Is your company doing enough for diversity?
Updated: Aug 13
Since the murder of George Floyd and recent #BlackLivesMatter protests, many companies have come out with statements standing in solidarity with the movement and vowing to addressing their own histories of racism or lack of diversity. While many statements were sincere and profound, others were called out for dancing around the subject, not committing to making any changes to their business practices, or being hypocritical.
We are all unlearning our biases and working to "do better," as many companies have promised to do. So how can you put your promises into action? It all starts with an honest assessment of your company's current levels of diversity, equity and inclusion. Use the questions below to see where you need to improve or make changes. Note that this post addresses more than just racial or ethnic diversity!
How diverse is your board or senior executive team?
The people making decisions for your company need to take as many different groups into consideration as possible when they choose directions or instate policies. Are the following groups represented in your leadership? (Note that these descriptions are not all-encompassing, and are a basic guide to understanding each group. For example, all of the ethnic groups listed may also include mixed race or biracial people.)
Black folx: African Americans, Africans, Afro-Latinos, Afro Caribbean people, others from the African diaspora
Indigenous folx: Native Americans, First Nations peoples, indigenous folx from other countries
Hispanic/Latinx folx: Hispanic/Latinx Americans, Mexicans, Latinx Caribbean folx, Central and South Americans (Note that people from Spain are Hispanic, but not Latino; Brazilians and other non-Spanish speaking people from Latin America may identify as Latino, but not Hispanic)
Asian folx: Asian Americans, East Asians, Southeast Asians, South Asians, Central Asians, Pacific Islanders
Middle Eastern folx: Central Asian peoples, Arabs, North Africans
Women and Others of Marginalized Genders: Trans and cisgendered women; gender non-binary folx, gender fluid folx, trans men
Queer folx (LGBTQIA+): Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, asexual, pansexual, demisexual, aromantic, and otherwise queer folx of multiple identities
Disabled folx: The disabled community includes people with hearing or visual impairment, physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health challenges. Disabilities may be visible or invisible
People of marginalized faiths: Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and other non-Christians
While you may not have every group represented on your board (especially if your company is small), it is important to actively seek out talent in these marginalized groups as well as mentor and promote people from these groups within your organization. The goal is to make sure your leadership is in touch with as many points of view and walks of life as possible. Other groups to include are parents, English-language learners, immigrants and folx from lower-income backgrounds.
How diverse is your company in general?
Don't just look at raw demographics for your company -- take a critical look at the roles people from marginalized backgrounds play in your organization. Take a good look at how the following are composed:
Supervisors and Managers (especially in contrast to the demographics of the groups they oversee)
Communications: The people crafting your social media, PR, ads and brand messaging can better market to diverse audiences if they are a diverse bunch, too. It is vital that this department be diverse, as this is the voice and face of your company and will shape how your customers and clients view you.
Product Development and Engineering: If you create anything for a diverse group of users, you will need a diverse group of creators to understand their needs. If you have testing or focus groups, make sure those are diverse as well. The most common group left out of product development conversations are the disabled -- how accessible is your product's design?
Human Resources: A diverse HR department will likely be able to hire more diverse staff. They will also advocate for marginalized groups when it comes to policies, complaints and employee relations.
Do you have equitable pay practices?
Easiest way to make your company equitable? Make sure women are paid the same as their male counterparts. If there is disparity between what people of different races/ethnicities are paid, correct that as well.
In the hiring process, also keep in mind that people from marginalized groups (especially from low-income backgrounds) are likely to undervalue their worth or be unfamiliar with how to negotiate their salaries. Create honest resources or policies that will help people get paid fairly.
Also, pay your interns. Promote people from marginalized groups regularly, and increase their pay accordingly. Lastly, pay everyone promptly -- employees, contractors and vendors, too.
Does human resources support all humans?
Here are some policies and practices your company can adopt to be more inclusive:
Paid time off for all religious holidays
Tolerance and support for all religious activities (Common examples include giving Muslims space and time to pray five times a day or accommodating those who are fasting by rescheduling meetings or offering asynchronous briefings)
Paid maternity and paternity leave
Supportive reporting system for sexual harassment or culturally offensive incidents
Consequences and strong disciplinary action for sexual harassers or cultural offenders -- including termination
We also strongly recommend abolishing dress codes. While recommending a type of dress to create an environment can be OK (i.e., business casual), most dress codes center the straight white male experience and are inherently racist and misogynist. For example, asking employees to don "professional hairstyles" is often brandished against Black folx with natural hair textures and mandating skirt lengths inherently sexualizes women in a professional setting.
Also, dress codes tend to shame lower income employees (and interns!) who cannot afford "more professional" clothing. Ask yourself, Is my expectation for mode of dress reasonable considering what I'm paying affected employees? Is it fair to expect an intern to buy a suit to work 20 hours a week for you at $12/hr?
Lastly, are your hiring practices inclusive and fair? For example, are you requiring Bachelor's degrees for fairly simple, entry-level roles? If someone with a strong resume but less education applies for the job, do you still consider them? Do you have a process in place to check against biases toward certain "ethnic-sounding" names?
Is your office accessible?
As much as possible, make sure your office space is accessible to people with physical disabilities. If you cannot avoid having barriers, come up with a game plan for supporting disabled folx if they need to access your space. These physical barriers should also not bar you from hiring qualified disabled folx. Some ways to accommodate them include supporting them in working from home and holding any in-person meetings off-site at accessible spaces.
Does your office have accessible parking available? Are all of your company's software, hardware or tools accessible? For example, could a visually impaired person operate your office copier? Are you hosting virtual meetings on a tool that has closed captioning?
On a semi-related note -- is your office furniture designed for people of all shapes and sizes? Also, what do you do to support your employees' mental and emotional well-being? How do you support employees with learning disabilities? With chronic illness?
What is your relationship like with diverse customer bases?
Being outwardly more diverse sounds easy enough -- include BIPOC models in your ads, actively market to different groups. But what about how your company works with low-income customers?
Do you offer flexible or installment payments for large purchases? Do you charge cancellation fees, require credit card minimums, include hidden fees or enforce no-refund policies? While these are all common business practices, they are ultimately predatory in nature and should be avoided. Your company's bottom line shouldn't come at the cost of your customers' financial health.
How can I change my company's culture?
After making changes to your business infrastructure and policies, the next priority should be building a positive, diversity-engaged culture at your organization. One way you can do that is by bringing in diversity, equity and inclusion experts like In Full Color to act as consultants, conversation starters and leaders.
In Full Color is an organization that empowers women of color through education and the arts. We perform for companies, schools and other institutions in the Tri-State area (in-person) and beyond (through virtual events). At a typical In Full Color show, three women of diverse backgrounds share one to two monologues, poems or stories to entertain and engage audiences. After the performances, we have a talkback with our audience to discuss race, feminism, social issues and other tough topics in a safe, supportive space.
By using art, drama and humor, we make the experiences of women from different marginalized backgrounds accessible for all. Art creates empathy, and empathy creates change.
We offer a virtual experience called "Walking the Walk to a More Diverse Workplace" through Visit.org, and also can do in-person engagements on the East Coast following the COVID-19 pandemic. To inquire about our packages and pricing, contact email@example.com or see our Booking page.
UPDATE: We're launching "Walking the Walk" with a free public showcase on Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 1 pm to 3 pm EDT. There will be live performances by Nancy Méndez-Booth and Paula Ralph Birkett, plus a team building activity. Register through EventBrite today.
Remember that these are just some of the ways you can make your company more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Making these changes will require serious commitment -- and most likely, extra funds -- but creating an environment and future that is better for people of all backgrounds is worth the time and money.