News from EO Minnesota

How to Fight Against Racism in the Workplace

Jul 7, 2020 1:25:17 PM / by Brent W. Peterson


In light of protests against police brutality and racial inequality, organizations around the world are stepping up to acknowledge that there is still work to be done in fighting for justice and equality. President of the American Psychological Association, Sandra L. Shullman, PhD., has stated that the global Covid-19 pandemic is not the only crisis that Americans need to address.

“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens,” Shullman writes. Referring to the numerous black individuals who were needlessly murdered at the hands of police, including George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, and Philando Castile, Shullman emphasizes that systemic change is essential in mitigating the trauma and fear that black Americans have endured for their entire lives.

With the renewed focus on anti-racist movements, now is the time for entrepreneurs to firmly establish themselves on the side of justice and begin to thoroughly examine how they can create truly diverse and inclusive work environments. Whether you’re a new business leader or a serial entrepreneur, here are some steps you can take and resources to study in order to help you fight against racism within your organization.

What a Supportive Ally Looks Like

For white individuals who aren’t directly impacted by racial injustices, taking steps to become a supportive, knowledgeable ally is important. However, being an ally isn’t about saying the right things or speaking up only in times of national unrest. Ben O’Keefe, an activist and former senior aide to Senator Elizabeth Warren, explains, “Allyship is language, and being a co-conspirator is about doing the work. It’s taking on the issue of racism and oppression as your own issue, even though you’ll never truly understand the damage that it does.”

To understand what it means to be a good ally, here are some key things to remember both in and out of the workplace:

  • Set an example. Resist the temptation to stay quiet if you hear your colleagues, family members, or friends say something insensitive, racist, or bigoted. It can be uncomfortable to confront people you’re close to, but remember that your discomfort cannot compare to the fear that minorities continue to endure everyday.
  • Listen more and speak less. Being an ally means lifting up the voices of those who have gone unheard, not speaking over the voices of black Americans. Follow activists on social media, read about the history of racial injustice in this country, listen to the experiences of your black colleagues, and demonstrate ongoing empathy.
  • Educate yourself. For white Americans, it can be alarmingly simple to not recognize the various struggles and obstacles that people of color need to confront on a daily basis. Take the time to read up on the events occurring in this country, seek reliable sources, and make an effort to look beyond social media for all of the facts (see a list of some valuable resources at the end of this article).
  • Don’t expect black people to educate or comfort you. A recent article from Harvard Business Review emphasizes that white people should not rely on their black friends or coworkers to educate them, to justify their hurt, to comfort white allies, or to step up and advocate for justice initiatives. Allow people to cope in their own ways and be there to listen without judgment.

Addressing Racial Inequality at Work

Becoming an anti-racist organization requires more than writing well-researched posts on social media or drafting statements about how your business strives towards being a diverse and inclusive workplace. A recent survey revealed that an alarming 42% of employed adults in the U.S. have experienced or witnessed racism in the workplace, despite the increased focus on diversity that many organizations have proudly claimed in their mission statements and company values. In order to make a profound, lasting impact in the way your organization combats racism, here are the tactics recommended by activists and experts in racial justice:

  • Don’t stay silent. “It is the leader’s responsibility to try, conveying care and concern for all employees but especially targeted groups,” explain HBR’s Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington. “You might be tempted to rest on the laurels of your organizations’ diversity statements and active employee resource groups. But that is not enough.”
  • Refrain from getting defensive. Do not take it personally when your worldview is challenged or questioned. Recognize that you will never be able to fully comprehend the emotions your black colleagues are experiencing and allow them to be upset, disengaged, and angry. Strive to show compassion and listen, even when you feel uncomfortable.
  • Re-examine your organization’s policies. Review your business’s policies with a new lens to find potential areas that could place people at a disadvantage for progressing in your company or applying for certain positions. For example, COO of Fractured Atlas, Tim Cynova, says, “Assuming people have the money to front a plane ticket on behalf of their organization — that’s oppressive.” Consider what other ways your policies could be disproportionately affecting people of color.
  • Focus on your core values. Being anti-racist is not merely a statement for an organization to make; it requires taking action. Consider Joan Gabel, the president of the University of Minnesota, who made the decision to end contracts with the Minneapolis police department following the murder of George Floyd. Look at the donations other organizations have made towards justice initiatives, such as Glossier’s donation of $500,000 to black-owned beauty brands.

Furthermore, if you’re worried about the effects these actions may have on your current leadership, chief external relations officer of Fractured Atlas, Lauren Ruffin, explains why this shouldn’t be a concern of yours. Ruffin states that if you’re worried about staff leaving your workplace due to a stronger focus on being inclusive and supportive of anti-racist measures, it’s likely for the best. “That attrition of staff leaving is probably good attrition,” Ruffin says. “Someone who can’t step out of their own shoes to empathize with others is probably a bad colleague.

Additional Resources

Recognizing injustice is an ongoing process, and there’s no better way to become a better ally than taking the time to educate yourself further about racial inequality, white privilege, and black history. Here are just some of the amazing articles, books, and films you can use as you strive to grow as an individual and improve your overall business practices:




Topics: Best Tips, Motivation, Teaching

Brent W. Peterson

Written by Brent W. Peterson