How to Resolve Inequalities in the Workplace

To effectively address racism in your organization, it’s important to identify whether there is a problem, what it is, and where it comes from.

How to launch a DEI strategy

It is our responsibility as business leaders to serve our communities without bias, judgment, stigma, or reservation. We can’t ignore or sit quietly when unjust events happen, particularly the racial injustices that continually occur, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to act, discuss, and respond.

As a Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) executive strategist, I have consulted with Fortune 500 companies, global professional services, financial services, college/universities, and nonprofits. Often, these organizations have asked me to partner with them because they are in crisis and suffering, and feel behind the nation in some strong way—they just want a quick fix to stop the pain. Long-term solutions usually require more than just a pill or training. Organizations must resist the impulse to seek immediate relief for the symptoms, and instead focus on the disease. Otherwise, the organization runs the risk of a recurring illness.

I am encouraged that CEOs and senior leadership teams are asking themselves how they can make systemic changes at the genesis of DEI work that will hold everyone in the organization accountable for working toward true diversity, equality, and inclusion.

To effectively address racism in your organization, it’s important to first build consensus around whether there is a problem (most likely, there is and significant) and, if so, what it is and where it comes from. If any of your employees do not believe that racism against people of color, specifically African-Americans, exists in the organization, or if feedback is rising through various communication channels showing that White men and women feel they are the real victims of discrimination, then diversity imperatives will be perceived as the problem, not the solution.

In the workplace, racism most often manifests itself through micro-aggressions, which are defined as indirect, subtle, or even unintentional acts of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. They may take the form of stereotyping or avoidance.

Micro-aggression is the modern form of racism. To reduce racism, we need to decrease micro-aggression.

An organization also should consider the following:

Beyond 2020. Much of the racism we are seeing is a generational trauma, pain, and structural, having been built into institutions for decades, so it is unlikely to be remediated altogether in a matter of months. To make substantive, long-lasting changes, senior-level executives should deliberately define not only diversity but also inclusion as elements of their organizations’ strategic and succession planning processes. Consciously working to develop inclusive systems can help catalyze a positive trickle-down effect.

Change your mindset. I recommended that people activate a growth mindset: the belief that they can improve with time, effort, and feedback. This is made possible through acknowledging the limits of your current knowledge and constantly learning to become more aware and less defensive. It’s shifting that mindset from being less prejudiced…to enjoying the opportunity to have intercultural, interracial dialogue. So it’s a learning-oriented process.

Check that you’re engaging compassionately and constructively. Once you build those relationships, engage with people affirmatively by opening discussions. Tell people in your network who deal with racism on a daily basis that you care and ask them if there is anything you could do to be supportive, and then listen authentically.

We have to be more systematic about how we think about our virtual meetings. In our remade nation, biases of all kinds frequently emerge in virtual meetings because we are no longer in person, our emotional and cultural intelligence may not be as sharp. Regularly check for bias by reflecting on your virtual meeting—consider who’s speaking for the majority of the meetings, body language, who gets interrupted while speaking, and who gets credit for ideas. This can help promote accountability and ease tensions before they increase or become problematic.

Hold everyone accountable. Systems of accountability are critical to limiting the impact of individual biases. When people know someone is watching, discrimination often declines. Surveys, focus groups, and leveraging your organization’s affinity groups can provide valuable information about an organization’s culture and the degree to which it is inclusive of all employees. Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Councils are having more conversations about how to tie executive compensation to the achievement of organizational DEI imperatives and business goals.

We must continue to build new habits, move our organizations forward, and create consistent, lasting change.

Organizations now have an opportunity to recognize their bias and prioritize creating a more diversified, communicative, and educated workplace.

Kimberly Reed
Kimberly Reed is a Global Diversity, Equality & Inclusion executive strategist at Reed Development Group and the author of "Optimists Always Win!"