A day that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. It almost sounds like something made up. It’s 2023, yet we must look at what we’ve done – our achievements and failures. It is essential to reflect on our progress in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.
The Black Lives Matter movement and the increased attention on social justice issues have shed light on the challenges faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) employees in the workforce.
But what is the current state of BIPOC employees? Are organizational DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) efforts working? Are hiring practices falling short for BIPOC workers?
Let’s have a bit of a TED Talk, shall we, and look at the BIPOC workers in the workplace and actionable steps that organizations can take to improve hiring practices and enhance the BIPOC employee experience.
The current state of BIPOC employees
Let’s put a few things in perspective.
For many, it’s hard to put themselves in the shoes and really understand the BIPOC experience—which could be an entire series on its own—that doesn’t just affect social interactions, living, walking down the street, or just existing in the real world… but also our work environment.
I say our because I write from the place of being a member of the BIPOC group.
And I’ve, unfortunately, been on the receiving end of a few things we’re going to discuss here. We’ll divide it into three main areas that systematically show a separation between BIPOC and other non-BIPOC workers:
- Representation gap
- Wage disparity
- Leadership opportunities
1. Representation gap
The Black labor force participation rate was 60.2%, compared to 62.3% for White individuals in 2020. In 2022, the household data of annual averages put 77% of non-BIPOC workers being employed versus 37.8% of BIPOC workers, a tragic case when BIPOC people account for nearly a fourth of the US population. These discrepancies highlight a representation gap that persists in the workplace.
2. Wage disparity
BIPOC workers consistently experience lower wages compared to their non-BIPOC counterparts. In 2020, BIPOC workers earned only 76.3% of the hourly wages earned by non-BIPOC workers. This wage disparity not only affects individuals but perpetuates systemic inequalities.
Let’s put this in real life. John, a White employee, makes $100,000 annually, while DeWayne, a Black worker, makes $76,300 annually at the same job with the same education and experience. This is an oversimplified example, but it shows a marked difference that continues to happen across organizations and creates toxic work environments instead of a corporate culture your employees love.
3. Leadership opportunities
Non-BIPOC employees are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles. Only 3.2% of executive and senior-level positions are held by Black individuals in the United States, despite making up 12.3% of the population.
Many DEI efforts stop at the top and senior management levels. It’s not uncommon to find leadership who, in values, reflect a certain socially acceptable discriminatory standard, despite expounding differently in their online presence. Imagine for a moment, working for a company for years and putting your energy in just to hit a glass ceiling and never see anyone in leadership whom you feel understands you.
It happens to women, BIPOC, and LGBT+ employees often in the workforce.
Challenges with DEI efforts for BIPOC workers
While many organizations have implemented DEI initiatives, it is crucial to recognize that certain approaches can fall short of addressing the unique experiences and needs of BIPOC employees. It’s because, as a society, there is a history of discriminatory practices against these ethnic groups. No matter who we are, we all deserve to be treated equally. That is the basis for DEI efforts for organizations.
Or at least it should be.
Here are a few reasons why DEI efforts may not work effectively for BIPOC workers in your organization in three areas:
- Superficial diversity
- Lack of cultural competence
I’ll allow that these do not cover how DEI efforts may fail BIPOC workers. Still, they collectively have generated a culture of discrimination and inequality that is the root cause of many issues.
I’m reminded of a show I used to watch in college that everyone thought was hilarious. The reason was that the show targeted everyone with stereotypes and dark humor that would make most people cringe, at the least.
The character I spoke of was named Token Black. While I won’t name the show, many probably already know just by his name.
And, you guessed it, he was the only Black school-aged character on the show. Hence the name “Token”. It referred to the accepted practice of having a token Black friend to convince others that you weren’t racist.
Some organizations make the mistake of tokenizing BIPOC employees by hiring them solely to meet diversity quotas. They aren’t hired for their expertise, as a productive team member, or to lead. No, they are only a token to meet numbers. This approach fails to create an inclusive environment and can lead to feelings of isolation and disengagement.Check your DEI this #Juneteenth: non-inclusive environments lead to feelings of isolation. Click To Tweet
2. Superficial diversity
Simply increasing the number of BIPOC employees without addressing systemic biases and providing support and growth opportunities does not lead to genuine inclusivity. Remember us talking about tokenism? As you can see, this is an extension of that. It becomes a game of stacking diverse employees for the sake of having it. We can see a similar effect when companies publicly support a group and change swiftly based on the backlash.
Regardless of your agreement of if that group is correct or not, the action of taking a stand and then shrinking back shows inauthenticity and superficial practices to your consumers and employees. Superficial diversity is easily seen by minority groups who are used to discrimination.
As it’s part of our everyday existence, we know exactly what these common actions in superficially diverse cultures feel like:
- Passive-aggressive speech
- Assumption of lack of experience/expertise
- Ostracizing – typically based on style, race, identity, or stereotypes.
- Satisfied clause
The “Satisfied clause” is pervasive for BIPOC employees and not one many speak about. It’s the feeling that they should be “satisfied” with what they have: the pay, a small raise, a quiet promotion without a raise, or even the job itself.
It may not be said out loud, but it’s felt throughout interactions. Inclusive policies and practices must accompany a diverse workforce.
3. Lack of cultural competence
DEI initiatives often lack an understanding of the cultural nuances and experiences of BIPOC employees. Organizations may inadvertently perpetuate biases or create an unwelcoming environment without this awareness.
