Racial Equality at Workplace

2020 had been a year of upheavals and difficult choices. In the midst of the raging pandemic an incident like the shooting of George Floyd bought America to a standstill and the world witnessed something not short of a revolutionary protest.

As the Black Lives Matter raged through the streets of America, it made people rather nervous and brought the racial discussion back to the table as a top agenda. With the societal political and economical landscape of the country involved in a sensitive turmoil like this, it will be foolish to assume it won’t have far reaching consequences. However, within the context of the workforce and the companies, the question still remains rather elementary. What constitutes racial discrimination and how to define fair treatment.

Often clubbed with racial diversity and ambiguous definitions that avoid defining racial inequality at workplace in clear terms, the organizations have often beaten around the bush in terms of policies. But is it even possible to encompass the subtle cultural influences that influence people’s behavior at the workplace?

How do you define social exclusion sometimes practiced at workplace with people of color or minorities which technically falls within the ambit of individual preferences? So if the manager does not extend an invitation to go golfing to all members of the team, how can you conclude it is a matter of discrimination rather than just innocent choices.

The first things that organizations needs to do is to do is to tackle the bull by the horn. The culture shift takes time and a lot of time it loses momentum and track because of people who are comfortable with the things staying as they are. However, the changing business dynamics call for an action about the work culture of an organization much more than ever.

With the virtual working and virtual teams a norm, organizations are looking at tapping knowledge workers from across the globe. If an organizational culture is that of exclusion and disfranchisement, even a virtual set up will not prevent discrimination and disengagement.

The things have evolved and changed but at the heart of it unfortunately the unaddressed real issues are left simmering. People of color have to invest more time and effort to prove their competency at the job, more hours and more deliverables do not necessarily translate into promotions and career advancements for them.

During the pandemic, difficult choices like laying off and furloughing also had larger negative impact on the African American, Hispanics and ethnic minority communities. Some of the subtle discriminations have been so normalized that the people who suffer because of them hardly notice them to begin with.

Many organizations have an invisible glass ceiling for people of color and minorities. They may have them in healthy numbers at the entry level and mid managerial positions, but the senior managerial positions still remain a distant dream for many competent employees. Is it all to do with appearances? Perhaps not, a large part of it is due to the perceptions promulgated by popular culture and media.

Though innocuous when portrayed on tv and movies, cliches take a toll when it comes to the real world. It means not just lost hopes for someone but also lost business opportunities. It is worthwhile to mention Will Smith’s character’s journey in the Pursuit of Happyness and how it heartbreakingly describes the odds stacked against a person of color in the realms of business and outside world.

Racial Equality

So what is the way forward? Do organizations who genuinely value diversity and inclusiveness have no way to address the racist obstacle?

Following measures are a good place to start but this is not a comprehensive list by any means. To be able to make policies specific to one’s own organization, the human resources department will have to be observant, vigilant, brutally honest, and extremely self-critical. Only then something as subjective as racism can be addressed in terms of objective policies.

  • Diversity Audits: Many organizations conduct diversity surveys and audits and it is a good place to start collecting data and analyze trends

  • Performance Management: Performance Management data can also throw light on how minority and colored employees are treated within the organization. Do rewards and punishments justify the defined work deliverables

  • Career Milestones: This falls within the ambit of performance management but deserves a special mention in its own right because this can provide a rather transparent data regarding opportunities awarded or taken away

  • Defining Intentional and Unintentional racism: This may differ from organization to organization and having a targeted policy structuring may help addressing those concerns

  • Accountability: Holding people accountable for their actions either in the form of direct involvement or in the capacity of passive observer will go a long way in deterring behaviors that are unwanted

Such measures are just the steppingstones. Constant dialogues and communication from the top management to display commitment towards diversity will ensure that the culture gets reformed over a period of time. For organizations it also means they become attractive as a place of employment for the new age workers who may come from another part of the world bringing in unique skill sets.

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Workplace Efficiency