It’s Time to Move from Dialogue to Action: Honoring Organizational Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion
June 24, 2020 in Diversity & Inclusion
By Autumn Thomas
In the recent weeks following the tragic murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, countless thought pieces and articles have been published highlighting the issues of racial injustice and inequality in our country today. This tragedy has forced a greater dialogue within our communities about the everyday occurrences of microaggressions, biases, and discrimination that are intrenched in every aspects of our society from housing, education, to employment. Marginalized groups, especially Black Americans, find themselves contending against the system of racial injustice in their pursuit of fair and equitable opportunities.
As the country begins to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and businesses begin making plans to reopen, there are strong sentiments across the country that business can’t continue as usual. As with COVID-19, companies are being challenged to think critically on how they honor their commitments to create safe, equitable, and inclusive workspaces for their employees of color. There are no playbooks or quick fixes on how to end the pandemic of racism. Instead, every organization must uniquely examine their internal structures, take a critical inventory of their policies and practices, and create tailored solutions that make good on their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to create meaningful change. During a recent webinar hosted by Harvard Business Review Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, professor at UVA Darden School of Business, discussed how organizations can move beyond dialogue to actionable reform. Dr. Roberts shaped her recommendations by framing a company’s responses to issues of racial injustice around the Head, Heart, and Hand Model. This model is a holistic approach to organizational change and is by no means another “how to guide”, but a framework for action that can be used to tackle racism and support employees of color.
Using this model, here are several actionable steps that leaders can prioritize to support their black employees and make tangible steps to racial equality and inclusion.
The Head represents the need for organizations to invest in learning and development opportunities that establish a baseline of understanding and expectations on diversity and inclusion within the workplace. As organizations begin to reopen, they should consider making a commitment to a process of life-long learning and creating strategic initiatives that go beyond trainings on microaggressions and bias, but incorporate topics related to racial injustice and inequality. Rather than one-off trainings, begin with a focus on the ways in which systemic racism has fundamentally shaped the economy and infiltrated itself in the ways we live and work. A few examples of training topics include:
- Developing Inclusive Workplaces- How do we ensure the workplace engages and supports employees of color at all levels?
- Equity in the Attraction (Who are we recruiting?), Selection (Who are we hiring?), and Attrition (Who is leaving?) Process
- Inclusive Leadership-How can Executives and managers best support their employees?
- Moving from Mentorship to Sponsorship—How do we create opportunities for growth and access to leadership for our employees of color?
Before designing a training or initiative, organizations should first understand where they are in their Diversity and Inclusion Journey and from there develop content, goals, and objectives that are tailored to the needs of their population.
The Heart. Having head knowledge is not enough. The heart represents an organization’s prioritization of the emotional well-being of their employees. As a company, your role is to buffer and protect.One of the tragedies in what happened to George Floyd is the number of bystanders who observed and felt powerless to intervene. Black and non-black employees can feel paralyzed during this time if they don’t feel their organization provides a safe space to discuss their emotions– an environment where they won’t feel penalized or polarized for discussing their hurts and frustrations. Companies can affirm the rights to personhood by intentionally creating safe spaces through:
- Individualized one-on-one sessions with leadership and mentors
- Setting up communities of difference—cohorts of employees that are grouped together over a period of time to discuss challenging topics on racial diversity, inclusion, and equality.
- Town-hall discussions
- Establishing Employee Resources Groups
No matter how you address the heart of the matter, sit and listen nonjudgmentally to a person’s truth and don’t become defensive. Don’t anchor yourself in neutrality but communicate that all experiences matter.
The Hand. With a heart attuned to your employees and the understanding on how to act when faced with instances of injustice, the hand symbolizes the need for companies to take action and develop strategic partnerships with businesses, organizations, and universities that are committed to providing equitable opportunities for all. Strategic partnerships can include both financial and human capital investments to companies tackling the work of racial and social justice. If investment is not an option, consider divesting from organizational partnerships and stakeholders that do not align with company values. A few examples of strategic partnerships include:
- Partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to diversify the pipeline of job applicants
- Partner with local and national minority owned businesses on contracted services and engagements
- Providing pro-bono or volunteer support to initiatives that target marginalized communities
- Increase board and leadership diversity through strategic recruitment and hiring practices by engaging Black and Latino Professional Organizations
In the end the death of George Floyd has highlighted that organizations can not adopt a strategic colorblindness to matters concerned with race. Instead, make learning a priority, examine internal policies and practices as well as partnerships and investments, and prioritize the employee by recognizing and affirming their differences and diversity. By doing so, you’ll create an environment that moves beyond dialogue to action for lasting change.
For more information on this blog or how FMP Consulting can help your organization’s D&I efforts, please contact BD@fmpconsulting.com.
 Mills, K. (2020). ‘We Are Living in a Racism Pandemic,’ Says APA President. Retrieved from https://www.scribbr.com/apa-examples/cite-a-website/
 Apfelbaum, E. P., Sommers, S. R., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Seeing race and seeming racist? Evaluating strategic colorblindness in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(4), 918–932. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0011990