Systemic racism in the U.S. is now rightfully at the forefront of everyone’s minds. And corporate America is not exempt from the necessary systematic changes to promote racial equality in the workplace. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is no longer something you can just set and forget, you must start making a real investment in changing your workplace. And that starts with HR.
HR and people teams must lead the charge in enacting change within their organizations to reimagine a workplace free of racism and one that values diversity. To do so, you must have a deep awareness of what’s happening in the U.S. right now and reflect on how your company can make progress. It should not be an exercise of guilt or shaming but rather a focus on being curious and open to new ways of better relating to one another.
Chance Patterson, founder of Chance Impact, a leadership and purpose consulting firm, recently led a discussion on how HR and people teams can successfully navigate this change within their own organizations. He shared the important role HR teams play in supporting racial equality and the steps they should be taking to work toward this in their own organizations. Below is a recap of his talk, including key highlights and takeaways.
Why HR Is the Leader of Change
As with any sudden crisis or change within society or the workplace, HR teams are responsible for assessing how their employees feel, how their work may be impacted and how recruiting new employees may change. It’s a very important role to fill, and often a difficult one.
You must make recommendations on how to handle all changes that arise. The function of HR leaders in these scenarios morph into something like a business advisor. You must take control of the situation and provide leaders and employees with a guiding light.
The social movement of racial equality that we’re experiencing today is unlike anything HR leaders have faced. It’s a new territory of responsibility that requires both short and long-term strategies. It’s not something that will be solved quickly, but it is something that should be acted on quickly.
Every employee, leader and colleague will need to make the choice to be anti-racist on their own. However, this is a pivotal opportunity for you to push this necessary change in your workplace and beyond.
Now is the time to earn your seat at the table by educating yourself as much as possible so your company moves forward in the right direction. The next section of this article describes how you can make the much-needed progress towards a racially-inclusive workplace.
The Steps for Making Change
No matter how passionate or deeply bothered you are by what is happening in society today, in order to make your entire company listen, you have to make the change a business decision. You must show how it will serve your company well. It can’t be based on a gut feeling or simply as a reputation play. You must shape a solid business case for why your leaders and organization should care and make the change. Here are some steps that will help you do that.
Step 1: Define Your Current State
Before doing anything else, you must look inward to determine the state of your business when it comes to DEI. Your data will help you do this. Find the answers to these questions:
- How many BIPOC applicants have you had in the last year?
- Out of those applicants, how many did you hire?
- Was the percentage of BIPOC candidates hired similar to the percentage of white candidates hired?
- Do you have BIPOC in senior leadership, as investors or on your board?
The answers to these questions will give you a full understanding of the state of your company, and provide you direction on how you can be better. It’s the first step in holding your team accountable for creating change.
You should also look into the DEI efforts of your competitors. Research companies in your industry that are similar in size — even direct competitors to you — to try and answer the same questions above. After all, you’re going to be compared against them whether you do your research or not.
This data and research will help you tell a better story to your leaders and company on why change is needed. It will also be key in determining what the next steps are to changing your organization.
Step 2: Make a Plan
After you’ve collected the data and done your research, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to change. You need to determine both short- and long-term ways to realistically make a difference.
The key to doing this successfully is to be realistic. Oftentimes companies are too quick to respond and over-promise change that is unachievable. Over promising, especially when it comes to racial equality in the workplace, will set your company up for failure. Now more than ever, actions speak louder than words so you must ensure you’re set up to succeed. Leaning into the data you pulled and research you did will help you understand what is feasible for change both right now and in the future. Think about what you actually want to do to combat this problem. What, specifically, is achievable now versus a year from now? Outlining your strategy with short and long-term achievable goals in mind is key to making sure your organization follows through.
Remember, it shouldn’t be about just meeting a quota. Instead, your plan should focus on how your organization can break up racism and unconscious bias in the workplace — for good. Your ultimate goal should be to remove that dysfunction from the workplace.
Step 3: Share Your Plan
Only after you’ve assessed the data and thoughtfully laid out steps for change should you talk about how you’re going to make a change. Share publicly what specific steps you will be taking to enact change. Help them understand what you’re doing now and what you plan to do in the future. Discuss how your hiring will change, as well as how the behaviors of your workplace, your interactions and all that’s associated with racial discrimination in the workplace will evolve.
Big declarations won’t be accepted unless companies actually follow through on them. Employees, customers, candidates and other key stakeholders will be researching and evaluating companies on how they handle this topic more than ever. If you’ve committed to doing something, you must follow through, otherwise, your employer brand and reputation will be doomed.
This change will be more challenging than any other responsibility HR and recruitment teams have faced. Finding talent won’t always be easy and even if you do find the talent, you need to make sure they want to stay when they’re hired. It’s going to require you to question everything you do and push for the necessary change to make it better. Remember: long-term, lasting change is the goal, not the overnight solution.