At a time when the world is just beginning to emerge from the stress of the COVID-19 crisis, the outbreak of racial issues in the US has caught us by surprise. But it has struck a chord and means, for many companies, dealing with a double-whammy of post COVID-19 and racial strains.
Of course, businesses may not have experienced any visible evidence of racism in the workplace, but statistics show that racism is a problem in modern society even if it may not be to the forefront of people’s minds.
In fact, according to one study of 28 EU nations, Ireland has one of the highest rates of racism in the workplace, at 33% compared to the EU average of 22%. The study also revealed that 38% of sub-Saharan African people had experienced some form of harassment at work, a figure that compares poorly with the EU average of 24%.
Diversity & Inclusion
Issues with racism is supposed to be countered by policies of diversity and inclusion, and for the most part it has been successful. But in recent years, there has been a trend away from the concept of ‘D & I’, with developing balance in the workplace and a sense of belonging amongst employees seen as more realistic and rewarding.
At its centre is the fact many of the benefits that come with balance and belonging are arguable greater than those that come with a diverse workplace. It highlights connection and shared purpose over variety.
Meanwhile, experts point to the psychology behind satisfying the sense of belonging, while research shows real pluses economically speaking with job performance increasing by 56% and sick day absences falling by 75%.
5 Steps To Tackle Racism In The Workplace
- Open The Conversation
For most employers, the idea of having a conversation with employees over racism has not even occurred to them. But this is the first step towards identifying the reality within your workplace. Perhaps more importantly, it helps to open a topic up that some employees might find too awkward to engage with.
It is essential that conversations respect employees, so accusations and complaints should be avoided. There are a couple of ways to initiate the conversation in the most respectable way:
- hold informal discussions with individuals
- form discussion groups to share viewpoints on the issue
Remember that having initial conversations over discrimination over racism in the workplace is just the start. It is important to facilitate conversations on a continual basis.
Because workplaces can be delicate environments, where colleagues let issues lie in the interest of getting on, it’s important to create a ‘safe space’ where people feel safe to speak up. You might have an individual who wishes to make a complaint or someone who wants to draw attention to a situation they’ve observed, but providing safety from recrimination or embarrassment (if there is a genuine misunderstanding) is a positive thing.
New York’s Center for Talent Innovation reports 38% of black professionals felt unable to speak out about racism at their workplaces. The result is they are more vulnerable to feeling alienated and disengaged.
According to research by the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) in New York, when team members feel safe discussing racism, the conversations are likely to have a more lasting and sustainable impact.
Sometimes it seems too obvious to need saying, but there is real value in officially stating racism in the workplace is against your corporate identity and culture. So, if your company has yet to refer to it in your corporate identity policy, it would be a perfect time to make it a core value and integrate it into every policy, decision and process.
Training is an important part of that, but such initiatives should not be enforced. Research has shown that many unconscious bias training programmes have negative impacts partly because they are mandatory and partly because they focus on telling people what not to do. They have even been found to promote stereotypes rather than overcome them. So, it would be wise to make training voluntary and to focus on the positives of introducing change.
Let’s face it though, words and intentions are pointless without action. Which is why companies should seek to cultivate a working environment that will ensure racism cannot thrive. So, embed the lessons from training into new processes and policies. That way, the training becomes part of the everyday working experience – which in turn, works towards developing a genuine new inclusive working environment.
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