The book addresses leaders and those in positions of authority in organizations. This raises the question of what can whites, who are not in those positions, do to foster racial equity in their workplace. There definitely are things that white employees can do. While they lack the leverage that leaders and managers have, they can still impact what occurs, if they understand where the points of leverage are.
First Step: Identify what is keeping people of color from advancing at a rate equal to that of whites
There are several dynamics that may be driving the pattern where whites advance at a faster rate than co-workers of color.
People of color may be hired only for the jobs that have little or no career ladder. While some whites will also be in those jobs, many more whites will be hired into the jobs that do have viable career ladders.
Whites may consistently get higher job-performance ratings than people of color. This is more likely to occur if those doing the performance evaluation are all white.
Whites may get more opportunities to demonstrate initiative than their co-workers of color. These consist of assignments to highly visible projects or projects which allow the worker to develop additional skill sets. Here again, it is important to identify the race of the person making those job assignments.
Whites may receive mentoring from higher-level managers more frequently than people of color.
In meetings, the ideas and suggestions of whites receive support and acknowledgement, but that does not happen, or happens much less frequently, to people of color.
White workers have wider networks across the organization than do people of color.
Whites who fail to perform at the expected level are given a “pass” while people of color who fail to perform do not get a pass.
You can determine if these dynamics are at play simply by skillful and consistent Tracking.™
As you go about your daily work, notice what occurs in meetings.
• Are the statements of colleagues of color ignored (there is no response that acknowledges or builds on what the person of color said), or are they responded to in a manner that is less positive or appreciative than the way whites respond to statements made by other whites?
• Do whites give any credit to ideas or suggestions made by colleagues of color?
• Is there any difference in the level of eye contact that white make with co-workers of color than with white colleagues?
These observations can give you a calibration of the degree to which white co-workers include and value the contributions of their co-workers of color in meetings. If the statements of people of color are treated negatively or are ignored, and those of whites are not, you will have some indication of how likely it is for people of color to get any recognition for their contributions. This, in turn, influences how their performance will be evaluated as opposed to whites.
You can also observe interactions that give an indication of how wide are the networks that workers of color have.
• What kind of socialization takes place among the races? How often do whites pair off with a co-worker of color on free time or coffee breaks?
• How often do whites socialize with colleagues of color outside of work? One index of this can be the statements that co-workers make about what they did on their weekends and holidays. Those statements can reveal the degree of cross-race interaction that the whites engaged in. The locations and groupings mentioned in those stories can often give an indication of whether the events took place in cross-race situations. Stories about houses of worship can also lead to conclusions based on how integrated those houses of worship are.
Another important observation is the way that supervisors or managers act with workers of color versus white workers.
• To what extent is there any pattern where supervisors and manager act more formal or more casual with workers based on their race? If supervisors and managers act more casually with whites than they do with people of color, that is likely a reflection of a degree of ease they feel with whites. If they act more formally with people of color, you can assume that the people of color are very aware of that. They know that they will receive little mentoring if supervisors or managers are distant and formal in their interactions with workers of color.
• Notice if there is any difference in the level of eye contact that supervisors and managers give to workers of color versus white workers. People of color, especially African Americans, are very observant of whether and how whites look them directly in the eyes. In addition, to what extent do supervisors and managers say hello or nod to white workers they pass in the hallway but walk by workers of color in the hallway without saying hello?
• Notice to what extent there is any racial pattern in terms of whom the supervisor gives the desirable or skill-enhancing job assignments.
• Notice if supervisors or managers mention their involvement in social groups or houses of worship. You can readily research how integrated those organizations are. Supervisors and managers who socialize in majority-white or white-only organizations are much less likely to mentor or develop workers of color. If they are formal and distant with workers of color, they will not get to know them very well. This also has the effect of limiting the amount of trust that will develop between the white manager and the person of color. When there is insufficient trust between the two, they will certainly never discuss race, which is an important conversation that must occur in any cross-race mentoring arrangement.
One last dynamic needs to be assessed. This is the level of distance between whites and their co-workers of color. In order to do their job well, all people need information from their co-workers. They need information about how to handle their boss, they need to know about rumors that might mean change are coming that will impact their work. Before someone can make a lateral move to another unit or even move up to a higher position, it is essential to know about who is the supervisor or manager. The best source of that information is other workers, especially those who have been there many years. If white co-workers are wary of talking with co-workers of color (stemming from a fear that they might say something and get labeled as racist, or because they are not wanting to be around them) these important sources of information are denied the people of color. Their work is more likely to suffer from this lack of information, and they will subsequently be rated lower in their performance.
As a white person, you will, from time to time, be in all-white groups with your co-workers. This is an especially fruitful source of information about the degree to which white remain distant from co-workers of color. These are the settings where whites are most likely to use code words for discussing racial perspectives. Words like “crime” and “inner city” are code for white attitudes toward people of color. There are also less directly negative behavior to watch for.
Sometimes in white-only groups, white talk without ever acknowledging either the reality of race or without ever referencing any people of color. This reflects a mindset of living in a white-centered world and it ignores the fact there are any people of color in our lives. Whites who do this tend to be very mono-cultural, not only in their world view, but also in their skill sets. Because they stay in the white cultural environment (which is not hard to do outside the workplace) they fail to learn skills needed to operate across culture. In their views of others, they default to white cultural norms and they judge others by those norms. This, along with an either-or mindset makes them ineffective in cross-race interactions.
The extent to which your white co-workers operate from this mono-cultural stance will have a dampening effect on the career opportunity of any co-workers of color. It is important to asses this dynamic because it give an index of how un-welcoming towards people of color the climate is in your organization.
Taken together, these observations will give you an assessment of how your organization includes, values and rewards people of color in the organization. Take your time to do this assessment. It provides the baseline from which you will operate once you complete it. I discuss how you can use this information in subsequent blog articles. Be aware that conducting such an assessment is like taking the red pill in the movie The Matrix. You will see things at a level of magnification that you have not previously seen. This is likely to cause a degree of discomfort. Depending on how not-inclusive your organization is, you may feel distraught to see inequality at work. This is also something I will discuss in the next blog article.