One year after the death of George Floyd, a new report from diversity, equity and inclusion strategy firm Paradigm finds that many Americans are not only more aware of racial injustice in the United States, but they also want to see their own company take action against it.
Of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed by The Harris Poll on behalf of Paradigm, it was found that 69% of Americans believe racial injustice is a problem in the U.S. and 60% now think racial injustice is a bigger problem than they thought it was a year ago. Additionally, 68% said they believe you should be able to discuss racial justice issues at work, and 54% said they would even consider leaving an organization if it did not speak out directly against racial injustice.
"What we've seen is that following the murder of George Floyd and the protests and all of the kind of conversations that were happening, there was overall an increased level of consciousness of the ways in which racial injustice really permeate our society and our world," social psychologist and Paradigm's Managing Director Evelyn Carter tells CNBC Make It. "That was known by folks, mostly folks of color and also some white folks, for a long time but talked about behind closed doors or whispered about."
Now, a year after the death of Floyd — a 46-year-old Black man who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for about nine minutes — Carter says she's happy that many of "those conversations are happening out in the open more."
"That is huge and very exciting because it means there's opportunity to take those conversations and drive action," she adds.
Below, Carter and Mandy Price, co-founder of the diversity, equity and inclusion tech platform Kanarys, offer tips for how company leaders can foster healthy conversations about racial injustice at work.
When having a workplace conversation about racial injustice, it's important to "recognize that it is going to bring up a lot of emotion," says Carter.
"Talking about race-related issues, particularly when you are with folks from different racial backgrounds, creates anxiety and it makes people uncomfortable for a vast [array] of reasons," she says.
Therefore, company leaders should not treat these conversations as simply as "let's go into a room or open a Zoom call and talk about racism," says Carter. Instead, leaders have to set the tone for "norms and agreements at the top of the conversation" so that there is a clear expectation of what will and won't be tolerated.
"What are the ways that we want to be engaging with each other," she says company leaders should ask themselves. "How are we going to create a psychologically safe space? How are we going to create a space where people feel as though they can share their questions, or write and share their feelings without worrying about being dismissed as a complainer or someone who needs to stop being sensitive?"
To properly facilitate these conversations, Carter and Price both agree that companies should partner with trained diversity, equity and inclusion experts to ensure that real progress is being made with these discussions.
"Obviously there may be people internally who are trained," says Price. "But if you don't have that then you need to dedicate the resources to ensure that you have experts who are advising your organization on how to equip your employees to have this conversation."
Discussing racial injustice at work can easily lead to greater conversations about the internal bias and discrimination taking place within a company. In fact, nearly 50% of Americans surveyed by Paradigm said they've witnessed or experienced racial bias or discrimination at work during the past 12 months.
"Companies who want to root out bias and racism in their organizations have to first recognize that it's already happening," says Carter, "because our organizations are microcosms of the society that we live in and we haven't rooted out bias in our society."
Workplace bias and discrimination, Carter explains, can come in many different forms that are not always overt. "There are subtler forms of bias that are just as, if not more impactful, than overt forms," she says. "I'm talking about the people who just so happen to be left off the calendar invitations for key meetings. Or the folks who find themselves not invited to lunch or other social gatherings because the same group of people leave them out. Or when you have some kind of conversation about holidays...and somebody mentions the holiday or the cultural experience that they celebrate and people say, 'Never heard of that before.'"
These actions, she says, "might not be the kinds of things that someone wants to report to HR, but they are definitely the kinds of microaggressions that folks experience that whittle away at their experience of belonging and their sense of inclusion in the workplace."
Though these subtle acts of bias and discrimination might be harder to identify, Carter says providing employees with the space to talk about them rather than being told to "just get over it" or "that person didn't mean any harm by it" could be helpful.
"Say, 'You know what, I hear you,'" she advises company leaders. "And say, 'This experience that you had is really undermining your sense of feeling like you are of value here and I'm going to just let you talk about it. And, I'll take action.'"
Recently, software company Basecamp faced backlash after announcing that "societal and political discussions" would be banned from the workplace, a move that Carter says can easily send the wrong message to employees.
"When you say you don't want to talk about racial injustice, politics or what have you at work, what you're essentially communicating to folks who have some kind of marginalized background is that your struggles and your experiences are too hard for me to listen to and it's too much to engage with and it's distracting," she says.
But with race playing a huge role in how someone experiences the world inside and outside the workplace, Carter explains that when you ban these conversations you are essentially asking people "to silence a part of who they are."
"While that might be something that people can do for a short-term — because there are competing priorities like you need money and you need benefits — what you are doing is whittling away at their mental health and well-being, at their physical health and well being, and their sense of connection with your organization," she says.
Eventually, this physical and mental toll will cause people to leave and you will be left with "an organization that is far more homogenous than you started out with because you basically said, 'I don't want people who are different to be here,'" she adds.
Price, whose tech platform works to create more equitable and inclusive work cultures adds that "having a strong diversity and inclusion program and having a voice and commitment to these issues is essential to hiring and retaining top talent." She points to a Monster survey that shows 83% of Gen Z workers believe a company's commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.
"And so, I don't know what organization thinks that they can continue to be a market leader, or even survive, if they're not able to acquire talent," she explains.