February is Black History Month, a time to educate ourselves and others about Black history, raise awareness about ongoing issues that the Black community faces, and encourage change. When it comes to honoring Black History Month in the workplace, organizations often want to "do something," but aren’t sure of the best way to actually facilitate learning, participation, and action.
To that end, Fishbowl, an app to facilitate social conversation in the workplace, partnered with Living Corporate to ask Black professionals about their experiences at work across industries in an effort to illuminate existing challenges.
Below are three of the statements Fishbowl posed to professionals to assess the extent to which they agree with them. Not only should you consider having your employees weigh in on these, but you should also take this insight and start making changes. Chances are, Fishbowl’s findings reflect your employees’ experiences more than you’d like to admit.
Racial Bias Can Be Anywhere
"I feel pressure to change aspects of my behavior or appearance to fit in with my work place."
The majority of respondents said they did feel pressure to change their appearance. In the finance sector, 84% felt pressured while 81% of Black employees practicing law felt the same. Even in the notoriously-casual tech industry, 57% felt they needed to alter how they look and act.
Bias is easy to miss, but it’s critical to identify it in job descriptions, employee handbooks and other resources to ensure language is inclusive. For example, when was the last time you took a look at your dress code? Does it call for "professional attire and hairstyles?" Do you consider traditional African American hairstyles or natural hair unprofessional? If your organization is still discriminating against certain types of styles or attire, it’s time for immediate change.
Existing DEI Initiatives Are Ineffective
"My company’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are effective at addressing my needs."
Despite the tech industry’s reputation for lacking diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it was the highest performing industry—33% of Black professionals agree with the statement above. But 33% is nothing to be proud of:despite doubling down on DEI, this sector is still missing the mark. And other industries are even bigger offenders. Just 14% of Black legal professionals believed in the efficacy of their organization's DEI efforts.
If your diversity and inclusion efforts are designed to look good on Twitter and not to actually create a diverse environment for all employees, it’s time for a change. Start asking questions. Use employee surveys, start discussion-driven focus groups and conduct external research. There’s no secret recipe for DEI, and the right approach will look different at every organization. Beginning this February, investigate or research tactics that will make your organization truly diverse, and how you can help all of your people feel included.
Racism Can Go Unchecked
"I trust my company to do the right thing if I report that I have experienced racism at work."
Be honest—how often have you heard accounts of companies ignoring racism until it becomes public? Here’s an even tougher question: how often has it been ignored at your company?
Black professionals in technology and accounting agreed with this statement at 47% and 41%, respectively. But, law and finance? 20% and 7% percent, respectively.
Seven percent. Seven percent of Black professionals in finance trust that their company will do the right thing if they report racism. That number is abysmal. Every report of racism must be investigated and offenders, in turn, must be punished.
Time For Action
As Black History Month comes to a close, are you going to make a real effort to learn, educate others, and make real change? Commit to continuing your work long after February ends.
To overcome all of the challenges that Black professionals face, we need to start by understanding the history, as well as the present. Start by asking the tough questions, absorbing the answers, and doing something about it.