This has been a tough season for Black people for sure, and it is a moment of reckoning for the nation, even our world. Sustained mass protests calling for reform or radical reshaping of racist structures have caught the nation’s attention. The clarion call proclaiming “Black lives matter,” is a demand to transform the institutions that have rendered Black lives as inconsequential at the hands of out-of-control policing.
Structural or systemic racism, however, isn’t just found in policing but in many organizations and institutions. Yes, it’s woven into the very fabric of our country. Because of slavery, some call racism America’s original sin. That “sin” has permeated and stained the structures, processes and policies of so many institutions as the vestiges of that history linger in practices and mindsets. We are at a watershed moment in our nation’s history.
Leaders, now is the time to get serious about systemic and structural change. If you lead in any company, organization or institution, now is the time for you to make sure black lives matter everywhere, especially at work.
If you lead in any company, organization or institution, now is the time for you to make sure black lives matter everywhere, especially at work.
Now is the time to address inequity and bias in employment practices that disadvantage black people in hiring, job assignments, mentoring, and advancement. In corporate America, we’ve had enough training to have opened the eyes of leaders to their own biases, yet we have apparently failed to connect that training to the role that leaders play in maintaining structural racism. Leader, you are part of the structure. Your decisions, actions and even your inactions either support structures of inclusion and equity or they support structures of exclusion and injustice.
Leader, you are part of the structure. Your decisions, actions and even your inactions either support structures of inclusion and equity or they support structures of exclusion and injustice.
Many of you who follow me on social media know that the focus of my company’s inclusion work over the past fifteen years has been on advancing gender equality and equity through the development and empowerment of existing and emerging women leaders at every level. Through developing company-wide strategies for gender inclusion, delivering impactful learning programs for existing and emerging women leaders, and coaching women leaders on self-efficacy and organizational savvy, we’ve made great strides. In fact, a large percentage of my clients and my readership is made up of women. To that end, I’m not surprised that I have received a number of personal notes of support from white women asking what can we do?
So, I got to thinking about women of all races, ethnicities and nationalities that are in my network and thought about the progress we’ve made in corporate women’s leadership development programs. Here are some advances we’ve made in women’s advancement.
· Gender diversity at all levels of many corporations is increasing.
· Companies with gender-diverse boards perform better.
· Greater gender diversity positively impacts workplace culture.
· Leadership traits thought of as “female” are now seen as needed for growth.
The structures that have helped us achieve these advancements included:
· Senior leadership directives and commitment to advance women.
· Women’s leadership councils aimed at developing women leaders.
· Women’s mentoring programs.
· Women’s leadership development and learning processes.
· Women’s sponsorship programs.
· Male ally programs supporting gender equality work.
· Accountability processes by senior management.
· Safe spaces to talk about gender inequity, cultural movements such as #MeToo, and cultural shifts in thinking about women.
We have made progress, though there is more work to be done.
So, leader, why wouldn’t you at this time develop the will to focus on racial equity using structures and processes we know have worked in advancing women, particularly white women?
With the women’s work companies weren’t always intersectional, and those of us who do this work, have had to make note that women of color have not always benefitted from these programs to the same degree as white women. Interestingly, when I address race issues among women in my leadership programs, periodically, a few white women will leave feedback that they didn’t understand why I had to bring up the race issue. That view is problematic. Our analysis then and now can never be one -dimensional. Clearly, these white women didn’t understand that the barriers that women of color face are not the same as the barriers they have to face to get to get equity. By pointing that out, I am in no way disparaging white women. I’d like for all women to advance. Frankly, I’d like for workplace to be more purposeful, equitable and just for all employees. And this moment in history in which we are being called to address systemic racism can and will lead to more equity for all.
Substantive change is needed now. I’ve read of a number of companies that are making moves to institutionalize African American holidays such as Juneteenth. I have read more corporate statements supporting “Black Lives Matter” than I can count. In many ways, those messages and actions are symbolic and necessary. Yet, they are not sufficient. What will count right now and lead to long term change is the institutional and systemic changes that are needed to create workplace cultures that are equitable for all employees, especially Black employees. If Black lives really matter at your workplace, then now is the time for you to expand your diversity and inclusion efforts and become intentional about achieving racial equity, starting at the very top.
If Black lives really matter at your workplace, then now is the time for you to expand your diversity and inclusion efforts and become intentional about achieving racial equity, starting at the very top.
Addressing inequity in the employment practices, and creating/sustaining an inclusive culture for the purposeful engagement of all employees, including employees of color, is a must.
With a focus on institutional racism, and it’s intersections with other systemic barriers, company leaders have the opportunity to make long-range and structurally deep change possible, and to create workplaces that work for all. Indeed, when Black lives matter at work, all lives will truly matter at work.