Toward A Racially Just Workplace: Diversity efforts are failing black employees. Here’s a better approach.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are quite the buzz words. Civil rights laws have been passed. Employers have hired Chief Diversity Officers, rolled out implicit bias trainings, and dedicated resources to advocacy groups to advance racial equity. Now more than ever, companies have issued public statements to affirm their commitment to diversity in response to police brutality and the continuous unjust murders of black lives. Incremental progress has been made. However, data still shows that African Americans still face obstacles in the workplace.


Being Black in the Workplace

Compared to white peers, African Americans are still significantly less likely to be hired, developed, and promoted. In fact, just 3.2% of West Michigan board members identified as black or African American in 2017, compared to 89.4% for white board members. Additionally, the lived experience of black employees is noticeably worse. African Americans often deal with aversive racism, modern racism, and microaggressions on a daily basis. They have to prove greater competence before being considered for, or awarded, promotions. Black workers also report the need to conform more frequently than their white counterparts, suppressing their personal attributes, values, and views to align or fit in with the organization. Many experience diversity fatigue because they are required to perform the job they were hired to do, while also assuming the role of cultural champions to represent their demographic group in diversity conversations, tasks forces, and training sessions. The factors described above result in black workers feeling comparatively less supported, less engaged, and less committed to their jobs than their non-black peers.


Four Strategies to Support Diverse Employees

Toward a Racially Just Workplace shares four strategies that can be adopted to increase engagement and better representation for black leaders and other marginalized groups.

  1. Move away from the business case and toward a moral one. A compelling business case was made for many of the historical systems designed to oppress blacks including slavery and Jim Crow laws. The business case alone is not sufficient. The moral case focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion being the right thing to do to help maximize the full potential of all people.
  2. Encourage open conversations about race. Racism undoubtedly still exists and needs to be candidly and consistently discussed in the workplace. To create a safe space within organizational culture, both informal and formal discussions are needed to ask questions, share ideas, and address issues without fear of punishment.
  3. Revamp diversity and inclusion programs. D&I must penetrate the entire organization. Programs must be supported by the C-Suite, have clear goals, outline concrete next steps for advancing nonwhites, and involve career pathing.
  4. Manage career development across all life stages. Mentoring from senior executives and sponsorship for promotions and stretch assignments are both critical. Employees also need honest feedback to identify and enhance strengths, overcome weaknesses related to knowledge and skills, and position them to unlock their full potential.

Interested in learning more? The full article and related resources can be found in the Structure and Implementation category of PIVOT, our Talent 2025 diversity and inclusion employer toolkit.


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