There’s a lot going on right now. We have the COVID-19 pandemic, a global economic crisis, and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, protests and demands for reform. It’s as if the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the 1929 stock market crash and the civil unrest of 1968 are happening at the same time. And if all of this weren’t enough, we have murder hornets, locust swarms and cicadas coming out of the ground!
Prior to the global outrage, black people were already hurting because of COVID-19, which disproportionately affected the community and “obliterated the best African-American job market on record,” according to The Wall Street Journal. In May, the unemployment rate in the U.S. among blacks was 16.8%, compared to 5.8% in February. In Canada, black and Asian workers witnessed the biggest jobless rate spikes following COVID-19.
Now, there’s much more scrutiny of — and pressure on — companies to do the right thing. Employers are increasingly being held accountable by black employees and their allies, who say it’s not enough to simply voice support for the BLM movement. They want to see their employers’ consistent, ongoing commitment to making a substantive difference to dismantle historic and systemic racism. They need to know if their employers are “part of the moment or part of the movement.”
With all of this happening, I’m hearing from Indeed clients and others who want to know how to create or sustain a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging in the current environment — which some have called a “racial pandemic.” There’s a real desire to build a safe space so that all employees know they’re being heard, acknowledged, valued and supported.
10 ways you can take action right now
- Don’t ignore what’s happening. Right now, the world is essentially “on fire.” People are angry and demanding change. Employers must start by acknowledging this and taking a close look at what they’re doing — or not doing — to help.
- Understand what your black employees are experiencing. When traumatic experiences occur, employee productivity suffers and innovation slows. Morale, performance and psychological safety can decline. When employees are experiencing so much heaviness, how can they give 100% of themselves to their jobs?
- Focus on long-term systemic change. There’s a lot of momentum — and need — for change right now. It’s not just about a message of support or donating to a cause one time. Take a look at your own systems. How do you hire and grow employees? Do your succession planning, talent reviews, recruiting and other processes have built-in biases? Is equality part of your core values? Are you actively working toward change? Recognize that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Above all, hold yourself accountable for the way things are, then work to improve.
- Take a close look at your data related to diversity in recruiting and hiring. Share it internally to be transparent with employees of where you are now. When possible, share it externally to be visible and accountable (I’m happy to announce that Indeed will be releasing its own diversity data this summer). Use it as a baseline for comparison against what you hope to achieve.
- Educate yourself. As a manager or leader, take the time to listen, learn and understand what’s happening in communities outside of your own. Check in with your employees and offer support. Offer time off for employees to support mental health.
- Encourage storytelling. Stories help people from different backgrounds understand what others are experiencing; they help us connect to each other. Ask employees to share their personal experiences on your company intranet, team messaging channels or other shared platforms. For example, early in the pandemic, Indeed invited its Asian employees to share what they’d been experiencing around xenophobia and racism. It was a great way for Indeedians to better understand and empathize with their colleagues from other communities.
- Hold company-wide ‘town halls’ — moderated discussions over video conference software — to give everyone a chance to hear from senior leaders, ask questions and share ideas. Encourage all employees to attend with the goal of listening, learning and understanding how they might support someone in a community other than their own. It’s the best way to learn how to be allies; to move into being advocates and accomplices; and work together to create a sense of inclusion and belonging for everyone. Note: To ensure that all employees are accountable for their questions and comments, it’s a good idea to not allow anonymous posting.
- Make outside experts available for discussions via video chat software. For example, Indeed’s Black Inclusion Group recently hosted a “healing hour,” open to all Indeed employees, with psychiatrist Dr. Christopher J. Hoffman. Also, I hosted a virtual fireside chat with Dr. Charmain Jackson, a Harvard-trained psychologist, on the topic of stress and anxiety in the black community during health and racial pandemics.
- Don’t expect black employees to educate others about what they can do to help. Your black peers and colleagues are already dealing with a lot. Instead, take the initiative to learn on your own and decide the best ways you can be an ally and advocate.
- Make a personal and public commitment to be a part of the solution — today and tomorrow. As The New York Times’ opinion columnist Charles M. Blow writes of our current moment: “This is not the social justice Coachella. This is not systemic racism Woodstock. This has to be a forever commitment, even after protest eventually subsides.”
It’s time to take stock
This is a time to take stock of how societal issues have shaped the way we work, how people get recruited and hired and how they move up in their careers. I’m seeing a lot of individuals and organizations taking stock right now. It’s unfortunate that it’s on top of traumatic events. But this broader acknowledgement of and visibility into systemic racism provides an opportunity for employers to make positive, lasting changes. Those changes are needed. They’re the right thing to do for all of your employees. And they’ll help you build a stronger business.
LaFawn Davis is VP of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at Indeed.