This is how employees want their companies to address systemic racism

2020 has made it impossible to argue that racial equality in the U.S is anything but illusory. 

More than five decades since the Freedom March on Washington, the assassination of Medgar Evers, and the “abolition” of race-based discrimination, Americans are in agreement about how little ground we’ve actually covered since. 

The only meaningful change realized on this front is the articulation of intolerance. In the workforce, policy prescriptions haven’t been enough to guarantee underrepresented communities get a fair shake.  Although working-class citizens of various backgrounds share anti-establishment sympathies, most are dissatisfied with their employers’ efforts to address systemic bias. 

 According to a new report, two-thirds of U.S. workers are supportive of the non-violent protests that occurred in reaction to George Floyd’s unlawful execution, and more than 50% believes that their company should actively address the nation-wide demonstrations by donating to causes, releasing a public statement, and holding an open discussion with leadership.

“On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was arrested in Minneapolis when he allegedly bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Police officers held him down, choking him for nearly nine minutes until he fell unconscious and died,” Clutch reports. “Three-fourths of American workers (76%) think racism and discrimination is an issue at U.S. workplaces. Amazon’s actions, along with those of others from companies such as Nike, Twitter, and Citigroup show that larger companies are using their influence to push for change.”

Imitation ethics 

“Certain brands hold a global influence on levels an individual may not be able to contemplate,” said Shayan Fatani, digital marketing strategist of PureVPN in Clutch’s new release. “We have the power of our words to delegitimize any teaching that provokes a hateful or violent behavior.”

The authors surveyed 755 workers across the U.S. to gauge how businesses are responding to pervasive police brutality, partisanship in the workplace, and the movements premised against Officer Derek Chauvin’s injustice. 

African-American respondents were 20% more likely to believe that their company has failed to tackle racial biases compared to the overall study pool (64% vs. 44%), though most of the participants are content with how their company is confronting the death of George Floyd specifically. Collectively, the participants ranked effective countermeasures as the following:

  1. Hold an open discussion with leadership (15%)
  2. Promise to hire a more diverse workforce (14%)
  3. Donate to causes (11%)
  4. Release a public statement about its stance (8%)
  5. Make it easier to take time away from the office (4%)

In respect to discrimination in general, severe characterizations appeared to correlate with younger generations and larger corporations.

Fifty-five percent of millennials and younger workers contend that racism is a major issue, compared to 42% of Generation Xers and 34% of baby boomers who would say the same.

Similarly, employees at large businesses are more likely to believe racism is an issue at their workplace (54%), compared to employees at small businesses (35%).

The majority of U.S. workers (61%) have experienced workplace discrimination

at some point or another—either personally or as a witness. 

Tucking your hand into the sand has never been more convenient. Legislation that condemns prejudice in a professional context augments it more than it reduces it. When unethical behavior is subtle enough to pass policy standards but pointed enough to advertise partiality, true progress is reduced to a snail’s pace. It doesn’t matter if your office looks like the cast of Captain Planet if all members aren’t treated to the same opportunities irrespective of their racial, religious, or gender backgrounds. 

“Many people who don’t experience racism and discrimination themselves may not realize when they’re discriminating. Known as microaggressions. These “thinly veiled, everyday instances of racism, homophobia, [and] sexism” are prevalent in the working world. This includes insults, comments, and gestures that may not be implied as discriminatory but come across that way to others.”

Larger corporations have taken upon themselves to address the protests via carefully curated public statements. It’s impossible to guess anyone’s intent, but most seem to agree that this is the best route for market-leading brands.

Executives are currently under pressure to implement changes to let their employees know that their input is valued. 

Angel Mills is the owner of Angel Mills Brand Strategy, a marketing agency that specializes in brand development. As a black business owner,  Mills had this to say about her role in the current climate:

“I think that it would be extremely tone-deaf and inconsiderate to refuse to acknowledge how the death of George Floyd is affecting the black community specifically and the world at large,” Mills said. “It is imperative that companies speak up and begin to take action to do their part to dismantle racism. 

“One mistake I am noticing companies make is that they are addressing inequality at large but not addressing the types of racial oppression that affect the black community specifically,” Mills added. “I think [addressing inequality overall] is a way to acknowledge the issues without actually acknowledging racism, which is another problem within itself.”

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com