I'm a lawyer who has investigated thousands of cases of workplace discrimination. Here's how to go beyond anti-racist rhetoric and actually create an equitable workplace.
- In the wake of George Floyd's death and the subsequent protests, companies have been issuing statements that show their intended commitment to diversity and inclusion.
- These statements alone aren't good enough, and will be seen as empty without any real action.
- Companies can implement real change by educating on unacceptable behavior, conducting effective investigations, and enforcing actual consequences for bad actors.
- Kia Roberts is the founder and principal of Triangle Investigations, a group of lawyers and expert investigators conducting misconduct investigations.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
In the past few weeks, several ex-CEOS have learned that if you don't address racial inequity within your company, Twitter will do it for you.
Amid a climate of righteous outrage over police brutality, Black employees are calling out companies that espouse public support for racial justice while failing to treat Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) within their organizations with fairness and respect.
I'm a Black woman, a lawyer, and the founder of a firm that investigates workplace misconduct. I've led thousands of audits and investigations into the incidents of harassment, discrimination, and bullying that plague inequitable workplaces. It's clear to me that while most companies offer vague commitments to "diversity and inclusion," very few have done the work necessary to create a just workplace for BIPOC.
Toothless diversity and inclusion statements won't cut it anymore. If you want your public statements to mean something, your organization needs to take three steps: Establish rules for acceptable behavior, thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct, and enact and communicate consequences for bad actors.
I've seen firsthand how these practices can create happier, more equitable workplaces that respect the safety and dignity of BIPOC.
Educate on acceptable and unacceptable behavior
The first step in creating a just workplace is for companies to lay out exactly what is and is not acceptable behavior for their leadership, employees, investors, and other members.
Simply having a code of conduct isn't enough – to make sure everyone follows it, companies must invest in educating all members through interactive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment trainings that lay out the full range of unacceptable behavior. Manager training and bystander training — which teaches onlookers how to safely intervene in situations of misconduct [add layman's definition of bystander training] — are especially effective. Employees who have been trained in bystander intervention are more likely to report having intervened in situations of harassment, even months after the training.
Conduct effective investigations
Second, when there are allegations of misconduct, it is a company's responsibility to thoroughly and rapidly investigate them. Bon Appétit and Refinery29, which strive to present progressive public images, learned this the hard way after employees of color publicly recounted a toxic work culture at both organizations.
Had the companies investigated these incidents earlier, they might have been able to prevent the executive resignations and public backlash they are experiencing now. Most importantly, they could have learned from them and started the hard work of eliminating discrimination and harassment. The work that companies are doing to combat discrimination in the workplace must match the words that they are saying.
Lacking the capacity or requisite experience to conduct sensitive investigations does not exempt companies from this responsibility. Third-party investigators specialize in handling touchy allegations with respect for those involved. They can also approach investigations concerning race and gender with the relevant cultural competence needed for investigations within an overwhelmingly white and male corporate culture.
In addition to digging into individual incidents, many investigators conduct "accountability audits" across an entire organization to identify and correct patterns of misconduct. At organizations I've audited, reports of misconduct have decreased by up to 30% in the year following the audit.
Enforce consequences for bad actors
The third and final way that companies can fight to make their workplaces more just is to hold bad actors accountable and actually punish them.
These consequences will range based on the offense, from increased training to suspension to termination. The corrective action taken must be enforced vigorously and consistently.
The rules can't only matter when it's convenient or when the organization is under scrutiny. High-ranking employees or superstar workers can't get a pass. Consistent accountability makes the workplace safer and signals to the rest of the organization that future discriminatory behavior won't be tolerated.
It's important to communicate what your company did to address misconduct and why. Following the allegations of a discriminatory and abusive workplace at Crisis Text Line, the nonprofit's board of directors laid out their response in a clear statement. They fired their CEO and removed her from the board, committed to replacing at least two board members with BIPOC, introduced anti-racism training for staff members, and launched an independent investigation. This statement far from absolves Crisis Text Line of its misdeeds, but it does acknowledge guilt and offer concrete changes for the future.
Saying your company is committed to diversity and inclusion isn't enough. Tweeting about Black Lives Matter isn't enough. Donating to the NAACP isn't enough. No external-facing support for racial justice is enough if you don't also make your own company less toxic for Black workers and other marginalized groups.
Do the work to ensure your workplace lives up to your rhetoric, or risk being the next to get called out.
Kia Roberts is the Founder and Principal of Triangle Investigations. Triangle Investigations is a group of lawyers and expert investigators conducting misconduct (i.e.: sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation) investigations within workplaces, schools, and other organizations. Triangle also offers its clients usage of Triangle's exclusive Telli TM app, which works as a reporting mechanism for persons to report misconduct within their organization.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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