Rooting Out Racism in the Workplace: Focusing on Hiring, Culture a Way to Start

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When the video of George Floyd handcuffed on the ground with a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee on his neck went viral, public outrage included claims of systemic racism in many law enforcement agencies. Those claims didn’t start with Floyd’s death, and they don’t stop with police forces.

Indeed, many employers are frequently accused of fostering a culture that fails to filter out people with racist attitudes, even allowing them to advance while keeping people of color on an unlevel playing field.

It’s not a new problem, but the current protest movement is putting renewed emphasis on how employers should tackle the issue. The question becomes: If an organization’s culture is a problem, does the solution start with the hiring process, and even if hiring is improved, what else is needed to promote a healthy culture?

Eric Ellis, president and CEO of Integrity Development Corporation, has worked with law enforcement agencies and businesses on diversity and is an author and a speaker on diversity and inclusion topics. He says to make progress, it’s important for people to realize bias is a human condition. “All of us have both explicit and implicit biases,” he says.

Ellis says when organizations examine what exists in their culture that perpetuates bias, they can develop processes and systems to get people’s behavior to line up with the values the organization wants to promote.

In the case of law enforcement, Ellis says it helps when agencies recruit officers from areas where they’ll be policing. That increases the probability that officers will have the skills to relate to the community. He says police departments need to be open to talent, but they should give some preference to local candidates or at least recruit from those areas.

Getting Past Stigma

Implicit bias training has become more common in many organizations in recent years, and Ellis says such training is important but not more important than developing techniques to fight bias. He says sometimes, police are “frozen by culture.” For example, an officer may see an action that’s wrong but not know how to intervene, so officer training that includes the skills to deal with those situations is crucial.

Ellis also says organizations need to destigmatize bias so that people feel comfortable enough to discuss issues. “When we really develop meaningful relationships with one another, we have more successful businesses and we enjoy each other. That’s what we have to go after,” he says.

Leaders also need to realize the impact of their power, Ellis says. Too often, that power makes it difficult to bring problems to light because people are afraid of offending somebody in leadership or they’re afraid of sounding like someone who’s always complaining or using “the race card.”

Culture, Values Key

Jeremy M. Brenner and Ida Shafaie, attorneys at Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis, Missouri, urge employers to maintain strong mission and values statements and policies supporting an inclusive and diverse environment.

“To the extent possible, mission and values statements should be woven into initial job postings and emphasis should be placed on those values during the interview process,” the two said in an e-mail response to questions about employer hiring processes.

Brenner and Shafaie also advise employers to be open to learning about problems in the workplace. “As an employer, if you do not know a problem exists, you cannot fix it,” they say. “Listen and learn from your employees by creating a culture where they feel comfortable reporting concerns. Start with the basics, like ensuring you have strong policies that encourage reporting and prohibit retaliation for those who raise good-faith concerns.”….

Source: HR Daily Advisor

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