When we imagine racism in the office, we often think of hurtful comments denigrating Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC).This type of racism still exists but racism is also structural. Hurtful words are often symptoms of something deeper.
Isabel Wilkerson, in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, describes America as an old house:
Like other old houses, America has an unseen skeleton, a caste system that is as central to its operation as are the studs and joists that we cannot see in the physical buildings we call home. Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order. Looking at caste is like holding the country’s X-ray up to the light.
She argues that our society has unspoken, seemingly invisible rules about who belongs where; who can do what; and who can hold power based on race.
As microcosms of the larger society, we too should examine the studs and joists of our companies for practices that promote and reinforce racism.
The studs and joists of our businesses can be found in our employment practices.
Check the Foundation
Do you have a clear, objective, standard hiring process ? Do you decide who to interview based on clear, objective, articulable standards related to successful performance? Are you certain that the broadest and most diverse pool of people know when you have job openings?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, here are four things that you can do to promote an anti-racist workplace.
- Develop a hiring process that you use for all jobs in your company. You might be surprised how often the urgency of filling a critical position results in people being hired outside of the normal process or through no process at all. This is where highly subjective factors such as nepotism and word-of-mouth advertising can perpetuate the status quo of exclusion. This does not mean that employees cannot share information about job opportunities in your company. They should. But everyone must be considered within the process. Insist that all hiring managers follow the process and refuse to hire any candidate who has not gone through the process.
- Develop job notices that clearly describe the work and the essential qualifications for success in the position. Write the notice as if it were a snapshot of a high achieving employee in the job. What benchmarks do they meet? What experience, skills and education and background are essential to success? Eliminate extraneous qualifications, associations or requirements that exclude excellent candidates for the job.
- Distribute job postings widely. It is easier than ever before to reach a diverse pool of candidates. Make sure your standards for ranking candidates, applications and deciding on interviews are connected closely to the qualities and qualifications you have decided are essential to being successful. In addition to posting on-line, connect with the career development offices at HBCUs and institutions and organizations with deep relationships with diverse communities.
- Review your company guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate conduct, behavior and questions with all employees participating in interviews with potential hires. Make sure that all employees participating in interviews are aware of the legal requirements for non-discrimination in employment interviews and hiring.
Fair compensation is a critical component of addressing racism in the workplace. Practices that seem innocuous might perpetuate pay disparities based on race as well as gender. Is your compensation system based on objective standards ? Do you rely on a person’s “qualities” to set salaries? Are salaries based solely on private negotiations between candidates and their managers?
Compensation should be based on objective standards that reflect the value of the work being performed. Compensation should reflect the job and not to the person or people performing the job. Differences in levels of experience and tenure can be recognized. However, that recognition must be standard and be measurably connected to increased performance and likely success in the job. A reputation for fair compensation, is one of the best ways to attract the best and most diverse pool of candidates.
A thriving, diverse and equitable workplace hires the best and can retain, promote, and encourage leadership among the best in the company. An effective performance appraisal process is key. Do you have a performance appraisal process? Do your appraisal instruments measure factors that relate to success in specific jobs? Are managers and supervisors in agreement about outcomes and approach? If the answer is no to any of these questions, its time for a closer look.
A clear job description for each position in your company is a head start on designing an effective performance evaluation tool. While there will be some aspects of the evaluation that will be common to all employees, the best performance appraisal instruments focus on describing high performance in specific jobs.
Performance appraisal systems should be more than an annual sit-down. The performance appraisal process starts with the interview; follows through hiring; and begins on the first day. It is a process where you and the new hire agree on a common vision of success. Your goal is to minimize subjective judgements where unconscious bias can be a factor. A robust, positive performance appraisal process, characterized by clarity, coaching and mentorship goes a long way to foster a healthy and diverse work environment.
Much of how racism shows up in the workplace is through unexamined practices and habits. Reviewing your employment practices can help you identify and eliminate any decayed studs or joists supporting racism. It is easier than you think to replace these worn and broken practices with ones that will provide a strong foundation for diversity, equity, inclusion, and excellence in your workplace.
- National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
- Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB)
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