Seeking To Become A Better Workplace Ally

For the last few weeks there has been much discussion on post-COVID workplace culture. We have debated the future relevance of the physical office. We have seen a wide-spread transformation of work-from-home and remote-work policies. We have explored new collaboration and communication tools to help our dispersed workforce stay connected. We have been planning for more innovative workplaces, experiences, and solutions. Most recently however, the Black Lives Matter movement has eclipsed the pandemic and once again deservedly gained global attention.  Despite what social media and tv at times suggest, this is not just a political movement. This movement is a response to a deep-rooted and systemic problem in our society – a problem that we all need to contribute to fixing.

Let me be transparent though. I am a white woman leading a small business that has its own diversity goals to achieve. How this issue affects me is very different. I do not presume to know the black experience. I do not pretend to have all the answers. I recognize that I have white privilege and, because of that, I have a role to play in fixing this problem in workplaces and in my community. As I strive to learn, to listen, and to understand how I can be a better ally, I have been speaking to friends, family members, and to my colleagues at Blu Ivy Group. 

While I am deeply saddened by recent events making the news, many of the resulting conversations I have had have been inspiring, enlightening, and motivating. While I don’t have all the answers (not even close), I know that showing solidarity on social media is not enough. So rather than just sharing a social post or blog that expresses support, I wanted to be transparent about our efforts.  This is our way of joining a conversation on how businesses and HR departments can be better allies and create the change we need. If you have thoughts, opinions, or ideas, we would love to listen to you! 

Creating a Different Kind of Safe Workplace – Make It a Priority

The Black Lives Matter movement highlights the urgency to shift focus towards creating a different kind of safe workplace. One that doesn’t just preserve physical safety, but is supportive, diverse, and truly offers equal opportunity – a place where Black Lives don’t just Matter, but thrive. Diversity and Inclusion must take a front seat in business strategy and C-Suite planning in the weeks and months ahead.  In fact, I feel challenged when using the word inclusion because, in my opinion, it isn’t enough. The word equality feels as though it holds more weight in an effort to make measurable and meaningful impact.  And make no mistake, corporate and employer brands will be scrutinized more than ever on whether diversity and equality are embraced, valued, and visible in the workplace.  Just this week Apple’s workplace culture and brand was being called to task on social media. The strongest leaders and businesses will see this movement as an opportunity to make immediate change. So, if Diversity and Equality aren’t yet at the top of your strategic plans for 2020, they should be.

Don’t Just Post Support on Social Platforms. Take Action.

It is certainly moving to see the number of individuals and businesses that are taking a stand to support Black Lives Matter on social media. This public show of support is hard to ignore and will, undoubtedly, make some sort of impact. However, talk is cheap and we can’t simply stand by and wait for equality in the workplace to happen. We need to take action. 

Beyond that, if we are not prepared to take action and our people practices are not aligned with the messages of support that we are sharing, we need to rethink our approach. Just this week we saw the controversy surrounding Amazon’s social post supporting George Floyd protesters, when only a few weeks prior they had allegedly fired black employees who were vocal about how they were being treated during the COVID crisis. Your talent does not care for promises if they are not aligned with how you actually treat people. The talent community will not be fooled and they won’t quickly forget.

Look Inside Your Organization

Your employer brand is a reflection of your culture and employees and, right now, many employees are hurting.  Especially your black employees – they need your support.

Start Having Personal and Direct Conversations

Start with direct and personal conversations where possible. As leaders, our words and actions matter. If you haven’t already, take the next few days to prioritize asking your employees how they are feeling right now. Ask how the company can better support them now and in the future. Find out if any of your team members need personal time off or could benefit from counselling.  Learn what your employees, particularly your black employees, see as the biggest barriers to diversity and equality in the workplace. This is the time to really listen to your people and find out what they value most. 

