, similarity bias—our tendency to be drawn to people similar to us—can still play a part in assessing talent while remote. Employers should be prepared to be mindful of new biases that may arise as a result of remote work becoming more frequent.”
Employers will have more buy-in from their workers in calling out racism in the workplace after many white, black and other people of color joined in unison to protest racism last year, Cabral notes. Companies also need accept that they don’t have all the answers and to be wise enough to listen to others who can help guide them, Liana Douillet Guzmán, chief marketing officer at Skillshare, writes for Inc.
Employers and workers can turn to their employee resource groups, for example, for support on how to create a more inclusive workplace. But “companies shouldn't ask impacted groups to carry the literal and emotional labor of guiding a corporate response to trauma,” Guzmán writes.
Companies, however, can’t assume that their D&I leaders will, on their own, be able to solve workplace racism. That's according to Dana Brownlee, a Forbes senior contributor and an expert on workplace racism, who penned a recent column on the topic. Being an expert on diversity doesn’t necessarily translate to being an expert on racism.
“In some organizations, asking the Chief Diversity Officer or D&I Committee Chair to lead its antiracism efforts might be as inappropriate and ineffective as asking the Chief Human Resource Officer to design and code a new Sharepoint site for employee feedback,” she writes. “Yes, there are absolutely D&I leaders within companies who also possess the expertise, racial stamina and passion to effectively lead and support effective antiracism work, but unfortunately that may be the exception more than the rule,” Brownlee adds.
Employers need to be serious about arming their D&I leaders with resources and the power to tackle systemic racism in the workplace. But CEOs and other c-suite leaders also need to step up themselves and commit to dismantling systemic racism.
“The reality is that most significant impacts of disparity and discrimination in the workplace are overwhelmingly driven by the systemic racism that has been deeply embedded into long standing processes, policies and the organizational DNA itself over many, many years,” Brownlee writes. “Inherently, this systemic nature impacts virtually every area of the business or organization and to be sufficiently addressed requires attention from subject matter experts across every functional area and/or leaders with the authority to change long-standing processes and procedures.”
Big-box retailer Target started a Racial Equity Action and Change Committee that builds upon its existing D&I strategy, but that hones in on black employees, Laysha Ward, executive vice president and chief external engagement officer at Target, writes for Harvard Business Review. Through its new committee, Target is tracking the racial and gender makeup of it workforce and aims to boost the number of Black employees by 20% in the next three years.
“It’s increasingly clear to many that our systems are–problematically–performing the way they were designed to,” Ward writes. “We must choose to create anti-racist systems in our companies and communities instead. We need action plans and perseverance, across sectors, to turn this moment into a lasting movement.”