It’s been over a year since corporate America made public pledges to prioritize racial equity following the reemergence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the billions of dollars promised to the Black community, the impacts on Black employees are left to be felt. The Great Resignation has sparked an unprecedented amount of turnover, with many employees seeking environments built on equity, justice and inclusion. It is no secret that it is much more cost-efficient to retain employees versus having a revolving door of new employees entering the organization. Companies that are hoping to win the war for talent must ensure that they are prioritizing racial justice in real and tangible ways; employees are sick and tired of lip service. What questions should job candidates be asking to assess a corporation’s commitment to racial equity? What questions should company leaders be asking themselves to evaluate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals as they pertain to racial equity? Below are five questions that every workplace should be thinking about when measuring racial equity efforts.
1. What is currently being done to ensure that people of all racial backgrounds have an equal chance of being hired? A quick peruse of nearly every company’s website will reveal a statement or two indicating a commitment to “equal opportunity employment.” What is actually being done to ensure that certain demographics are not being steered away from job openings? It’s important to assess first off, where open roles are being posted. Are people of all racial backgrounds likely to see this job posting? Also reassess job requirements. Sometimes there is knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that are listed as mandatory for a role, but in actuality they are just nice-to-haves. Are these KSAs actually necessary for the role? When was the last time a subject matter expert reviewed the job ad to ensure that the KSAs listed are actually accurate? If your organization is struggling to hire people of different racial backgrounds for a particular role, reanalyze the job description. Getting racialized communities to apply for a role is just one part of the challenge. The other is ensuring that bias is mitigated during the interview process. There should be objective criteria that each candidate is evaluated on, while being mindful of how culture fit can often elicit biased hiring.
2. Are you assessing a candidate’s commitment to racial equity during the hiring process? Racial equity is not just getting people of different backgrounds into the organization; it’s also ensuring that those who are not from racialized communities are creating environments that are safe and as harm-free as possible. When hiring candidates, are you asking them about their commitment to racial justice and DEI? Many employees have not had experience with DEI, but asking job candidates hypothetical questions via scenarios tailored to your specific organization can help you assess which candidates will be championing anti-racism and anti-oppression efforts. You don’t want employees who are apathetic about DEI or those who claim to be “too busy” to care about it, as many white, straight, and cisgender men admitted to in this study. You want to hire employees who will take an active interest in DEI and anti-racism efforts so that the onus doesn’t solely fall on the human resource department or the company’s diversity manager, which can cause efforts to fail.
3. Is there diversity amongst your company’s leadership? A common pattern in many companies is diversity at the junior levels of the organization, with a lack of diversity as you assess more senior roles. Rapper Jay-Z has talked about this lack of diversity as you “go higher,” describing it as a domino in one song when he said “only spot a few Blacks the higher I go.” A true commitment to racial equity should involve attracting and retaining members of underrepresented racial backgrounds in junior, mid and senior levels of the organization yet many blame a pipeline issue for their lack of diversity. It is important to note that achieving diversity at higher levels of the organization is considerably more challenging; executive and senior-level roles may take longer to fill. Before seeking to fill open roles with outsiders, assess if there are qualified candidates within the organization who can fulfill these open leadership positions. Hiring from within may be faster than hiring externally and may promote retention, indicates Karyn Mullins. Also be sure to utilize different methods for attracting diverse leadership, which can include posting in unique places where a wide variety of candidates will see and utilizing diverse staffing agencies and diversity recruiters.
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4. What tangible efforts have been made to support racialized employees? Hiring managers and recruiters should get used to being asked more questions centered around DEI and anti-racism by job candidates. Questions like “what did your company do to support the Black Lives Matter movement?” and “what does your company do to prioritize DEI” may become more common. It is imperative to start thinking about these questions in detail. Aside from donating money, what have we actually done to support employees from racialized communities? How did we support our Black employees throughout the last year and half and how do we plan to continue to support them? How did we make space for Asian employees who experienced different forms of hate and anti-Asian sentiments following Covid-19? How are we supporting the mental health of all employees, especially those experiencing racial trauma? Think about specific interventions that have been introduced with the purpose of supporting different racialized communities. These efforts may include employee resource groups, mentorship and sponsorship programs, and DEI trainings. What have been the outcomes of these interventions thus far? Are there additional measures we could be taking to improve the conditions of our employees? These are some important questions that your organization should be pondering.
5. What accountability systems are currently in place? Even if your organization implemented every single anti-racism strategy humanly possible, they will all fail if there is not an accountability system in place. How are you holding leadership accountable for the environment they are creating? How are employees held accountable for their actions and behaviors? If an employee ever has to report a leader behaving badly, what is the course of action that the company would take? How has the organization handled infractions in the past? What can be learned or has been learned from past missteps and mistakes? The advent of the internet makes it more challenging for companies to hide from past transgressions. If mistakes have been made when it comes to accountability, or a lack thereof, it’s important to acknowledge these errors while also developing systems for greater accountability and justice. Company policy should be clear and explicit about how bad behaviors are dealt with and what reporting systems are to be utilized to address and rectify the issue. Ensuring that human resource professionals are equipped to handle and deal with conflicts is also vital.