If you commit your organization to achieving racial equity, you will certainly encounter resistance to this goal from certain whites. Some adhere to the notion that the workplace is a strict meritocracy, and any focus on racial equity is simply a form of preferential treatment for undeserving BIPOC. Some will want to keep the number of BIPOC low in the organization, because they prefer a workplace that is populated with people like them, whites. Some will feel that this is a mis-use of the organization, that a focus on racial equity is it is a form of social engineering that does not belong in the workplace. Some will resist because they are convinced that any focus on racial equity will reduce their career opportunities. Some will just resist because they don’t like any form of change, much less one that is likely to involve looking at issues of race.
I think is it important for leaders to anticipate this resistance and prepare how they will handle it. I find it helpful to look at resistance in terms of the beliefs that drive it. A belief in the God-given right of whites to be dominant is one form of belief. Changing this kind of belief is extremely difficult. A different belief is the belief that whites will be able to successfully resist any changes put in place by their leaders. A similar belief is that the leaders will tire of this work over time and will eventually give up. Another related belief is the conviction or expectation that leaders lack the skill to successfully implement this kind of change.
With the exception of the first belief, all the others are views that can be altered by leaders, based on what they do. These beliefs can be changed if things occur that do not correspond to what the believers expect will occur. This dynamic provides leaders with a number of tactics they can use to demonstrate that things are progressing in a way that increasingly does not conform to the hopes and beliefs these whites have. This option provides leader with a way forward.
The first step is to lay the groundwork by adopting a racial equity vision. The racial equity vision statement should specify what the organization will look like when racial equity is attained. It explicitly defines what success will entail, in measurable terms. Here are hypothetical examples:
The upper management ranks of Barstow Investment will be racially proportional to the racial composition of the workforce.
Employee surveys at Bear Valley Health Care will show no significant statistical differences among the racial groups in the way they experience inclusion and opportunity at BVHC.
Publishing such a statement informs everyone in the organization that the leadership is committing itself to making changes in how the organization functions. It notifies all employees that the leadership is putting its credibility behind such a commitment. The second step is to gather, and then share data which documents where the organization is currently in relation to that vision. This typically takes the form of data comparing BIPOC and white employees on multiple dimensions: hiring, promotion rates, average performance ratings, salaries, years of tenure, and terminations. This data creates a clear picture of how far the organization has to go in order to create racial equity. It also provides a baseline against which progress will be measured. While this may not, by itself, change any beliefs of those who are resisting the direction in which the leaders have chosen, it does provide a clear way to demonstrate how quickly and how extensively further progress is occurring.
A different tactic is for leaders to model new forms of behavior – behaviors that support ways of including the viewpoints of all races. These include such things as:
Running meetings in ways that take pains to seek out the concerns and viewpoints of all racial groups
Examining how any potential change might impact all racial groups
Associating visibly with BIPOC employees (in the dining room, in celebrations and other social events that occur in the organization)
Mentoring BIPOC employees
Holding Innovation Conferences where people discuss how they have attempted to operate in more inclusive ways, how well those efforts succeeded, and what they learned from those attempts
Tracking race in all meetings (i.e., noticing and sharing what is noticed in terms of who is present, how much ‘air time’ each racial group has in a discussion, whose ideas get supported and whose ignored, etc.)
A fourth step is to require new behavior of all managers. The new behaviors include regular reports on the racial status of each racial group in every department in terms of: hiring, promotion rates, average performance ratings, years of tenure, and terminations. In addition, each manager will be expected to demonstrate forward movement toward the racial equity vision as a departmental goal. As a major reinforcement of this requirement, bonuses and promotions will be withheld from managers who do not meet this new performance requirement. Another new behavior that all managers must meet is to produce succession plans that are racially diverse. In other words, those identified as potential successors must be a pool that is racially diverse.
The fifth step is to conduct a review of all management policies and practices that guide recruiting, hiring, developing, evaluating performance, promoting, onboarding, and terminating. The analysis will identify key points in each process where bias might occur. Managers will then monitor these key points and take remedial action if they notice a skew in the data.
Taken together, these steps comprise a new way of running an organization. Instead of ignoring race, management will now make race a key indicator that it manages, on a par with expenses, service goals, and other performance indicators. As the organization changes how it conducts business, the feel of the workplace changes. Those employees who resist the change will see more and more changes occurring. These changes will have an immediate impact on their work experience. They will be exposed to new language, new behaviors, and new procedures. They will observe how the organization trains new hires to support the racial equity vision. They will also realize that advancement will be contingent on supporting racial equity.
Taken together, these developments will make it very hard for those resisting the racial equity vision to hold onto their beliefs that the organization will not achieve that vision. At this point, these employees have to make some decisions about how much they will act in support of the racial equity vision. This may range from a low point of no longer overtly speaking against it to demonstrating behaviors that are more inclusive. If the change is just too much a violation of their core values, these employees will leave the organization.
The advantage of this approach to handling resistance is that it does not expend energy and time entreating people to change their beliefs or values. Entreaties to change are a low-leverage tactic. The power rests with the person who is being asked to change. By contrast, the approach I have outlined, focuses on making changes that are within the power of managers to make. Moreover, the efforts of managers have a cumulative effect as more and more changes are put in place. Over time, these have the effect of creating a different workplace for all, but especially for those who do not want to support racial equity. Once their reality changes sufficiently, they will have to adapt or leave. Lastly, this approach has the advantage of allocating the time and efforts of leader to directly improving the work conditions for BIPOC employees rather than allocating time to those who are resistant to these goals.