ARCC News – Why We Need an Anti-Racist Workplace

This month, we are excited to share “ARCC News” with an article that accompanies this month’s podcast featuring author, Shereen Daniels.

November 2022

Americans have long been familiar with the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a means of counteracting racism in the workplace and elsewhere. Efforts toward promoting DEI originated in the 1960s civil rights movement, and our understanding of diversity is constantly expanding into more and more aspects of human identity and experience. Yet as many have only newly begun to realize, racial inequities are still embedded in the fabric of society, which is reflected in the workplace. In short, DEI has not addressed the systemic nature of racism.

Why DEI Efforts at Work Don’t Work

DEI initiatives in the workplace, while important, have historically been focused more on appearances and lip service than actual inclusion or equity. In DEI models, the implied concept of racism and its impacts are often limited to flagrantly offensive remarks and actions. Such models focus on how employees of color are treated on the surface rather than on the deeper ramifications of racist assumptions and policies. Many racist systems continue to exist largely because they have gone unexamined and unchallenged in white-dominated decision-making.

As a result, DEI models ultimately don’t support people of color as much as they are intended to. Real inclusion would lead to racial diversity in business leadership, ownership, and Fortune 500 lists, not just in employees. The equity needed to get there would mean that gaps in training, pay, and hiring and promotional opportunities would no longer exist. Until workplaces become fully anti-racist organizations, DEI efforts will continue to fail.

Why Anti-Racist Policies Succeed Where DEI Doesn’t

“Radical” anti-racism in the workplace can accomplish much more than DEI for racial socioeconomic equality because it:

  • Recognizes the realities of systemic racism. Rather than treating racism as a nonexistent or situational problem, anti-racism acknowledges the ways people of color can be excluded from essential work opportunities and freedoms. Examples include training, hiring, promotions, networking, and interpersonal authenticity. It also highlights the serious cascading harms of workplace racism: bars to professional and economic success worsen racial wealth gaps, generational poverty, health inequities, and more.
  • Solicits meaningful feedback from all employees. One of the reasons so many white Americans have only recently begun learning about systemic racism is that they are unaware of their own privilege in that system. Requesting and respecting feedback on employee work experiences can help to identify areas where changes are needed. This works best with a workforce that is racially diverse on multiple tiers and with a variety of feedback-seeking methods designed with employee comfort and job security in mind.
  • Targets areas and systems where change may be needed. Truly anti-racist businesses are committed to rooting out racist practices in every aspect of how they are run. This means examining each procedure and protocol carefully in order to eliminate inequities that may not have been considered previously. General education and research about anti-racism in the workplace in combination with employee feedback can help to make problems of inequity—and their solutions—clearer to decision makers.
  • Empowers all employees to become successful. Enabling and encouraging all workers to participate in creating an anti-racist workplace is a key part of its success. This can function in a variety of ways. It can mean ensuring that non-white employees have a healthy (but not burdensome) platform for speaking truth to power, having more conversations about racism at work, hiring a consultant, and much more. Be clear about the results you want, and offer all employees resources for learning about anti-racism.  

How To Start Becoming an Anti-Racist Company

Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources that business owners and leaders can use to map out their anti-racist organization development journey. One great place to start is HR strategist Shereen Daniels’ 2022 book, The Anti-Racist Organization: Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Workplace. It offers a four-part approach for tackling structural racism in the workplace. There are a number of other toolkits that can help you get down to brass tacks, such as this one from Stanford University.

Begin Your Anti-Racist Workplace Journey With ARCC

The Anti-Racism Commitment Coalition (ARCC) is an inclusive coalition of dedicated people committed to eradicating racism and spreading anti-racism throughout our communities, countries, and the world. We work to help and educate people on their transformative journey to anti-racism by providing access to related support and resources. Join us as we welcome Shereen Daniels on Season 2 Episode 10 of our ARCC of Change podcast series.

You can help us to build a racism-free world. Subscribe to receive news and updates about our work. Show your commitment to anti-racism by purchasing ARCC merchandise or by making a donation.

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