black coworker shakes white coworker's hand in the office

Tips on Promoting Anti-Racism at Work

When it comes to treatment, hiring, promoting, raises, and flexibility in the workplace, marginalized and minority groups often experience racial discrimination in varying forms. From unconscious bias to deliberate racial discrimination, there are plenty of examples right in front of us that requires our attention and action as allies.

Our workforce, specifically leadership and executive management, has an obligation to recognize and respond to racial discrimination in the office and monitor progress to ensure an upward trajectory is maintained.

Read more: The Importance of Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace

Problem awareness

Racism and discrimination are not new concepts for the workplace, but only recently are we paying more attention to these issues. Around the world, people are calling for systemic change and diversity, equity, and inclusion for racialized individuals. Despite having strong human rights laws in Canada, we are not immune to these issues.

Dismantling systemic racism in the workplace starts with gaining perspective and knowledge of the current realities of these problems. It’s one thing to know what racism and discrimination are, but it’s very different to understand what they actually mean in the context of the workplace.

Federal and provincial legislature

Canadian Policies/Regulations:

Ontario Policies:

Examples of racial discrimination at work

Racial discrimination can be found at a structural level, despite not deliberately or consciously intended to be discriminatory. It can be present in the hiring process, promotion structures, office space management, mentor programs, and training and professional development programs.

Racial discrimination in the workplace ranges from overt racial jokes, slurs, and hate speech to the less obvious found in subtle manifestations. These include:

  • Avoiding hiring, training, mentoring or promoting a racialized person
  • Excessively monitoring the performance and attendance of a racialized person
  • Laying blame on a racialized person for common errors
  • Treating common workplace conflicts more seriously if they involve a racialized person
  • Microaggressions in the form of subtle derogatory comments about a racialized person

“Unintentional” racism

Unintentional racism may be intended to be a supportive comment or a sentiment of solidarity when in fact, these statements come across as incredibly ignorant and offensive.

“All lives matter” – In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, some people have quickly gone to retort the sentiments with “all lives matter.” While every life matters and is entitled to basic human rights, replying to Black Lives Matter with “all lives matter” is offensive because it demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to recognize the realities of what a Black person is going through and what it means to be a Black person in this society. It’s not all lives that are facing these challenges and being disregarded or even targeted – it’s Black lives.

If hearing “Black Lives Matters” offends you, consider why. Does it feel unsettling to expressly acknowledge Black lives and their struggles? Is it because shifting from your realities and perspective challenges you to view your privilege?

“I don’t see colour”/” I’m colour blind” – As patronizing a statement as ever, this does nothing to support an individual’s attempt to be non-racist and non-discriminatory. To not see colour means to not see the person in front of you, their heritage, their challenges, their realities, their community, or who they are as a human being. Colour shouldn’t be ignored.

“Racism doesn’t exist in Canada” – Racism exists in Canada. This is not a debate or subjective question. Simply by debating its existence – whether you honestly believe it or not – you are invalidating a human life’s experience with racism. Consider this: just because you have not witnessed or experienced racism against you or people like you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, it is indicative of your own privilege.

“You speak so well” – Despite being positioned as a compliment, this statement communicated to a Black person – or any visual minority – is fundamentally racist. It essentially means it is surprising that this person is eloquent, articulate, and has a solid grasp of the English language. The real question is, why would it surprise anyone when a person who is not white can speak articulately or demonstrate intelligence?

These statements, while they may have the right intentions, demonstrate a lack of awareness and education. It’s important to educate yourself*. You won’t learn everything right away, but you’ll be on the right track to understanding Black culture, history, and the Black experience.

*Disclaimer – Don’t rely on Black lives to educate you on their struggle, systemic racism, or how to be an ally for anti-racism. Conduct your own research – there are plenty of resources out there to help support your journey towards awareness. If you happen to speak with a Black person who is open to educating, learn as much as you can from their story and gain their perspective to reflect upon.

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Responding to racial discrimination in the workplace as an ally

Update values and policies to include anti-racism

Your organization’s core values are what determine how strong and healthy your workplace culture is. Establishing and demonstrating these values helps to integrate them into policies, processes, and decisions. Start by getting rid of outdated, toxic policies, partnerships, behaviours, and client relationships that not only hurt your organization but that contradicts your core values. Once you have a clean slate, you can focus on creating a culture and environment where racism cannot and will not be supported or tolerated.

Diversity, equity, inclusion

Embracing diversity in all its forms means first understanding its current state in the workplace and the importance of diversity for organizations and society as a whole. Once ignorance is met with research, understanding, and the acknowledgement that there is room for significant improvement and what it means for people and businesses, it is easier to make real, lasting changes that will benefit employees, managers, executives, and the community.

Organizations who unlock the full potential of diversity, equity, and inclusion are positioned to experience a wave of improved organizational health, resilience, business performance, and satisfaction in knowing they are contributing to the revival and transformation of the modern workplace.

Read more: How to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

Training and education

Anti-racism training should be performed to help educate your organization, drive positive change, and support new policies on racism and discrimination in the workplace. It should never be done to simply check a box. Racism, whether it’s intentional or not, exists in people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours – all impacted by implicit bias. Only through discussion, training, and a change of processes and policies can an organization reduce bias and support a culture rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The below excerpt is taken directly from the Government of Canada: Building a Diverse and Inclusive Public Service: Final Report of the Joint Union/Management Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion

Education and awareness

Education and awareness involve allocating resources to develop and evolve an enterprise-wide approach to strengthen diversity and inclusion.

Among the key actions in this area, the Task Force recommends that:

  • a permanent governance structure with resources be established to develop a common approach and curriculum for diversity and inclusion training with enterprise-wide objectives and outcomes, including identifying:
    • opportunities to embed principles and practices for diversity and inclusion in various types of training
    • employee development opportunities (orientation and leadership development)
  • diversity and inclusion training be a mandatory part of the onboarding process for new employees
  • diversity and inclusion be a key part of the curricula for leadership development, focusing on areas such as:
    • intercultural awareness and effectiveness
    • respect and civility in the workplace
    • mitigating unconscious bias
    • understanding the benefits of greater diversity and inclusion in fostering a healthy, productive workforce and workplace

Creating safe space for challenging conversations

Employers, leaders, and HR professionals are responsible for not only encouraging conversations about anti-racism but also actively promoting a safe space for conducting these discussions. People in the workplace must feel safe and supported to speak up and share their concerns. When employees feel safe discussing racism, the impact of these conversations is more sustainable and positively impactful.

Furthermore, racialized groups view leaders who openly promote anti-racism and respond to racist incidents more positively – leading to stronger workplace relationships.

Read more: Promoting Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Tackle unconscious bias

Unconscious bias – also known as implicit bias – is the unfair judgement or prejudice against people, situations, or groups. The reason it’s called unconscious bias is that research suggests the brain automatically makes these unfounded judgements due to our experiences, environment, and background. These types of assumptions result in certain groups of people being penalized while others are rewarded. In other words, unconscious biases are found to be prevalent against minorities and marginalized groups based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, and sexual orientation.

A great way organizations can combat unconscious bias in their teams is to offer workshops, training, online courses, and access to webinars, seminars, and other resources. By learning about unconscious bias and understanding how to avoid it in the workplace and beyond, employees will be able to identify their own biases, address the challenges they pose and work toward eliminating negative judgements.

Promote diverse leadership

When you look at the leadership team and decision-makers in your organization, who do you see? Is there a diverse range of people? Is there significant representation?

Recent studies show that Black people only account for 3.2% of senior leadership roles in large corporations in America. Furthermore, a mere 0.8% of Fortune 500 positions are held by Black men – Black women account for 0%. It’s clear more effort needs to be made to create equitable opportunities.

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report shows that racialized women and men are less likely to be promoted compared to their white counterparts.

McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report shows that racialized women and men are less likely to be promoted compared to their white counterparts.

Source: McKinsey & Company

If organizations truly want to make an impact and improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, they must promote and hire people of colour for leadership roles.

Track progress, monitor turnover

Like many areas within an organization, racial equity can be tracked via data to help find solutions and make informed decisions. Capture data on who is hired, promoted, trained, “fast-tracked,” mentored, and terminated or leaves.

By collecting this data, you can capture trends, areas for improvement and make changes to positively impact hiring, promotion, and retention.

Continue the dialogue

When a protest is over, does the message fade away with it? Just because these issues might not always be front and center in our day-to-day does nolt mean racism and prejudice do not exist in our workplace. As a society, we are talking more and more about what it means to BIPOC, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be of the LGBTQ2+ community, what it means to be disabled in the modern world and the challenges and hurdles that are faced regularly. These issues that were once shut down and dismissed in the past are rightfully finding their place in mainstream among common conversations, including in the workplace.

Dialogue means change, and change means growth. The more we create a safe space to continue the conversation and open the floor to those who are oppressed, marginalized, and facing discrimination, the more we are empowered to break down unconscious biases, systemic issues, and ignorance.

The role of leaders and HR

Accountability lies among leadership and human resources. This involves ensuring leadership responsibilities and corporate values are clearly demonstrated and that adequate training and knowledge of government legislature on workplace racism and discrimination are carried out.

It’s also important to ensure the culture you’re leading is inclusive and supports modernized policies, practices, and other workplace norms. These standards must allow for diversification in leadership development and opportunities for diversification in decision-making and must also be communicated to all staff in a clear, concise way that leaves no room for interpretation.

Ultimately, it’s their responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to diversity while highlighting the value it brings to the company. They also need to focus on accountability and communicate the organization’s policy on racial discrimination and the consequences for violation. Regardless of an individual’s rank or title, racism and discrimination should never be overlooked, excused, or tolerated.

The Takeaway

Being an excellent leader and a respectable organization is synonymous with being proactive about addressing racism and discrimination in the workplace. Fostering a culture that prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion can be a nuanced challenge, but with the right attitude, resources, commitment, knowledge, and finally, practical action, you’ll find the benefits for doing so are far-reaching.

If your organization is experiencing roadblocks implementing these values and need professional investigation or mediation services to handle a conflict or prevent conflicts from occurring, consulting with a neutral third party will help to resolve distracting, challenging situations and empower all participants involved to settle on an agreeable solution that propels your organization forward.

At Global Mindful Solutions, we have established processes that aim to provide insightful, comprehensive solutions with a compassionate and unbiased approach. This allows everyone involved to focus on getting back to work and continue making a positive contribution to their organization while leading a fulfilling role in their careers.

Contact Global Mindful Solutions to get started with neutral, knowledgeable, and effective mediation, facilitation, and restoration services.


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