Recently, one of my friends expressed disappointment in her full-time employer for not addressing the current state of affairs with its employees. She works in healthcare and her employer is simply operating business as usual. Social distancing is the only priority while social justice is a mere option. As a Black employee, it's not a good feeling.
Or a good sign.
What a company's complete silence toward protests against police brutality or our fight for civil rights, equality and basic respect as human beings shows us is that "they don't care about you or your advancement," says Lauren Wesley Wilson of ColorComm.
Wilson, founder and CEO of the women's empowerment corporation ColorComm, recently led a conversation on corporate activism and how it pertains to company culture as well as today's climate. To Wilson, corporate activism means:
To strategically advocate for equality inside corporations to ensure underrepresented employees have the same opportunity for advancement as their white counterparts.
This support can come in a variety of diversity and inclusion forms such as:
- Hiring a chief diversity officer;
- Partnering with community-based organizations;
- Recruiting at historically black colleges and universities; or
- Implementing human resource guidelines for inclusion.
But the programs are essentially meaningless if persons of color make up less than 30% of senior leadership, Wilson says. Who's really going to enforce them? And a company's words can come across as empty with no action to back them up.
Over the past week, my IG timeline alone has been inundated with a steady stream of company commitments to Black Lives Matter referencing "responsibility" and "rising up against racial injustice." We also see companies publicly pledging millions of dollars to various community organizations. And more recently, we see companies racing to produce CVS-style receipts detailing the number of Black executives, staff and board members on their teams for the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign. Some of those figures make me wonder if those companies should've chosen to remain mute like the hospital where my friend works.
Wilson says every company doesn't need to make a public statement, though, especially if that company isn't internally representative of what they're proclaiming. She's referring to establishments that vow to stand behind the cause or donate money yet continuously lay off persons of color en masse during the pandemic. Or companies that slowly promote us to C-suite and management roles or pay us far less than our white peers in salary, raises and bonus.
Still Wilson says leadership absolutely needs to address the current state of affairs to their employees – at least show us some compassion or concern – and senior management also needs to create a plan for internal changes, especially if we're missing from the organization charts on the company's "About Us" web pages.
Some employers will need a push to make any real change. Others will need a clue. Here's what you can do to help:
Outright ask your senior management their plans to encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
This isn't a question that's outside or above our pay grades. We can ask even if we don't work in human resources. We also can't assume there's a program already in place and if there is, the existing plan may not even work. In fact, Wilson says that programs such as unconscious bias training, which is designed to raise awareness of microaggressions in the workplace, are usually the worst when it comes to effectiveness.
Additionally, we should ask what specific programs are in place to eradicate racial biases in hiring and promoting. And don't be afraid to find out how long employees who look like us remain in a single position, how far we can climb up the ladder and how long we stay with the company.
Discreetly form your own team of allies.
Recruit your sisters for solidarity but also gather a small but diverse group of coworkers who will fully champion your ideas for change when the time comes to formally present them. In other words, we'll need to round up Karen's more liberal cousins as our backup. I know, it sucks but don't misunderstand this as seeking their validation. They're merely a voice, or more like an echo. Just be sure you're always the one spearheading this (secret) task force.
Ask senior management how their donated funds are being used by receiving organizations.
Find out if your company's donation to activist groups and other nonprofits is going towards education or funding for community initiatives and which ones. Also inquire whether that money would've been of better use in-house. The key is to determine if those donated dollars are, as Wilson puts it, a change opportunity or a PR opportunity.
Unfortunately, there will be instances where corporate activism is only a buzzword. Despite the conversations, social media posts and charitable contributions, some of us still won't get that much-deserved promotion or pay increase at our current jobs. And we won't get a simple email acknowledging the horrors that continuously affect our lives and livelihoods every single day. At that point it's time for my colleague and anyone else in her predicament, to seek new employment. Invest your time and talent in an organization that invests in you and shows you that our Black Lives truly do Matter.
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