June 11, 2020
This week, as demonstrations continue following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a resolution underscoring its commitment to address racism and workplace equality.
EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon, who signed the resolution, said the agency condemns the violence that has claimed the lives of so many African Amercans, and “expresses our heartfelt sympathy to their families; and commits to redouble our efforts to address institutionalized racism, advance justice, and foster equality of opportunity in the workplace.”
The resolution also notes the creation of the agency through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and its history of enforcing anti-discrimination laws.
Reflect, reexamine, act
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests, organizations are dealing with complex challenges and questions on many levels. While there are no quick solutions, this is an opportunity for HR leaders to take steps to improve diversity and inclusion, manage unconscious bias, and eliminate roadblocks to people of color and others, who may face discrimination because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age or other characteristic.
A recent Harvard Business Review article on racism in the workplace by Laura Morgan Roberts, professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Ella F. Washington, professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, advises organizations to avoid missteps when creating an environment for everyone to discuss racism and related issues.
Among the missteps to avoid:
- Keeping silent for fear of being seen as prejudiced or lacking the skills to have difficult conversations about race.
- Becoming overly defensive when approaching uncomfortable conversations about racial injustice.
- Overgeneralizing about groups of people who are the same race, gender or other identity.
“Think about how you can allow your employees to discuss what’s happening without putting them on the spot or asking them to speak for everyone in their identity group.”
In discussing a framework for taking meaningful action, the authors highlight the importance of managers doing the research (beyond social media) to understand events and issues. Along with learning about racism, managers should acknowledge any harm that coworkers of color have endured, including racism and microaggressions, and offer continuous opportunities for “reaction, reflection, conversation, growth, development, impact, and advancement.”
On June 9, the EEOC issued a resolution condemning violence against African Americans and reinforcing the agency’s commitment to address institutionalized racism, advance justice, and foster equal opportunity in the workplace. It’s a strongly worded resolution that may serve to motivate organizations to explore new ways to prevent workplace discrimination, manage unconscious bias and promote diversity, inclusion and sensitivity. “What can we do better?” is one question leaders can ask now and keep on asking.