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You’ve been reading up on how to be actively anti-racist and serve as an ally for BIPOC. But when it comes to work, it suddenly feels extra complex, especially when you might be employed at a place where you don’t always feel confident about speaking up. But the daily actions you take make a huge difference in combating racism be it systemic or interactional. Here, some practical steps—both big and small—you can take at the workplace, whether you sit in a cubicle or the corner office.
1. Start with Required Reading About How White Culture Plays Out in the Workplace
Michelle Saahene, co-founder of From Privilege to Progress, an organization that aims to desegregate conversations about race, recommends reading Corporate Tribalism: White Men/White Women and Cultural Diversity at Work, which applies two decades worth of research by authors Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis to help managers and employees recognize the cultural bases of miscommunication across ethnic groups with a goal of creating a truly multicultural (vs. homogenized) workplace. What makes the book a standout? It’s chock-full of tried-and-tested strategies for addressing cultural conflict at work via common experiences—everything from office gossip to networking and getting ahead. “Education is the starting point and when you do the work sincerely, it will change you as a person,” Saahene says. (She adds that it’s important to remember that these teachings apply to the workplace and beyond.)
2. Next, Take the Time to Get Introspective About Your Own Actions at Work
Before you act externally, it’s important to evaluate your own role in propagating (or benefitting) from your own racial identity or privilege at work. Ask yourself: Who are your confidantes/mentors? What are your interactions like with Black colleagues? Do you inadvertently lean into stereotypes? Mispronounced names? Confused BIPOC co-workers with each other? The reading and listening you do will inform this work (and other ways you can look inwardly at your own actions), but this type of reflection is necessary to clear the way for a better future. And per Saahene, it never hurts to keep a log of your work. “Mindfulness is key,” she says. “I would suggest keeping a journal where you write down ways you’ve practiced anti-racism so you see your efforts on paper.” (Chronicling is also a helpful tool to show yourself that tiny efforts aren’t for naught.)
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Honest Feedback
Whether you work as a barista or a teacher, it’s OK to ask a colleague you trust if they’ve noticed any room for improvement when it comes to ways you can be a better coworker to BIPOC. No, this doesn’t mean marching over to a Black colleague and putting the work on them. It does mean seeking out honest feedback from a colleague or mentor you regularly go to for advice and support at work (regardless of skin color) to start a conversation. (Also, if they reply and say, ‘You? You’re good!’ that doesn’t mean your work ends there—instead, look to other people and other ways you can further evaluate yourself.)
4. Ask Your Organization to Be Transparent About the Number of Black Employees and Other Employees of Color
This goes hand-in-hand with keeping an open dialog about the goal of building a forever multi-cultural workplace. “Ask your organization what they are doing to address unconscious racial bias, especially for recruiters,” says Saahene. Are they investing in proper trainings for all staff managers in hiring/recruitment positions? Regularly discussing common microaggressions? Or evaluating hiring processes and inviting a balanced range of viewpoints to participate in the conversation? These steps are important to getting staffers to change their thought process and take an all-in approach to engaging with diversity issues.
5. Hire Speakers and Trainers to Come in and Have Ongoing Talks with Employees
It’s OK if you’re not the best internal expert to educate. Seek out those who are and invite them into the workplace on a regular basis to have conversations with staffers. Not sure where to start? This could be as simple as identifying Black activists on Instagram and paying them a speaker fee to come and talk to your team. It’s also OK to reach out to white people who have done this work in their organization already and may have some guidance and resources to share.
6. Ask Colleagues/Employees of Color How They Feel in the Workplace
You want to create an open dialogue and a safe space for your BIPOC coworkers to discuss how they feel perhaps via an anonymous survey so no one feels put on the spot. “Ask, ‘Do they feel safe, heard, seen, valued, appreciated, treated equally and fairly?’” Saahene says. “Do you have language in your employee’s handbook and on your company website addressing a commitment to authentic inclusion and anti-racism? Are the CEO and other leaders at the company doing their internal work? This is how you create a culture shift.”
7. Do the Research to Be Sure Your Company Doesn’t Have Ties to Organizations That Support Prison Labor
Mass incarceration is systemic oppression of Black men in particular, explains Saahene. Prison labor is billed as a cheap alternative to foreign outsourcing, but that means that prison workers are paid a pittance and safety regulations are often non-existent. “This is a major issue a lot of people are looking at right now,” she says. (You can read more about it here.) Do your homework and bring your questions about company involvement up to the right people. This is a small action on your part that can make a big impact.
8. Educate Staffers on Exactly How They Can Report Illegal Discrimination
Reminder: Racial discrimination at work is prohibited thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, which is why it’s important for a company to make clear to their employees exactly how they go about reporting acts of discrimination they experience or witness at work. This typically starts with making sure there’s a clear channel to HR, but also an effective system of checks and balances. (Depending on the severity, keep in mind that you may want to enlist outside counsel before reporting an incident to protect yourself.)