Table of Contents
- Challenging Racial Discrimination at Work
- 1. Let Go of Perfectionism
- 2. Measure Outcomes and Collect Data
- 3. Equip Leaders and Staff with EDI Resources
- 4. Learn to Recognize and Challenge Patterns of Bias
- 5. Be Curious About Urgency
- 6. Sweat the Small Stuff
- 7. Build Trust
- 8. Prepare for Your Organization’s Status Quo to Change
- 9. Advocate for Change
- Now What?
Challenging Racial Discrimination at Work
Racial discrimination is the act of treating someone differently because of their racial identity.
At work, this might look like a pattern of unequal pay or rate of promotion between white and racialized staff. Or it might be more subtle, like a manager assuming an employee is less competent because of their accent. Whether you’re working to develop an organizational equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy or you want to be part of creating a workplace where everyone matters and belongs, here are 9 things you can do to challenge racial discrimination in your organization.
1. Let Go of Perfectionism
Letting go of perfectionism is also about letting go of shame. Perfectionism tells us that “if you make a mistake, you are a mistake,” and eventually we forget that making mistakes is a natural part of learning and growth — even with topics as highly charged as discrimination.
A fear of getting things wrong can stop equity, diversity and inclusion work before it even beings. We need to remember that learning is a process, so it’s important to manage your expectations and commit to playing the long-game.
Don’t be ashamed to say “I don’t know,” or to acknowledge mistakes as they happen. Perfectionism has never been the goal of EDI work. Instead, the goal is to create environments where people feel more valued, more welcomed, more comfortable and more safe. And when you let go of perfectionism you give yourself—and your team—permission to show up as themselves.
2. Measure Outcomes and Collect Data
What kind of change is your organization looking for? In order to reach success you’ll need to clearly define what success looks like and collect data to track your progress.
When you first collect EDI data, it will help you identify areas where your organization can improve. And over time, data becomes a useful tool to check organizational progress and understand how your EDI efforts are impacting your organization.
Need to collect some data? At Anima, we offer EDI surveys, measurement tools and social inclusion audits that can help your organization get the data you need to get clear on EDI goals.
3. Equip Leaders and Staff with EDI Resources
Seeking outside support from an EDI consulting firm can offer valuable expertise when it comes to challenge racial discrimination in your office. EDI courses and coaching can teach you and your team valuable skills about managing diverse staff, dealing with conflict and navigating identity issues.
By partnering with external EDI experts, you’ll ensure that your staff have the right information and applied skills they’ll need to move through equity issues with responsibility, care and compassion.
4. Learn to Recognize and Challenge Patterns of Bias
A valuable skill in EDI work is learning how to recognize and challenge patterns of discrimination in the office. Sometimes discrimination is obvious, like when a manager uses a clearly offensive term. And sometimes discrimination is less obvious, like a pattern of racialized colleagues being interrupted in meetings.
Developing equity literacy means having the awareness to notice when a pattern of discriminatory behaviour becomes an unseen norm within the company. This means being aware of identity bias in formal (i.e. hiring, promotion, performance reviews) and informal (i.e. meetings, social events, inter-office communication) practices.
This also means letting staff know that they’ll be rewarded—rather than punished—for speaking up when they notice these patterns. This can help all members of your team better advocate for internal change!
5. Be Curious About Urgency
Racism and other forms of systemic discrimination are urgent issues. But when we try to solve any problem from a place of urgency, we tend to be less effective in our work.
Urgency asks us to rush into action without fully understanding the problem. Instead, we invite you to get curious about urgency: are you more focused on doing something, or doing the right thing?
Moving with awareness and deliberation instead of urgency allows you to be more effective, by making space for EDI work that’s focused less on a quick fix and more on lasting change.
6. Sweat the Small Stuff
Micro-inequities (sometimes called micro-aggressions) are subtle acts of exclusion directed at members of marginalized groups. Some examples of workplace micro-inequities include mispronouncing a colleague’s name, commenting on cultural clothing or hair, or making someone’s identity the punchline of a joke.
While these acts can seem “small” in isolation, their cumulative impact on is large and can lead to chronic feelings of demoralization and exclusion for those on the receiving end.
Sweating the “small” stuff is an easy way to have a big impact on your workplace culture. Practice pronouncing people’s names and normalize correct others if they get it wrong. Comment on people’s positive performance instead of their appearance. Share examples and anecdotes that make everyone feel included. These micro-affirmations, while equally “small” in isolation, have a big impact on creating a more inclusive workplace over time.
7. Build Trust
Your own organizational culture is one of the biggest factors that will determine the success of your EDI efforts. It’s important to create an environment where everyone feels they can share openly and honestly, because they trust that feedback is not only respected—but valued.
Employees won’t be honest about their experiences with discrimination if they feel they won’t be heard or believed—or worse, that they will face retaliation. And staff may not speak up at all if they doubt they’ll see meaningful change.
Even the most equitable policies can’t replace the practice of building relationships, managing emotions and nurturing an environment of psychological safety.
8. Prepare for Your Organization’s Status Quo to Change
When you really commit to EDI work and begin taking meaningful steps towards challenging discrimination, you’ll begin to see change in your organization’s status quo.
We know that change is uncomfortable, especially when it may lead to people questioning company norms and suggesting new policies and practices that challenge tradition. Give yourself permission to feel uncertain, but don’t let discomfort and defensiveness get in the way of your organization’s progress. Remember that things need to be unsettled to make room for change.
This is why it’s so important to do the emotional work of building trust, safety and awareness into your company culture. Developing these core personal and inter-personal foundations will make sure you’re prepared to guide your team through the process of change, even if things get rocky.
9. Advocate for Change
As your organization becomes a more equitable place to work, you may find yourself advocating for change beyond just your workplace. By sharing your company’s experiences with others in your sector and modelling new ways of doing business, you can position your organization as a sector leader and begin to create a ripple effect of change in your industry.
With new strategies for challenging racial discrimination in your organization, you’re ready to take action. Remember that creating a more equitable workplace is an ongoing and collective process and we all need to do our part.
Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.
Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.