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10 actions you can take to promote racial justice in the workplace

As our top story of the day explains, understanding whiteness is the first thing white people must do to end racial discrimination. The next order of business is for white people to be vanguards of equality and racial justice in all areas of society—whether it be at home or at work.

But how exactly does one promote racial justice? This is a question that Dana Brownlee, a black author and keynote speaker, has received from white friends. She writes: “Were I a white person I doubt I would know how to respond or what to do so I offer this list of 10 actions white people can take in their workplace in particular to promote racial justice.” You can find summaries of her list of 10 actions below.

Get to know more people of color: Fear is often the root of bigotry and one of the best antidotes for erasing fear is knowledge and familiarity. How can you intentionally get to know more people of color? If you carpool, look for someone of color to share the ride. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn and how you can bond during a commute to work. If your workplace has communal seating, periodically join a group of strangers for lunch – first listen, then share.

Call a friend of color this week to discuss the current state of affairs: If it takes you more than 15 seconds to think of someone to call, see tip #1. Many would argue that ultimately this issue won’t just be resolved through laws and policies (while those are admittedly critical), but also at the human to human connection level.

Join a diversity committee. If there isn’t one, start one: It doesn’t take much effort to join a diversity committee at your workplace, but it does send a signal to those around you that you have some level of empathy and interest. Plus, it provides a great opportunity to meet a diverse group of people.

Talk to your kids about race: Too many white (and black) kids grow up in their own little bubble with little understanding of the complexities of the outside world. It’s critically important that kids begin to learn about issues of race and equity early (in an age-appropriate manner) so they can begin to develop their own awareness of injustice.

Mentor a person of color: Find a young person of color in your organization who is doing great things and take them under your wing. Even better – encourage your peers in senior ranks to do the same. We all know the critical importance of access to power. Break that vicious cycle by providing that valuable access to some who may never otherwise have it.

Encourage objective selection processes: Often when selection processes or other decisions are made without clear cut objective criteria, people of color end up getting the short end of the stick. Reduce unconscious bias by insisting on blind review processes and clearly defined objective criteria that are confirmed before the options are presented.

Don’t work for companies that aren’t diverse: It’s 2020. Barring a few extreme anomalies, there’s simply no reason for companies of any significant size to not be diverse. And if your company isn’t diverse now, help make it so.

Insist on diversity on leadership teams: Similarly, in 2020 there’s no real excuse for leadership teams with little-to-no diversity. Make it happen!

Challenge your own stereotypes: Challenge yourself to identify your own deeply embedded stereotypes or bigoted thoughts. Did your parents make disparaging remarks about people of color while you were growing up which may have caused you to think of black people as lazy or not as smart? If you haven’t had direct experiences in college or graduate school (for example) to challenge that thinking, you may subtly maintain those stereotypes. 

Speak up publicly: Microaggressions and inequities are pervasive in the workplace, and it’s so important for white people to speak up when they happen. The simple truth is that most corporations do have a bit of a corporate caste system, and when those in positions of power stay silent, little changes. So when you see something, say something.

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