BBJ: Here’s where employers can start in addressing structural racism in the workplace

By Morgan Eichensehr  
June 26, 2020

Diane Bell McKoyDoes your company state equity and inclusion as a value of the business? If so, is that reflected in your company’s policies and practices? Does the organizational culture of your company support and encourage the upward mobility of Black and other non-Black workers of color? Are there people of color in your company’s leadership?

These are just some of the “10 essential questions” that business owners should ask themselves as they examine the role racial inequity may play in their own workplaces, according to Diane Bell-McKoy, CEO of Associated Black Charities. Her organization has assembled sets of guiding questions that can be used by employers, policy makers, philanthropists and workforce development organizations to address racial disparities in concrete ways.

Bell-McKoy shared some of these essential questions with an online audience of nearly 200 Baltimore businesspeople June 26 during a Greater Baltimore Committee webinar largely focused on the role that structural racism plays in perpetuating wage and other achievement gaps between white and Black folks in America, and in Baltimore. She was joined in the discussion by Sheridan Todd Yeary, senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church and Affiliates.

The recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody has spurred a new wave of protests and outrage, as well as a resurgence of critical discussions around how racial inequities play out in the U.S. Bell-McKoy and Yeary spoke to the many societal arenas in which the impacts of systemic racism can manifest, including the criminal justice and legal systems, the housing market, public health, the workforce, public and higher education systems and more. They also offered some actionable advice for how Baltimore’s employers can begin to dismantle structural racism in some specific arenas — their own workplaces.

The first step is to gather data. Bell-McKoy said collecting data on things like what retention and promotion rates look like for employees of color can give employers a clear understanding of the kinds of inequities that exist within a company.

The next steps involve being very “intentional” about improving on the areas of inequity that are found, and building an “equity framework” that acknowledges the reality that Black workers and other workers of color have not had equal access and opportunity.

It is a commonly heard narrative that Black people in the workforce are often under-skilled or “stuck” in low wage roles, Bell-McKoy said. She said it is essential for employers to question why that is and whether that narrative plays out in their own companies. They must understand that Black people are not inherently lazy or dysfunctional, but rather that a series of systemic barriers holds them back from achieving equitable economic growth, she said. It is up employers to consider how they may be contributing to those barriers in their own organizations.

Bell-McKoy said ABC offers trainings to help businesses adjust their perspective on racial inequality.

Yeary and Bell-McKoy cautioned businesspeople, and especially white ones, that digging into these issues will be uncomfortable. Not least because it will require a foundational acknowledgment that many of America’s socioeconomic systems are built on a “framework of whiteness.” Bell-McKoy urged folks to “get comfortable with the discomfort,” because the kinds of discussions sparked by asking tough questions could lead to the disruption of systems which many people have gotten used to and which continue to perpetuate racial gaps in wages, achievement, health outcomes, access to capital and more.

“We’ve got to at some point put in a framework to make sure these gaps don’t get any wider,” Yeary said. “Until we address the equity issue, we’re going to keep having these discussions.”

To read the complete story, visit the Baltimore Business Journal website.

Source: Baltimore Business Journal

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