The connection between workplace power, privilege, and equity
Workplaces that are actively seeking to promote race equity and inclusion (REI) typically work from a shared understanding of the importance of the endeavor. Creating fairness, enacting just policies, and embracing a variety of perspectives, however, can lead to real challenges for workplaces with a desire to become more racially equitable and inclusive.
Our population health goals include protecting and promoting equity and health, transforming people and place, ensuring a healthy planet, and achieving health equity. We are all public health leaders, and embodying and promoting equity is our core value.
Unless we meaningfully pursue eliminating workplace inequities in all its forms we will be hampered in addressing other inequities, including racial and health. The pursuit of equity starts with honestly acknowledging our workplace power and/or privilege and how, combined with implicit biases, we can unintentionally create, perpetuate, and defend inequities in the workplace.
1. Be transparent about policies and progress
Regardless of the company’s approach, leaders need to be transparent in explaining the potential value their initiatives can have for employees, the organization, and society at large, while also acknowledging the difficult road ahead and the organization’s openness to feedback. For example, executives can create public or internal company statements that communicate clearly and consistently what they understand but also admit what they do not yet know about racial equity and inclusion. In addition, leaders should assign clear roles and responsibilities and determine what should be transparent to whom, and through which mechanisms.
- Bring compassion to conversations
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about race in the workplace. They have been conditioned not to mention someone’s race, which has also made the topic virtually taboo at work. However, not talking about race can prevent people from becoming better versions of themselves and effectively responding to concerns of racism, injustice, and discrimination that are taking a psychological and physiological toll on Black employees in particular. Senior leaders should respond compassionately by developing and supporting facilitated safe spaces in which employees can engage in conversations about these issues and their experiences in the company.
- Adopt bold strategies to fight injustice
Diversity-related work has been devalued in many companies, which has made it difficult to address diversity objectives. But senior leaders can engage in bold new actions to shift this dynamic. For example, leaders can show that this work is valued by making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and work actionable, measurable, and evidence-based, elevating DEI work internally and externally, requiring leaders and managers to participate in behavior-based DEI trainings, identifying leaders and nonmanagerial employees willing to serve as DEI sponsors, and treating DEI work as core, rather than peripheral, work. The last item could mean including it as part of performance evaluations, so that it can be factored into decisions involving compensation and promotion.
- Don’t apologize for making a commitment to equity
The leader who takes the actions above is likely to meet with some resistance. Not everyone will agree with the company’s approach to creating racial equity and inclusion. However, employees and customers are looking to senior leaders to speak with conviction about the company’s zero-tolerance policy for racism and injustice. Leaders should be prepared for criticism and should not apologize for taking a stand. This doesn’t mean acting unilaterally or closing themselves off to others’ perspective, but rather being unwavering on committing to the company’s stated goal even when it becomes challenging to do so, which it often will.