D&I COVID-19 RECORDING: RACISM IN THE RANKS - 7/21/20

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help Diversity & Inclusion leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

When i4cp’s weekly Diversity & Inclusion Action Call focused attention on the issue of racism among organizational employees, call leaders turned the typical guest-interview format on its head and threw open the discussion doors to the 110-plus inclusion leaders and other interested professionals attending the virtual event.  

Jacqui Robertson, i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair and call leader, worked in tandem with i4cp Creative Director and lead researcher for the CDO Board, Eric Davis. Together, the two posed questions for attendees to keep in mind, then fired a spirited and thoughtful conversation with two poll questions exploring employee behaviors that violate employers’ stated values. 

Key Ideas Shared Today: 

1. Key questions about racism in the ranks for consideration by inclusion leaders and the organizations they represent:

  • Is expectation of total conformity with stated corporate values anathema to creating true inclusion?
  • Where is the boundary between opinion and action, and how should it be enforced?
  • How are those boundaries established? What constitutes crossing the line?
  • How do organizations address dissonance if the expression of dissent is a fireable offense?
  • Where does this discussion end, and where do considerations of damage to PR, productivity, and culture begin?
  • How do we facilitate the discussion of differing viewpoints in mutually respectful, effective ways? 

2. Research findings on organizational actions. Recent research by i4cp into the actions companies are taking to address racial inequities revealed:

  • Many organizations are still simply listening and planning
    • Reaffirming stated values such as inclusion, diversity and belonging
    • Sponsoring employee-led dialogues and listening sessions
  • Companies that are moving beyond courageous conversations to take action favor several approaches:
    • Providing anti-racism and anti-bias training for leaders and managers
    • Expanding resources delivering targeted assistance to employees (such as mental and physical health programming for Black employees)
    • Conducting bias audits of existing organizational norms and practices

3. Poll #1 moved attendees to speak out. The call’s first instant poll asked about situations that have received widespread media attention:

Do you think that an employee who’s involved in a racially charged incident outside of work (e.g., Amy Cooper, Charlottesville marchers) should be terminated if the incident goes public?  

            Responses: 

  • Yes - 44%
  • No - 6%
  • Don’t know - 15%
  • Other/more context needed - 35%

Call participants spoke eloquently of the thoughts, concerns, and questions the poll’s topic raised for them and their organizations. A few of the key ideas expressed: 

  • There should be consequences for bad behavior, but this area could be a slippery slope impacted by considerations of free speech, affiliations, and the potential for long-term consequences and alienation of some employees. A measured response may be needed.
  • Context is important – the severity of behaviors involved must be considered, and companies should look for opportunities for corporate policies, training, and programming to educate and inform.
  • People who are bold enough to misbehave in public are likely to also be bold enough to misbehave in subtle ways at work.
  • Job roles are an important concern, especially if people who exhibit biased behavior in public settings are in positions of influence (deciding on career advancement opportunities for others, for example) in the workplace.
  • In today’s work world, people are employees 24/7, representing their employers whether or not they are physically in the workplace. Companies should do their due diligence by effectively screening potential hires (including social media history) for fit with organizational values.
  • Gender bias is a consideration in evaluating/perceiving the severity of employee misbehaviors. In some contexts, women are likely to be judged more harshly than men for engaging in comparable behaviors.  

4. Poll #2 asked about the results of candid, or courageous, conversations that are taking place in many organizations today:

Have employees expressed views during courageous conversations or on internal sounding boards that run counter to your organization’s stated values on inclusion and diversity?  

            Top responses : 

  • Yes, but they led to good teaching moments – 34%
  • Yes, but nothing egregious - 20%
  • No – 18%
  • Yes, and they were disruptive or raised concerns – 16%

Additional comments from call attendees: 

  • Black Lives Matter is a statement of focus, not of exclusion. It is the current focus because of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black individuals. It does not mean exclusion of other groups. Rather, it is an opportunity to education and explain.
  • In some companies, the potential may exist for association of political affiliation with the perception of racism.
  • Some people are concerned that discussions of diversity and inclusion focus only on black and white, to the exclusion of other groups (indigenous peoples, those of differing religions, etc.). When diversity and inclusion are valued, it must be articulated in actions and from every part of the organization that racism in any form won’t be tolerated.

Part 2 next week: The depth and breadth of today’s discussion on racism in the ranks led to a decision to continue the conversation in the Action Call on July 28th. Additional polls are planned during next week’s call to explore organization’s policies related to employee expression of views that clash with company values and the methods organizations use to enforce compliance with their values. 

Also on today’s Action Call: 

  • Influenced by the enthusiastic response to the D&I Action Calls, i4cp is establishing a new Diversity & Inclusion Exchange community. The i4cp-member-led group will explore innovative approaches to strengthening diversity, inclusion, and equity. An August 28 launch is planned, and the community will be open to i4cp members only. More information is available from Carrie Bevis, i4cp Managing Director of Communities & Partnerships at Carrie.Bevis@i4cp.com.

In addition to this recording, please see these resources: