Black Lives Matter in the workplace: HR & recruiting

In the HR and recruiting spaces, diversity and inclusion (DI) continue to be recognized as a top strategy to build great companies. From extensive studies executed over decades, research shows that DI is not just a way to repent for centuries of disrespect—it is a strategy that delivers substantial performance advantages.

For instance, a McKinsey study noted significant correlations between diverse leadership teams and financial outperformance. Companies in the top quartile of ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed on profitability their peers 33% of the time. The opposite holds true for companies in the bottom quartile of diversity—they are 29% less likely to achieve above average profitability.

DI also leads to higher sales and customer satisfaction, while lowering absenteeism, turnover and safety incidents.

56 years after the Civil Rights Act, we are still failing the black community.

Despite the solid logic behind the business case for diversity, and 56 years since we paved the way to its possibility with the Civil Rights Act—progress remains stunted.

Blacks represent 13% of the population and 10% of our university graduates. They comprise 12% of the workforce. However, black professionals today hold just 3.2% of executive and senior management positions in corporate America and less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEO spots. Just four black CEOs lead Fortune 500 companies today—and none of them are women.

These statistics reveal that equality is still heavily encumbered.

Black Lives Matter protests in Atlanta
Source: Fox News coverage of protests in response to George Floyd's death by police brutality.

How to support the Black Lives Matter movement in the workplace today.

As recruiters and hiring managers, we are often the most educated on diversity issues and strategies in our organizations. Yet, despite hard work, the evidence suggests our tactics are failing—or at least being painfully slow to work.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today, it is time to stop the insanity, and start working to support the Black Lives Matter movement differently.

Step 1: Recognize your privilege.

While your personal interactions with people of different races may be entirely positive—and you may even claim to “not see color”—the true problem here is that white privilege is set into the seams of society.

Simply put, white privilege means white citizens inherently have greater access to power and resources than people of other races do. White privilege does not mean you believe you are better, or are actively cruel. It means the world is rigged in your favor—whether you asked for it or not.

This unequal access to power and resources means that the average white family possesses 10 times the median wealth of a black family, according to McKinsey & Co. In fact, that same study also found that a white person can expect to earn one million dollars more than a black person in their lifetime.

Blacks are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police. This means that black mothers must teach their children how to survive police, while white families are teaching their children to read.

Truly understanding the vastness of white privilege, you must get over being afraid of being called a racist. Lean in and learn how your responsibility for racism lies in letting white privilege persist. Stop being defensive of your (in)actions to date, and open your mind to explore new ways to help solve the problem. To break the pattern of insanity, we all need to start doing things different.

Opening your mind and heart is a critical first step to becoming an ally for Black Lives Matter.

Step 2: Start active conversations about race and bias.

Racism roots run deep to our past, where the upper class stepped on the backs of slaves to hold themselves up higher in society. Not all whites agreed it was humane, but they lacked power to fight the evils of the elite.

Today, we are in a similar place, but with far more support. Most Americans do not believe they are hurtful or discriminatory to others personally. But that class divide continues to persist because all Americans have let the democratic system we own continue the cycles of oppression.

These past few weeks of Black Lives Matter protests reminded us that the people do have power to change. And now is the time to lock onto this momentum and force change.

As a leader, don’t let your own fear and uncertainty hold you back from having these conversations. You can show leadership and allyship for Black Lives Matter by starting the conversation from a point of honesty. Simply recognizing that it is a problem is the first step to change.

Encourage conversations at your workplace, and listen. Discuss the Black Lives Matter protests. Help facilitate the understanding of white privilege really means across your organizations. Show how implicit bias and microaggressions contribute to exclusionary environments.

Remember, a lot of people who claim they are blind to race are just learning they have also been blind to racism. If we are ever to properly address this oppression, we need to all get on the same page.

Conversation and contact create better empathy and understanding—and may surface some ideas to help make your office a better place. Maybe, you'll even organize to make the world a better place.

Step 3: Address your organization’s systemic issues.

Proactively audit and transparently share a review of organizational policies, procedures, and practices. Take a broad look at how you do business to ensure fairness and equity. Create a list of questions, and get a diverse team to examine them.

Ask questions like:

  • Is there an explicit and objective criteria for employee promotion?
  • Are projects and assignments being allocated equitably?
  • Are all employees encouraged and given equal opportunities to contribute their ideas?
  • How is pay determined? Is it currently fair for all existing employees?
  • Does our hiring process allow qualified job candidates of different backgrounds to have an equal chance?

Discuss these findings in groups of varying sizes and use it to fabricate plans to help improve your organization’s efforts to combat racism and bias.

Remember, diverse teams help improve your business performance—so this effort pays dividends for years to come.

Step 4: Limit referral hiring.

Many companies employ a referral hiring system thinking it helps to fast track the recruitment process. However, the basic tenets of bias shows we are more likely to select others that think, act or look like us. So, your referrals will be flooded with candidates that look exactly like your team, ultimately crippling diversity efforts.

To avoid creating an echo-chamber environment where groupthink becomes the norm, make a concerted effort to limit referral hiring. This opens a wider funnel of talent and improve your chances at diversity equality.

To ensure that candidate funnel remains open to diversity, ask your recruiters to strip age, race and gender information from initial profiles for selection—including photos. This will help level the playing field for the first rounds.

Also, limit recruiting from your own team’s alma mater’s. Vary the schools you recruit at, and be sure to target minority lead schools. This will proactively feed your funnel with diversity.

In Atlanta, we have two of the top 10 historically black colleges and universities in the country. For Georgia companies, consider recruiting at Spelman College or Morehouse College to help raise up our own community.

Step 5:  Provide sponsorship opportunities.

Sponsorship can be instrumental to career growth and progression. Humans are encouraged when they see people like them—or people who just like them—achieve goals. Sponsorship crosses those lines of experience, race, gender and education to help cultivate success.

Kenneth Frazier, one of Fortune 500′s four black CEOs, stated in an interview that sponsorship is the reason he is CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck today.

Kenneth Frazier, CEO Merck

“I know for sure that what put my life on a different trajectory was that someone intervened to give me an opportunity, to close that opportunity gap. And that opportunity gap is still there.”

Kenneth Frazier

CEO, Merck

Sponsors use their influence and power to gain more challenging projects, promotions, pay rises and network connections for their proteges. 

The commitment sponsorship takes runs the gamut. Some treat it as apprenticeship, where the sponsor nurtures their protege as an apprentice and spend years mentoring, grooming, and advocating for their career progression. 

However, the definition of sponsorship can be smaller. Simply targeting and helping people step up their career ladder one rung at a time will also make a difference. 

Encourage leaders in your company to find the next leaders and create them among your ranks. This will help your organization’s productivity and create an environment where your employees and leaders will thrive.

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Melissa Davis

About Melissa Davis

Melissa founded Elev8 seven years ago. Before launching Elev8, Melissa recruited for local premier firms, receiving multiple accolades for her success. As a very ambitious entrepreneur, whose biggest strength is she is the ultimate people connector, she describes herself: “I love connecting the dots for people; thinking with more of an analytical and intuitive mindset."