Last week, I was asked to contribute to a Q&A piece about how the world of work has changed since the Murder of George Floyd. You can read my thoughts below.
While his murder wasn’t “the first of its kind” — given the history of racism and police brutality in our country — the collective response to his life lost was novel. People who had long been able to sit on the sidelines when it came to issues of social justice were challenged to engage intently, intentionally, and empathetically.
Organizations scrambled to put out statements and take a stance on racial (in)justice. Fast forward a year later, and there are a few key lessons for business leaders:
Researches shows that an organization’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has become increasingly important to job seekers. But not only is it critical from a “talent attraction” perspective, it is also equally, if not more important from an employee experience and talent retention standpoint. Investing in the experience of underrepresented identities — whether it’s through Employee Resource Groups, Healing / Conversation Circles, Well-Being & Mental Health Days, etc. — is essential when it comes to creating an inclusive culture.
In the absence of action and accountability, a company’s DEI statement becomes nothing more than a powerless platitude that, at best, fall futilely into the nothingness it came from, and at worst, becomes incredibly damaging for employees who experience the organizations’ dissonance. What commitments are you making? How are you measuring those commitments? And how are you sharing your progress about said commitments? Yes, your words matter, but your actions and willingness to be accountable are what actually tell your employees the truth.
Many organizations espouse this idea to employees, but for those who come from underrepresented identities, it can feel like little more than a tired and disingenuous trope. If companies truly want to create an inclusive culture, they have to recognize the different challenges faced by different identity groups, and extend empathy to people in the organization that may have a very different experience. Given the lack of diverse representation on Senior Leadership Teams — specifically when it comes to race and gender, there can often be a disconnect between how the leaders perceive the organization and how employees experience it. Dismantling the systems that marginalize underrepresented identities is critical to creating an inclusive culture, and listening to those employees is a great place to start.
Many companies found themselves wondering “what to say” in order to appear inclusive, when they hadn’t actually taken the time to prioritize the internal and organizational work that it takes to truly bring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to life within their company. When something is true on the outside, but not on the inside, it’s simply unsustainable; you can only keep up the charade for so long. Doing the real work of DEI means educating yourself, evaluating and identifying the biases show up in your systems, processes, and procedures, and putting meaningful support systems in place to ensure that inclusion and belonging are more than just mere optics.
Ben & Jerry’s will always stand out to me as a company that really “gets it”, and puts intentional action behind their words. Their statement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder was clear: “We must dismantle white supremacy.” They left no question about where they stood, and have continued to reinforce their position. And while I don’t eat ice cream often (#lactoseintolerant), you better believe that when I do, I’m investing in Ben & Jerry’s because I appreciate their continued willingness to invest in and advocate for people who look like me.