How can companies become actively anti-racist ?

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Recently, many brands and corporations have pledged their support for racial equality and inclusion at work. But what can businesses do concretely to create meaningful change and become not only non-racist but actively anti-racist ?

An Instagram post or a one-time donation is not enough anymore. As a media and a company, we have to continuously dismantle and rethink our structures, methods, values, norms, organization and our partnerships if we want to succeed in creating an actively anti-racist workplace. This should happen everywhere, not only in the US as here in France too, businesses have been developing and supporting racist structures and norms. Here is a guideline that gathers tips from Harvard Business Review, Quartz at Work and others business media around the globe. 

Everyone can have an impact

For people not directly impacted by these events, the default response is often silence. Many managers also think they lack the skills to have difficult conversations around differences. But no one has the perfect words to address issues in our society. It is the leader’s responsibility to try, conveying care and concern for all employees but especially targeted groups. However, everyone in a company has power to change things. You don’t have to be a leader or manager to take meaningful anti-racist actions. Even if you are an employee, you have a role to play.

People are looking for leaders to affirm their right to safety and personhood and help them feel protected. This means offering continued opportunities for reaction, reflection, conversation, growth, development, impact, and advancement. Affirmation can start with creating a space for employees to share.  Then, think critically about how you can use your power to effect change. Employees value words of understanding and encouragement, but leaders’ and organizations’ actions have a more lasting impact.

Mini Guide Leader

Diversity is not enough, think about inclusivity

Diversity initiatives alone, as valuable as they can be, will not make your company anti-racist. Inclusivity means removing barriers that keep all employees from participating equally in the workplace, and equity means making sure that their voices are heard, valued, and recognized accordingly.

Meghna Mahadevan, “equity engineer” and former employee at Kapor Center, Facebook and Google, has created a framework for addressing how our company contribute to racism. This includes explicitly standing in solidarity with protesters, investing in black employees, addressing our racist statistics and paying reparations.

Don’t forget to hold yourself accountable 

Of course, it is going to be overwhelming and you are going to feel uncomfortable but it’s ok, you should keep going. That is what deconstructing oppressive norms that you have been supporting feels like. 

It’s important to acknowledge any harm that your Black and brown coworkers/employees have endured. This means committing to lifelong learning about racism. Seek the facts about racist events, as well as the aggressions and microagressions that your minority coworkers have most likely faced inside and outside of your organization.  Internal accountability is important, but public accountability can help organizations stick to their goals even once the news cycle has moved on.

Transforming capitalism 

As Meghna Mahadevan explains, “while capitalism may not be the ideal framework to build a truly anti-racist society, it is the systems we are currently working within. We can all do our part to make it less racist.” So yes, we have to work with what we have and find immediate solutions to transform the system that is in place for now. 

Meghna Mahadevan gives us concrete strategies for execution: “Think through which tone makes the most sense. How will you be most heard” now that people are ready to listen? She encourages “non-black employees to step up” in order to not let their black colleagues do all the work. She urges employees to coordinate, “create a template” and bring their co-workers together.  White people also especially have to do their research as there are so many resources and organizations out there well versed on these issues. Finally, “keep the receipts” and document all interactions on the topic.

The business environment of the “new normal” resulting from the COVID-19 crisis presents a unique opportunity to break away from the past. Companies that apply an anti-racist lens to their internal organizational development and identify, address and manage the inherent power dynamics are most likely to embrace innovation in a meaningful way. The latest wave of outrage is a call for urgent action, and corporations have an immense role to play in the dismantling of systemic racism. So let’s get to work!

A few resources :

Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience by Laura Morgan Roberts, Anthony J. Mayo, David A. Thomas

How to Be anti-racist by Ibram X Kendi

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson

The Black tech for black lives website, a collective which gives tech companies an action plan to become anti-racist

Ready Set Co, helping create diverse and inclusive work environments through advisory, policy, and strategy services.

Amélie Tresfels

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