8 min read

Anti-Racism in the Workplace: Start a Conversation

By Kathy Irish on Feb 25, 2021 2:00:00 PM

Topics: Compliance
Anti-Racism in the Workplace: Start a Conversation - ej4 Blog

As someone who is actively trying to understand my privilege, while learning how to address anti-racism in the workplace, I am on my own journey along the anti-racism continuum. I know that we are all unique human beings. Our life experiences shape our values and perspectives.  We’ve all struggled to overcome challenges in life. We’ve experienced heartbreak and joy, success and failure, happiness and despair. But not everyone has experienced racism.  

To start a conversation about race, the collective “we” need to open our hearts and minds. We need to truly listen to truly hear. We need to have the courage to understand privilege and explore how to use that privilege to lift others up.

I can’t understand hatred and racism on a global scale. It’s terrifying and gives me nightmares. Sadly, racism and racial inequality are part of our daily lives. Systemic racism is real. I want to be part of the solution. I know I can at least make an impact on the people in my life and in my company. In my role with ej4, I am responsible for both HR and our training content creation. And I am hopeful that our anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion training can make a difference. 

I am not so naive that I believe our content is far-reaching enough to solve the issue of racism in our country. But I do believe our training can help you take the first step and start a conversation. I think about the butterfly effect, where a small change in one state, or let’s say a small change in one person, can cause a large difference in a later state or group of people.

But first, you need to understand your starting point.


Review Your Company’s Core Values

It’s going to be challenging to create an inclusive culture if your company’s core values aren’t aligned with this goal. This may require a conversation with senior management about their goals for the kind of company they are trying to create and lead. Is it a priority to promote anti-racism in the workplace?

At ej4, we use THE FORCE to illustrate our core values:

  • Trust one another: How can you trust one another if people don’t feel safe from racism in the workplace? All employees need to trust that their voice will be heard, that their ideas are valuable, and that they will not be overlooked for a promotion.
    • Honest communication: How can we engage in honest communication if the culture is not inclusive? We want employees to feel empowered to speak up if they observe someone being treated unfairly. To raise issues if they see biases in decision-making and company policy. To share personal stories of how they are being affected by current events.
    • Excellence in everything we do: How can I expect my Black employees to be excellent if they don’t feel safe to take risks or challenge the status quo?
    • Full debate, set aside, support: How can I expect full debate if people do not feel seen or valued?
  • Outstanding customer satisfaction: We can’t achieve client satisfaction unless we are operating as a team and every employee is in a position to thrive. We need to listen to the experiences of all employees and put under-represented groups in a position to succeed.
  • Respect for the individual: Our intention of respecting the individual is to create a positive and respectful work environment for ALL individuals. This applies to all persons regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, and background. 
  • Enjoy what we do and have fun: We can’t expect employees to participate in team-building events, fundraising activities, or daily Slack banter if they don’t feel safe coming to work, or if they feel the need to minimize parts of themselves at work. I have been inspired by ej4’s employees sharing Black History Month stories, books, movies, and quotes via an all-company Slack channel.


Consider Your Organization’s Culture

Take some time to assess your corporate culture. Is it aligned with your values? Does your workplace exude the energy and offer the atmosphere you desire? And simply, is it a positive place to work...for everyone? 

  • Recruiting and onboarding process. Are you able to attract and recruit diverse talent? Is your culture appealing to them? Is your onboarding process engaging and effective?
  • Impact of leaders. Are your leaders leading? Are they exhibiting the behaviors you expect from everyone?
  • Team interactions. Do employees successfully collaborate on projects? Do they eat alone at lunch or do they sit with groups of employees from multiple teams?
  • Employee engagement. Do employees refer candidates for open positions? Do they participate in your incentive and recognition programs? Do they engage with your training programs?
  • Productivity. Are employees meeting goals and deadlines? Are they being creative, solving problems, and offering new ideas?


Start With Personal Introspection and Education

If you are reading this article because you want to start the conversation in your own workplace, I would recommend taking the time to start with yourself. Have the courage to honestly consider your own background and privilege. How might you have benefitted from your skin color throughout your life, education, and career? There are many anti-racism resources on this topic that you will find helpful.  

After you look inside, continue your journey, and educate yourself to have this conversation. I would start with the anti-racism continuum. Do you really understand unconscious bias, tokenism, and privilege?

