It’s Time To Solve The Issue Of Racism In Corporate America And Stop Debating Its Existence
Businesses have more stake in combating racism in society than they may realize.
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The recent comments and debate about whether America is racist remind us that as long as we are debating the words around racism, we aren't focusing on solving the problems caused by it.
Where there are racist outcomes, there are racist practices. Corporate America is no different, as racism is perpetuated through a system of practices and policies. But racism becomes harder to eliminate when we don’t see it as a larger system. This removes any opportunity for corporate America to assist in eradicating racist practices.
Racism is alive and well within the business world and many Black employees can attest to this with a variety of examples. Don’t just take my word for it. Look at the facts. Out of 50 of the largest companies, only 2% of CEOs are Black and there have only been four Black women as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. 12.5% of board directors are of color, with only 4% of them being Black.
According to research, Black women are less likely to have a work sponsor than their colleagues. Additionally, Black employees are still paid less than their white counterparts and face higher unemployment rates to top it off. Not to mention the outsized impact of COVID on Black jobs, lives and families.
These inequities must be addressed. But when we focus on the validity or language surrounding these individual examples, instead of focusing on fixing the system that created these issues in the first place, we detract from changing the system and the inequities it brings. Whether a Black employee is deemed “aggressive” or if a potential Black interview candidate is overlooked for a role because they’re not a “cultural fit,” this all comes from a system that continues to oppress Black employees inside the office.
Additionally, the impact of racism extends beyond corporate America. As a system, it exists within education, federal policy, media, housing, healthcare and more. Black professionals are not absolved from the effects of racism in other areas of their life.
Many of your employees may not experience or understand racial inequity, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or is less strenuous on those who do experience it. In fact, their privilege more than likely prevents them from recognizing inequity on a systemic level. It’s also that same privilege that empowers others to use language as a means of deflecting from the discussion of racism. Yet, if we spend less time debating the language surrounding racism and its impact on our society, then we can spend more time dealing with the repercussions of its existence in the first place.
So, how do we move forward?
Businesses have more stake in combating racism in society than they may realize. First, the road to establishing an anti-racist organization starts with the acknowledgment of the injustices committed that created these inequities, to begin with, and recognizing and committing to eradicating racism in the organizations that you control. Don’t look for everyone else to fix the problem. Do what *you can from where you sit to eradicate the inequity that you are responsible for. You may not be responsible for creating it, but you own it now so make it your business to do what you can now that you own it. Don’t let denial, guilt and debate stop you from taking action.
From there, you must evaluate your organization’s practices, systems and policies that perpetuate inequities in recruitment, performance management, supervision, etc. Then, you have to reimagine and reconstruct anti-racist structures, policies and programs that create equitable support for your employees.
Progress on this looks like skills and resources given to Black mid-level professionals to transition into leadership roles, the increased representation of Black employees at all levels with inclusive and equitable efforts to develop them, open and transparent vehicles for employee feedback on the organization’s progress as an anti-racist institution, work sponsors to advocate for Black employees, fair compensation for Black talent, and more. This becomes a continuous process of review. New systems and policies must be workshopped habitually to ensure that they are anti-racist and highlight new opportunities for growth and development for those who previously didn’t have access to them.
The debate on whether America is racist or not is another deflection from getting rid of it wherever it exists. Corporate America has to focus more on solving the issue of racism and spend less time conversing about its existence. I care less about debating the words because as long as we are debating them or their existence, the less time we spend on eradicating racism where it exists.