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Racial justice may seem dicey to promote in professional circles, much like politics and religion. However, Paula Glover and Katie Mehnert argue workplaces are among the best places to have sensitive discussions, as they offer more diversity than most people are exposed to in their daily lives. Executives and upper managers should prepare for a quick yet constructive lesson from prominent leaders in the energy industry.
- Workplaces should embrace their unique power to facilitate organic discussions on race.
- Confront racial generalizations by reminding people that everyone is different.
- Measure progress through a mix of surveys and conversations with your employees.
Workplaces should embrace their unique power to facilitate organic discussions on race.
Workplaces are among the best places to have conversations about racial justice. At work, people intermingle across social divides every day. Otherwise, most tend to live, learn and socialize with those who share their skin color, religion and so on. For this reason, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies notes companies have a “particularly strong potential for integration.”
“To heal divides, we have to listen to and learn from one another.”
Diversity workshops that don’t merely teach employees but rather encourage them to speak with one another are particularly effective. A workshop that asked the group to discuss common stereotypes about white and black people, for example, helped participants become aware of the absurdity of generalizations. White participants also gained a better understanding of the challenges people of color face as they encounter such prejudices on a daily basis.
Confront racial generalizations by reminding people that everyone is different.
Even despite their best intentions, people easily slip into inadvertently judging a certain demographic or treating someone like a spokesperson for an entire group of people. Fight these stereotypes. Affirm that everyone is a unique individual, rather than an indistinguishable part of a homogenous conglomeration.
“Remember that the experiences of employees of different racial groups and backgrounds are not monolithic.”
Company leadership should make a habit of asking for people’s input as individuals, rather than asking them to speak on behalf of a group.
Measure progress through a mix of surveys and conversations with your employees.
To achieve a more inclusive workplace, let your workers be your guide. Ask them in anonymous surveys if they’ve seen biases or experienced discrimination, no matter how subtle. Find out how comfortable they’d feel to report it. As a manager, make yourself available to listen to people’s issues and suggestions.
“The more employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts directly, the stronger the sign that your workplace may feel psychologically safe.”
People should feel comfortable sharing their concerns. Merely hiring a diverse group of new employees is insufficient. Instead, turn your organization into an equitable space where people feel at ease to speak about differences and share their ideas.
About the Authors
Paula Glover is the president and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy. Katie Mehnert is the founder and CEO of Pink Petro, a social media platform for women professionals in the energy industry.
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