This, by far, is one of the worst aspects where DEI efforts fail BIPOC workers. There is a pointed lack of understanding of cultural differences, generational trauma, and collecting feedback when it comes to BIPOC workers, impacting their ability to influence change.
Understanding these aspects and collecting the feedback required should be combined with historical HR data of the organization, corporate culture, policies, and procedures to ensure DEI efforts are valuable, efficient, and working.
Improving hiring practices for BIPOC workers
So, how do we fix it?
We start at the heart of any organization: HR. From HR flows culture, training, onboarding, and more that significantly influence the day-to-day employee experience. Hiring practices play a pivotal role in creating equitable workplaces.
Here are some common issues with current hiring practices and steps that can be taken to address them:
- Biased job descriptions
- Unconscious bias in selection
- Networking and referral bias
- Inclusive interview processes
- Transparent compensation practices
1. Biased job descriptions
Job descriptions that contain biased language or require qualifications that disproportionately exclude BIPOC candidates can hinder diversity in hiring.
Let’s see a tech industry example. For a time, in database-related job descriptions, you could see “Master/Slave” show up. It’s a type of software architecture and is technically correct.
However, The Global Language Monitor named it “the most politically incorrect term” of 2004, and tech leaders like Amazon and IBM changed “Master/Slave” to “Primary/Replica” in their descriptions.
You read that right, however. Not until 2004 was it classified as a politically incorrect term.
That’s 139 years after slaves of the South finally found out they were free—June 19th, 1865.
And it’s nearly 20 before the writing of this blog … but we’re still talking about it. Organizations should review and revise job descriptions to ensure inclusion and focus on essential skills and qualifications.
2. Unconscious bias in selection
Unconscious biases can significantly influence hiring decisions, leading to the perpetuation of systemic inequalities. These inequalities can find their way from hiring practices into corporate culture.
Name bias, which favors Anglo-sounding names, is prevalent in hiring practices. Think of names like Stacey, Jessica, and Marie. Now think of LeTeisha, Keyona, and Quan’Tarius. People often make assumptions about race from the name alone and will decide to review candidates based on this.
Implementing bias training for hiring managers and establishing diverse interview panels can help mitigate these biases.
3. Networking and referral bias
Reliance on employee referrals and traditional networking practices can reinforce existing social and racial networks, limiting access to job opportunities for BIPOC candidates.
Organizations can address this issue by implementing targeted outreach to underrepresented communities, partnering with organizations that connect BIPOC talent with job opportunities, and implementing blind resume screening processes.
4. Inclusive interview processes
Standardizing interview questions and evaluation criteria helps ensure fair and consistent assessments of candidates. Additionally, incorporating diverse interview panels representing different backgrounds and perspectives can reduce bias and provide a more inclusive experience for BIPOC candidates.
And please, please, do not tell a BIPOC person they “speak so well”, are “more approachable than ther picture”, or are “so intelligent”. That’s bias coming into your interview at best, and a sign of broken DEI, culture, and values at worst.
5. Transparent compensation practices
Organizations should establish transparent compensation practices to address wage disparities. Conducting regular pay equity audits and ensuring that salary ranges are based on objective criteria rather than subjective negotiations can help mitigate wage gaps.
Have you checked on your
employees’ experience lately?
Five steps to improve the BIPOC employee experience
Creating an environment where BIPOC employees can thrive requires ongoing efforts beyond the hiring process.
Here are 5 steps organizations can take to improve the BIPOC employee experience:
- Inclusive policies and practices: Develop and implement inclusive policies that promote diversity and equity throughout all aspects of the employee lifecycle. This includes equitable promotion and advancement opportunities, fair performance evaluations, and support for work-life integration.
- Mentorship and sponsorship programs: Establishing formal mentorship and sponsorship programs can provide BIPOC employees with guidance, support, and access to networks to enhance their professional growth and development.
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs specifically designed for BIPOC employees can provide a sense of community, support, and opportunities for networking and professional development. The organization should empower and support these groups to create meaningful change.
- Cultural competence training: Offering cultural competence training to all employees can help foster understanding, empathy, and awareness of the experiences and perspectives of BIPOC colleagues. This training can contribute to a more inclusive and respectful work environment. And make sure you have sensitivity checkers. These people within the target group can help you formulate your training with the BIPOC concerns, needs, and preferences in mind.
- Regular listening and feedback mechanisms: Establishing regular channels for feedback, such as employee surveys or town hall meetings, allows BIPOC employees to express their experiences, concerns, and suggestions. This feedback should be taken seriously, and actions should be taken to address any identified issues.
All in all, do what you say and mean it. Your employees are important to you, and they would all be treated the same in a perfect world. We aren’t there yet, but we’re working on it.
As we commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate the progress made toward racial equality, it is crucial for organizations to assess their DEI efforts and hiring practices critically. Report on the good, the bad, and the ugly so you can clearly see where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there.
Recognizing the challenges faced by BIPOC employees and implementing meaningful changes is essential for creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. By addressing biases in hiring practices, improving the BIPOC employee experience, and fostering a culture of inclusivity, organizations can contribute to a more just and equitable future for all employees.
Let us use this Juneteenth as an opportunity to reflect, learn, and take action to drive positive change because we can all learn to be better humans.