Are you the right person to start the conversation about promoting anti-racism in your company? If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, it doesn’t mean you should stifle it. And regardless of who starts it, the conversation must be led with empathy and understanding. Should you consider bringing in a diversity and inclusion consultant or ask your own employees to participate?


Offer Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion Training Resources

“It is important for managers to empower employees and provide them with resources for having productive conversations about race,” writes Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary

It is our hope that our new content will help our clients start having these conversations with their own employees. You can preview a few of these diversity and inclusion training videos or sign up for a free trial to see all of them. 

Unconscious Bias. Becoming aware of our biases and learning to outgrow them is one of the best ways to help foster a healthier work culture. Unconscious bias has a big role to play in how we perceive other people. I truly believe that when employees watch our course, they will begin to understand their own biases, and then begin to open their minds and hearts to change. You can watch the first course in our series on unconscious bias on YouTube. Feel free to share this with your employees, as well. 

The Anti-Racism Continuum. Keep in mind people are in different phases of learning, relearning, and unlearning what they know and understand about racism, privilege, and inequality. 

There’s a graphic designed by Dr. Andrew M. Ibrahim that’s been circulating the internet recently, and it looks at a person’s journey toward becoming anti-racist. According to Dr. Ibrahim, everyone falls somewhere on the anti-racism continuum. In this course, we’ll go over the three phases in his graphic: the Fear Zone, the Learning Zone, and the Growth Zone-and apply those areas to the workplace. We’ll discuss how to push your organization and yourself toward the Growth Zone and go over some pitfalls to avoid along the way. You can view our course on the Anti-Racism Continuum on YouTube and share it with your team. 

Calling Out and Calling In: We offer two different ways to use your voice to correct behavior. Calling out is more appropriate in the moment, when you witness someone harming someone else’s well-being. The whole point of calling in is to have a conversation rather than reprimand. Calling in creates a space that encourages reflection, self-evaluation, and growth. Something we all need to be open to when trying to encourage anti-racism. 

Learning to Listen and Listening to Learn. We hear people of color talk about issues like pay inequality, home-buying inequality, racial profiling, etc., but we, as white people, tune it out because it’s not happening to us. This course explores how to listen to people of color when they tell us their history and experiences, and what we can learn. 

Colorblindness Does Not Work. Seeing people’s race is innate. To say that we “don’t see color” undermines society’s influence on us, which is an inconspicuous, endless force. Interestingly, most people promoting the notion of colorblindness are white. In this course, we’ll go over why colorblindness, though a beautiful dream, isn’t our reality. We’ll discuss alternatives to colorblindness. Specifically, we will look at how to get educated, things you can do to be anti-racist, and how to be “color kind,” not colorblind.


Offer Anti-Racism Training Customized for Leaders

It’s become clear to corporate leaders and business owners around the world that we need

to do more to fight racial inequality in the workplace. Many of our own clients have requested courses on these topics for all employees, as well as leaders.  

Our series on anti-racism for leaders includes:

  • Diversity-Focused Recruitment: This course discusses how to use more inclusive language in your job postings and how to cast a wider net in your recruitment efforts. Go beyond LinkedIn and post your jobs on sites like Diversity.com. 
  • Mitigating Bias: This goes beyond understanding your unconscious bias, and on to taking action to mitigate the bias in your business practices. You can view the course on mitigating bias on YouTube and share it with your team.
  • Creating and Implementing Policy: We discuss how to assess your company’s current values and integrate anti-discrimination and anti-racism policies into your culture. This includes recruitment, training, promotions, incentives, and more. 
  • Allyship: Before you can be an ally, you need to do the work of acknowledging the privilege you’ve been afforded. This course also explores the authentic “why” behind your motivation on becoming an ally, and how you can apply the LEAP framework to your allyship (Listen, Engage, Ask, Provide).
  • And more...

I am very proud of my team and their work on all of our diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism training videos. With each view, each person may begin to feel a small change in their own bias, and possibly feel moved to think and act differently. Think of each view as that flap of the butterfly’s wings. 


Additional Resources


Kathy Irish

Written by Kathy Irish

Kathy joined ej4 in 2007 as our first Instructional Designer. She has over 15 years’ experience in Human Resource Management, Training and Organizational Development. In addition to managing and planning ej4’s yearly new content development, Kathy also oversees all the production on updates (both legal and style-wise) to current off-the-shelf content.

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