How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace

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The United States has come a long way in its battle against racism. Unfortunately, recent events have brought to light that there is still much work to be done. Race-based police brutality and even governmental policies have drawn consistent protests throughout America. These alarming events and policies are an obvious blight on all of us as we represent ourselves as a free country, and the need to keep championing a fair system for everyone continues. But what about the less obvious forms of racism that happen under our noses every day and seemingly go unnoticed? So unnoticed, in fact, that many people vehemently deny they even exist.

What Is Racial Equity?

In its purest form, racial equity in the workplace means that an employee’s race does not impact how they are treated or promoted in any way. It means that all employer-created rules apply equally to all employees, regardless of race.

However, policies can appear race-neutral on the surface but still result in disparate treatment of minorities. Even if a policy appears neutral, its application must impact all workers equally to effectively foster racial equity.

The Problem

In the United States, we’ve come a long way in our quest to include people of color and other protected groups in the workforce. Title VII of The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on race, creed, or color. For example, the law requires most government contractors to employ a certain percentage of minorities. And many private companies create their own internal policies to encourage hiring more minorities. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but these steps address only the issue of racial diversity, not racial equity. The result is that there are, indeed, more people of color in most workplaces than there were 30 years ago. However, individual employers’ rules and policies often continue to negatively impact minority workers more than their white counterparts.

How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace

Even when workplace policies result in hardship for minorities, this does not necessarily mean that an employer intended this result. Many employers seek to promote equality but aren’t entirely sure how to accomplish this goal. Here are some suggestions that may help.

Address the Issue

The first step is to have an open and honest discussion about the issue of racial equity with your employees. If you are a small company, include all your employees in the discussion. If you are a larger company, you may want to pick a few representatives from each department and ethnic background to engage with. In these discussions, clearly define racial equity, give some examples, and allow everyone time to express challenges they may have experienced in facilitating equality.

An open discussion like this accomplishes three major goals.

  1. It identifies problem areas that management may or may not be aware of;
  2. It gives an equal voice to minority employees and allows them to feel heard; and
  3. It helps educate white employees about a problem they may not even believe exists.

These goals are extremely important. First, any business owner should strive to gain insight into what its employees are experiencing at work every day. Being informed about potential issues can help you nip them in the bud before they blossom into much bigger problems. Providing your minority employees a chance to be heard solidifies their trust in management and fosters a happier work environment.

Finally, educating white employees who don’t believe racism exists is critical. They may never believe you, but if you don’t try to educate them, the chances are that they will hate new rules and blame new policies for inciting more racial division than before.

Analyze the Issue

Use the information you got from the open meeting to work with your management team. Sort through what you heard and make a plan to target areas where your employees identified racial inequity. Pull as much data as possible to support valid conclusions in these areas. The data will either support identified issues or reveal them to be untrue. If evidence suggests that employee perceptions are misaligned with the truth, you may want to call a follow-up meeting to discuss the data with concerned employees.

Develop a Game Plan

Use the information gathered from employees and the data you collected to develop a game plan to address racial equity issues. Develop policies, rules, and procedures as necessary to correct any problem areas. These new policies should be clearly defined in your employee manual, so everyone easily understands them. Hiring, promotion, and termination processes should be adjusted as needed to be fair to all current and future employees.

And after you create new policies, be sure to train your people. Educate your current staff on these new policies, rules, and procedures, so they understand the changes and how to implement them. In addition, hold a mandatory workshop about racial equity for your entire staff, so they understand that you are working toward creating and maintaining a racially balanced environment. This workshop should also be a requirement for all new hires.

Create a Culture

Support your key staff and encourage them to create a racially neutral culture at your business. Stress that racial inclusion will be valued and rewarded. Emphasize that this inclusive culture will benefit the company in the long run as it reduces turnover and encourages a healthier, happier work environment. Attempt to normalize open and rational discussions among employees of various races about their issues at work and in their communities.

Set Goals and Track Progress

If you have quantifiable data verifying a lack of racial equity at your company, set goals to correct the issue. Hold yourself and your key personnel to these goals, and periodically analyze your progress throughout the year. Hold regular meetings among the key players in your organization to get feedback on their view of how the company is doing with its goal of racial equality.

Contact Us

The attorneys at the Smithey Law Group are here to protect your workplace. We understand the challenges of running a company. When you own a business, you juggle many hats every day. Allow us to help you navigate the complex area of racial equality within your workplace. We can take the burden off you while ensuring you comply with all state and federal laws. Call us today at 410-919-2990 or contact us online today.

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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