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Practicing What They Preach: D&I Initiatives Are at a Tipping Point

Many companies across the United States have felt compelled to speak out against racial injustice in response to the death of black Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others.

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Issuing statements of support and speaking out against racial injustice, however, rings hollow when you don’t follow through with action. For many organizations, the best place to start is with diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The leaders of most companies are aware that having a diverse and inclusive organization translates to more success. To wit, a McKinsey report revealed that ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to outperform non-ethnically diverse companies. However, while progress has been made in this department, data still dictates that women and minorities are drastically underrepresented when it comes to moving up the ranks of a company.

Mercer research found that at the support staff and operations level, 64% of employees are white, 12% are black, 10% are Hispanic, 8% are Asian or Pacific Islander, and 6% are other races. The share of positions held by Caucasians increases with each upward rung of the ladder. By the executive level, 85% of positions are held by white employees. Black and Hispanic employees make up just 2% and 3% of these positions, respectively.

“Many companies will cite their numbers and they might be positive numbers in terms of 20% of your workforce is African-American or Hispanic. But if most of those jobs are entry-level jobs and those people aren’t really moving forward and senior management is not very diverse, then the likelihood is you have an inclusion problem,” said David Weisenfeld, legal editor at XpertHR. “That’s why inclusion is super important — diversity is as well — but diversity without inclusion ultimately is not nearly as effective as it could be.”

However, the past couple weeks of protests and condemnation of racial injustice have felt more like a tipping point in both day-to-day life and the corporate world. Companies that aren’t already practicing what they preach when it comes to diversity and inclusion are at risk of losing out on not only the talent outside their building, but the talent within it as well.

"While some (cost) cuts are understandable, this is not the time to be cutting when it comes to diversity and inclusion."– David Weisenfeld, legal editor at XpertHR

This movement for greater diversity at companies is juxtaposed against the severe economic fallout many companies are experiencing from the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, Weisenfeld said organizations would be wise to think long-term when it comes to the D&I aspects of their business.

“While some (cost) cuts are understandable, this is not the time to be cutting when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” Weisenfeld said. “If you look just at the ROI, but don’t look at the long-term commitment and long-term investment, you’re really making a mistake because it’s really a long-term goal and something that all companies should be doing to ensure that their workforces are not only diverse, but inclusive and responsive.” 

An easy place for companies to start ramping up their D&I efforts is by adding a chief diversity officer to their leadership if the position doesn’t already exist. The person in this position can lead the organization’s efforts to develop, manage and support diversity and inclusion strategies. They can also spearhead outreach and facilitate solutions amid difficult times for minorities in an organization, which is of upmost importance during this time.

“This is not the time to be silent. It’s a time to be making outreach with your employees and making sure that they feel valued, making sure they have a mentor in place, because ultimately that’s how you’re going to know what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling,” Weisenfeld said. “Most people, I would hope, oppose racism in all of its form[s]. But the harder part of the equation is being more comfortable talking about race and those unconscious biases that can exist and can sometimes be off-putting in ways that some employees don’t even realize.”  

While there are various ways employers can promote a more diverse and inclusive workplace going forward, a key variable, Weisenfeld noted, occurs in the hiring process. Currently, 19 states ban employers from asking candidates about their salary history. However, even if your organization doesn’t operate in one of those states, it’s best to avoid the question to begin with, because it often perpetuates unintended discrimination.

“Multiple statistics out there show black and Hispanic workers make less than white males for doing the same or virtually the same work,” Weisenfeld said. “So if an employer is able to ask that question or to use that in trying to determine what to pay someone when promoting them, it creates this situation where minority workers continue to be discriminated against and earn less for doing the same work.” 

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION ROUNDUP

 

How Employers Can Support Black Employees
There’s been a stream of corporate statements responding to the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. But an employer’s true dedication to equity will be shown through their active support of inclusion and diversity initiatives, writes Evelina Nedlund of Employee Benefit News 

Supporting the Mental Health of Black Employees
Most black Americans, regardless of education, socioeconomic status, or job title, experience one or more forms of racism every day. But with the placement of a knee on George Floyd’s neck, racism shifted from a chronic stressor to a trauma trigger, writes Angela Neal-Barnett in this Harvard Business Review article. Neal-Barnett explains that leaders must set aside the standard DEI or HR playbook to support their black employees.

Companies Are Making Bold Promises About More Diversity
Pippa Stevens of CNBC notes that many companies have announced initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion, but whether these promises lead to tangible outcomes remains to be seen. Citing pay equity statistics and a lack of diversity in corporate leadership, Stevens explains that many of these companies have a ways to go.

Discussing Racism in the Workplace 
This Forbes article provides tips to help people from all walks of life, across the globe, at every level to have discussions about race at home or work. The critical component of any of these discussions is to enter into the conversation assuming good intent by both parties.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.



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