Time for change — Racial inequality and bias in the workplace.

I’m inspired to see companies and people calling for racial equality and there is momentum for white people like me to say and do something. We can all agree that the status quo is wrong and needs systematic change. I’m not an expert in this but I feel compelled to share my perspective with the hope that it inspires others in this time for change. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right” and “The ultimate measure of (a person) is not where they stand in time of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

Race and inequality are painful and emotionally charged topics. Many people avoid the topic all together because they are afraid. It’s time to get over the fear. We need to become brave and advocate for change. In my 25 years working in human resources (People), I’ve seen good work, and I’ve seen denial about racial inequality. In my humble opinion, if you truly want to end racial inequality, you need to commit to recognizing your biases and make changes.

We all have biases and addressing them takes work. It’s not necessarily your fault — society, media and other forces have been at work shaping you. If you want to change this, the first step is to shift your mindset and accept that we all have bias. If you agree, read on.

I’m in the People business, so I’m qualified to shine a light on a few scenarios where I’ve seen bias come to play in hiring processes. My intent is to help white people see racial inequality and bias in the workplace, and get fired up about how they can take immediate steps to squelch it.

- Hiring people like you. If you’re a CEO, board member, VP or hiring manager, take a good look at your team. Do you have anyone of color on your team? When’s the last time you interviewed someone of color? Black people want a fair chance, that’s all. You can change this.

- Hiring people that share a favorite/fond similarity to you such as having attended your alma mater. If you’ve hired people of color that have this similarity, kudos to you. How many of you have not? You can change this.

- Hiring interns. Many recruiters and hiring managers say they can’t find people of color that have the education and experience they need. When it comes to internships, the criteria is primarily education. You can hire black interns relatively easy if you create a plan and commit to it. What I’ve seen far too often is that someone’s friend asks them to hire their child or someone they know for an internship. You think no big deal, everyone does it. But what you don’t think about is that a person of color is out there but never got the chance to get that first job (and experience) because it went to a white person. You can change this.

These are all innocent acts and I believe there is no malicious intent. However, bias was involved and a system of not thinking about racial equality was at play.

Another bias at work is in and out groups. The best way for me to illustrate this is through a story. There was a time when I was an HR leader of a team that was primarily black. One day, I received negative feedback about my team and was told to take action. When I talked to my team, they said there was a history of them being treated like second class citizens. I looked in to this and found that my team was being talked down to, undermined and blamed for things they didn’t do. With our 35+ years of combined HR experience, my team and I waged a strategic plan against the bias. I’d like to say we were successful. Sadly, we all left the company. We still remain close and I feel ashamed that we were not able to make the changes needed. This experience fuels my passion for diversity and inclusion. Have you ever experienced racial inequality or had the experience of being on the “out” team? If you have, you have been given a very, very small glimpse into what it might be like to live with bias on a daily basis.

If you want to bring change in your workplace, below are a few ideas:

1. Create employee resource group (ERG) within your company with black leaders that focuses on black voices and perspectives. Establish rapport and trust — ask questions, listen and create psychological safety so your people feel it’s safe to be honest. Ask your people what needs to be better inside your company. Listen and engage in open and honest dialog. Use that feedback to take meaningful action. Follow-up and continue the dialog and rapport.

2. Increase your sourcing processes including internships to ensure you include some number of black and underrepresented people. Make a goal to commit to increasing qualified hires by some number or percentage. Include your ERG group on these initiatives.

3. Ensure that every single person that works at your company understands bias and discrimination and are trained to listen, speak and address concerns in a way that ensures psychological safety for all. Many black people have voiced their concerns in the past, only to be ignored or placated to. Many white people are afraid to say the wrong thing and are petrified that they may do or say something that makes others think they are a racist or have bias. Make it your job to remove these barriers.

Your best source of information and expertise on racial inequality and bias is from black people. No white person like me has lived the black reality and none of us knows or understands what black people have suffered because of bias. Barack Obama recently tweeted that if we want to bring about change, we have to do it at the local level. Each of us has an opportunity to open our hearts and make a commitment to real change. If we don’t change, things won’t change.

Executive & business coach, remote technology leader passionate about inclusion and diversity, mother of 5, animal lover