DEI programs continue to fail Black employees and efforts to combat racism in the workplace. According to Indeed, in 2022, an alarming number of DEI roles were dissolved during the mass layoffs. This trend is expected to continue as the economy increases its momentum toward more layoffs in 2023. Efforts by companies that have maintained DEI programs usually fall short to combat systemic issues nor create real moves towards inclusivity specifically for Black employees.
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, demand for DEI roles exploded. I would know because I was one of the many DEI professionals hired that year to fix companies’ very deep, systemic issues. Since then the DEI industry has been growing and evolving, but companies still seem to lack an understanding of its role and importance. Instead of nurturing DEI within their organizations, companies have turned diversity, equity, and inclusion into an expendable business checkmark. Existing DEI roles have been weakened to the point that they’ve become powerless and ineffective.
The truth is that Black employees know when their company lacks sincerity and true commitment to DEI work. As a Black DEI professional, I work every day with clients trying to implement DEI initiatives and I have learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the takeaways I want every CEO to know:
Learn About Anti-Blackness To Inspire Compassion-Fueled Change
Anti-Blackness is all the ways and forms of discrimination and oppression that seek to specifically denigrate anyone of the Black and/or African diaspora. This discrimination happens on macro and micro levels, in everyday occurrences, and especially in the overall pathology of modern US society. Therefore, addressing anti-Blackness in the workplace is essential for a culture-wide shift.
The first type of anti-Blackness work I do explores the ways in which we acknowledge anti-Blackness within ourselves and in our communities. This means taking a close look at the standards we set for ourselves and Black bodies. The next step is to tackle microaggressions and unconscious bias specifically for Black people. Oftentimes DEI professionals will skip the first step and go straight to teaching employees about how to not microaggress, but this cannot be done without understanding where anti-Blackness lives in ourselves and the workplace. The goal of these workshops should be to grow a spirit of benevolence for Black people with compassion-fueled change for Black folx at the core.
Stop Placing DEI Within Human Resources Departments
Placing DEI within HR departments is a clear indication that the company views it as a way to mitigate liability for the company rather than as a tool to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace. The benefits that come from DEI as its own entity, with a working budget and decision-making power to change workplace culture, will equally benefit the company when its workforce is made up of individuals with high job satisfaction and a pool of diverse skills and knowledge.
Companies That Deprioritize DEI Will Continue to Waste Money On Reactivity
The issues Black people face were not resolved after media attention around the #BlackLivesMatter movement slowed down. Black people continue to face employment barriers, lower wages, and toxic work environments. Companies that choose to stay in a place of reactivity to society’s call for a racial reckoning will not only be a part of the problem that continues to harm Black bodies but will also waste time and resources on quick solutions.
DEI Workshops Do Not Create Cultural Shifts
Hiring DEI practitioners to do stand-alone workshops is like treating lung disease with a cough drop. It might help one of the symptoms but it doesn’t address the issue. Workshops around racism, unconscious bias, and microaggressions are meant to teach people how to behave. While these are effective tools that stop harmful behaviors, they do not identify or address the root of workplace issues.
Creating a workplace that is inclusive and equitable to Black employees requires a deep understanding of where the issues exist, how they’re being perpetuated, and who is being affected. Effective DEI initiatives assess the company’s policies and practices and develop a long-term plan that changes and affects every aspect of the workplace.
The Pain Caused by the Murder of George Floyd Still Hurts
May 25, 2023 will mark the three-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing. The events that took place afterward inspired hope in Black employees, especially as companies throughout the country made commitments to combat workplace racism and discrimination for the first time ever. Sadly, many companies have not followed through on their promises and which has left many Black people demoralized and distrustful of their employers and future DEI efforts. The work to turn this around is not impossible but will be difficult without a true commitment to change and a robust, well-funded DEI strategy.
These are only a few of the lessons I have learned in my time as a DEI professional, yet there are many takeaways CEOs can use to better understand the experiences and issues Black people experience in the workplace. Unfortunately, the current trends suggest that companies will continue to deprioritize DEI roles and initiatives resulting in lower morale and greater distrust between employers and Black employees. The irony is that because robust DEI efforts lead to more diverse hires and greater retention, companies will continue to inadvertently cause a decline in business performance as they decrease their investment in the well-being of their Black employees.