• Will Zesiger

Combatting Inequity in the Workplace: How Can We Do Better in 2021?

A 2020 Mercer study showed that across industries in the U.S., Black and Latino populations are underrepresented at every career level above support staff. While making up 12 percent of these support staff roles, black employees only represent two percent of executive-level positions.

Although these statistics are overwhelming, these outcomes are far from inevitable. Systemic issues like these exist deep within our societal and workplace environments, but through honest reflection, action and accountability, companies can begin to make meaningful progress and change their workplaces. As we head into 2021, it’s important for all leaders, managers and workers to contemplate their role in this disparity and seek immediate, sustainable solutions. Here are several observations, strategies and actions we’ve seen work well with our clients at Cheer Partners.

Authenticity matters

It can be toxic to people of color, women, differently-abled and LGBTQ+ employees when company’s make big bold external statements that don’t represent the employee experience. Do a full-length mirror audit, commit to stopping- and starting what will effect real change. Create Voice of Employee programs so no one has to cover part of themselves and employees have a voice in the way they experience work.

Shared Accountability

While employee referral programs are good, we can't continue to put the burden on our employees of color. It must be shared accountability. Please don’t ask your black employees where you can find more people like them; rather, create a diverse hiring task force and create a seat for everyone at the table to voluntarily join. This doesn’t mean taking away someone else’s seat, in successful cases, this means creating a bigger table.

Best practices

Be sure you have not only a plan to bring in diverse candidates but to ensure you have diverse interview panels. Best practices include celebrating heritage months by educating, including and inspiring. Create a diversity index to show business value drivers. Include community leaders to help shape what community members are looking for in an employee experience. Unconscious bias training for everyone. Manager training is a must, as well as creating safe spaces for honest conversations.

Listen to your marginalized colleagues and colleagues of color. Call out racism, sexism, abuse and microaggressions you witness in the workplace, no matter who they come from. Don’t get caught up in how to start, just start.

Career mobility must be intentional

When we are born, we are labeled. Our birth certificate has our eye color, hair color, race and gender. It’s human instinct to label. That said, it’s time to stop. Don’t assign labels to your workforce; your label may be incorrect or doesn’t prioritize who the employee is. Look at existing talent within your organization. That might mean making room for someone with new ideas at the company or setting up training for existing employees to explore management and leadership opportunities. Rotate who leads meetings, create stretch opportunities for underrepresented employees to give them an opportunity to show their value. Look at compensation and job descriptions with an eye to inclusive language. Give employees the opportunity to show their full selves without fear of negative consequences

Solving inequity in the workplace is a monumental task, but steps like these add up and truly affect people’s lives for the better. Rather than continue business as usual, we need to challenge our businesses, our peers and ourselves to take true action and transform the workplace. Let’s make 2021 the year of equity.