Jobs and the Future of Work

7 ways your organisation can start to uproot systemic racism in the workplace

People hold up a Black Lives Matter banner as they march during a demonstration against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott - RC2D9H9RAS3Z

Here's how corporations can practically implement policies to undo systemic racism. Image: REUTERS/Erin Scott

Sandra Caballero
Project Specialist, Autonomous and Urban Mobility, World Economic Forum
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Systemic Racism

  • The Black Lives Matter movement is spurring discussions about racial equity in the workplace.
  • Corporate leaders are trying to understand how to practically implement policies to undo systemic racism.
  • From promoting diverse employees to leadership roles, to capturing and analysing data, to recognizing intersectionality, here are 7 steps organisations can take right now.

Racism is deeply ingrained in our society – and as a result, it’s deeply ingrained in our workplaces, too.

Organisations everywhere are discussing how to uproot systemic racism from the workplace. Where should you start?

Here are 7 practical steps for building a more diverse and inclusive organisation. (And keep in mind these steps are just the start.)

Have you read?

1. Remember you can do better

Start with that mentality and stick with it.

Most people want to support racial equity, in theory, but they don’t know how, practically –especially because many solutions are long term. Systemic racism has been brewing in the United States since even before the country was founded, shaping the lives of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other minorities for hundreds of years. The same is true in many other countries, too. As heartbreaking and frustrating as it may be, profound change may take just as long.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it right now. Just as a house is built brick by brick, we must rebuild the world we want to live in, brick by brick. Whatever you do today will pave the way for more progress tomorrow.

Just remember, on this issue, we’re always in “construction zone” mode.

2. Define your organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion

Many organisations already discuss how they can be more inclusive. They broadcast their commitments to being “equal opportunity” employers clearly on their career pages – though the definition of an “equal opportunity employer” varies from company to company.

Do the same for your general commitment to diversity and inclusion. Define your organisation’s commitments and avoid using vague language without a clear understanding of why you are using that language and how you will accomplish your goals.

3. Promote diverse leadership

True diversity can only be achieved if the organisation’s leadership is diverse. Black people account for only 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large corporations and hold just 0.8% of Fortune 500 positions; all are men. Similary, Latinos hold fewer than 2% of Fortune 500 CEO positions; most are men.

If we want to see true racial equity, then we must promote people of color to leadership positions.

As it stands, we need to do more to create equitable opportunities. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace Report, both men of color and women of color are less likely to be promoted than their white counterparts.

Representation in the corporate pipeline by gender and race
Representation in the corporate pipeline by gender and race Image: McKinsey & Company

4. Track progress, monitor turnover

Many organisations look to data to find solutions to many challenges. They’ve learned that when they have structures in place to capture and analyse data, they can better inform their decision making.

We can apply that approach to racial equity. The first step is simply capturing data on who is hired, who is promoted and who leaves. The second step is to make that information publicly accessible. The data, of course, should be anonymised – but we can nonetheless capture gender identity, race and ethnicity. Simply collecting that data can inform your institution and showcase any trends – positive or negative – in hiring, retention and promotion.

5. Recognize overlapping identities and experiences

Intersectionality is the recognition that individuals have many identities and experiences: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion and immigration status, among others. As identities overlap, they can compound. As YW Boston explained, “a black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, respectively. Black women, faced with multiple forms of oppression, only make $0.64.

This level of holistic inclusion allows individuals to fully showcase multiple sides. You can start making space for intersectionality by avoiding oversimplified language.

6. Adopt an abundance mentality

Promoting people of diverse backgrounds and cultures benefits everyone. At the same time, keep in mind that promoting diverse individuals does not mean you cannot promote others. Don’t approach hiring and promotion with a scarcity mentality. Are freedom and equality in short supply? Neither should be opportunity.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

7. Continue the dialogue, because racism does not magically disappear

Just because protests die down and the media stops reporting on racism doesn’t mean racism is resolved. This moment is important because, as a society, we’re talking about a topic that many have ignored or shut down in the past. Keep the dialogue going at the internal leadership level, at the internal management level and at the all-employees level.

Dialogue means growth – and the more we talk to one another, the more we are able to break down our internal conscious and unconscious biases.

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