Firms must acknowledge that education on racism in the workplace is not on Black employees, but rather on the business to act upon it. An issue that many minorities face in the workplace when they experience racial discrimination is gaslighting.
Let me give you insight into where the word "gaslight" comes from. The 1944 film Gaslight tells the story of a woman who tries to maintain her sanity whilst her new husband enacts an insidious form of abuse in their home. All around her the facts of her domestic reality are warped; when she questions it, her husband plays ignorant and, at worst, explicitly challenges her perspective on her experiences. This is arguably the maddening way the silence of individuals in the workplace contributes to institutional racism.
The term “unconscious bias” can arguably aid in individuals feeling as if their concerns are overlooked when discriminated against. It can be difficult for a white male who has benefited from social privilege to see how a Black man is at detriment institutionally. However, this does not grant individuals the right to express opinions which erase the institutional racism faced by minorities.
The lack of education on topics such as microaggressions, institutional racism and bias is where gaslighting begins. Which highlights the need for businesses to become proactive in education. Firms must understand that diversity and inclusion must be an ongoing conversation. They should be working towards attracting a more diverse talent pool via implementing new strategies. However, businesses must take into consideration that retaining diverse talent is just as important. Until the necessary support, education and steps are taken to make minorities feel comfortable in their working environment, this will be an ongoing issue.
Without specific measures and sessions put in place that educate employees on institutional racism, how do firms ensure that gaslighting does not become a subculture within departments when uncomfortable situations occur? The death of George Floyd sparked protests across the world, highlighting the continuous injustice Black people face universally. Many people within the Black community were disheartened by the lack of acknowledgement shown by the companies they work for. Some went on to explain how they joined calls for the entire week, with no support or acknowledgement from their colleagues or leadership on the current affairs, acting as if nothing were happening.
This approach towards racism in the workplace and in the world today is problematic. Companies must become attentive to how and when they speak about racism. Performative is how some many describe the statements of firms that initially kept silent on the situation; multiple firms, at a later date, began to alliance due to immense pressure from the public, which made employees question its sincerity. But it seems some businesses are now taking the necessary steps to make a difference.
As firms openly share their action plans going forward, on working towards having a diverse and anti-racist environment, I can only hope that businesses seek to proactively work towards creating an anti-racist, supportive and educational environment when it comes to institutional racism.