Involve Your People and Listen to Learn

You’re trying to implement solutions that directly impact your people, so involve them. Conduct diversity pulse surveys and facilitate discussion groups to better understand how you can improve. Create forums and safe spaces for conversation and let your employees guide you. They will help you innovate, improve, and build a culture that is more diverse and equitable. And if you want to create a more neutral and trusting discovery environment, consider hiring a black facilitator, consultant, or agency partner to help you. 

Be Bold and Hold Yourself Accountable

To quote Colin Powell, “Have a vision. Be Demanding”. Articulate a clear, bold vision of what you want your company to achieve when it comes to diversity and equality.  Set aggressive KPIs for your executive team and hold each other accountable. Ensure that every leader has supporting objectives and KPIs to work towards because your vision will only be realized if it is owned and supported by all your leaders. In fact, a good question to answer this week is, can your C-Suite leaders articulate what the current diversity policy is for your organization. My gut feeling tells me that this will be quite revealing. But don’t stop there. Really look at the makeup of your executive and leadership teams, and ask yourself if they reflect diversity. Look at your demographics and diversity metrics and determine whether your workforce is truly diverse. When you examine survey data that speaks to how diverse and equitable your workforce is, don’t just look at all the responses in aggregate, look at the responses by demographics. How do the responses of your employees of colour compare to the responses overall? These are just a few ways to move beyond words and take action to help rebuild your workplace.

Address Bias In Your People Processes

Bias can live in many places, but one of the most obvious is in the recruitment process. Many organizations rely heavily on personal networks and referrals to fill vacant positions. This is especially true in management and leadership functions. This approach is often known to limit black applicants’ access to an organization. Then there’s the interview process itself, which can allow unconscious bias to creep in from hiring managers and recruiters, especially if you don’t provide training on unconscious bias or have a structured enough approach to limit its effects. 

Educate yourself and your teams about the various ways that bias can creep into your recruitment process (and any people processes really), and then take steps to address it. A great starting point is your internal recruitment team and agency partners – do they reflect the diversity you are looking for? If not, consider whether the lack of diversity on your team might be affecting your ability to implement meaningful changes to your diversity practices. Explore working with a black consultant, recruitment agency, or other trained expert who can bring diverse perspectives and best practices to the table.

Ensure Your Storytelling Represents the Culture You Want to Create

This past weekend I was captivated by a TikTok video of a mother and her daughter watching the SpaceX rocket launch. I was so impressed by one host that they were watching, SpaceX Engineer, Lauren Lyons, who happens to be a black woman. Lauren did a fantastic job explaining rocket science to non-rocket scientists, but that’s not what really caught my attention. What I loved most was seeing how a video of Lauren, a smart, successful, black, female engineer, inspired a little black girl to want to be an astronaut. It reinforced for me that the stories we hear and examples we see have a powerful impact on our perception of what’s real and what’s possible. 

This phenomenon is called the role model effect. Another powerful example of the role model effect can be found in a study of black elementary and high school students who either did or did not have a black teacher. The study found that “having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent”. Furthermore, the study followed them to high school and found that students who had at least one black teacher were more likely to expect that they would go to college. Having just one black teacher, or role model, not only kept these black students in school, but it made them more likely to believe that they themselves could pursue a college education. 

Let’s reflect for a moment. How many black role models do you have in your company? How many black success stories are being shared? How do you invest in mentoring and developing minorities and people of colour? A lack of diversity in your company’s storytelling and on your leadership team may be inadvertently having an impact on whether black employees are thriving in your organization. 

What’s the lesson I draw from this? We need to be more accountable as leaders on prioritizing our Diversity initiatives. We need to be transparent in the reporting of our goals, successes, and potential shortcomings in accomplishing a fully diverse and equitable culture. We need to listen to, empower, and support our black employees and communities. Our CSR initiatives need to support black communities.  And as much as possible, we need to ensure that our storytelling  and social platforms reflect the diversity that we want to see in our culture.  

Remember that Your Employer Brand Is Your Legacy 

According to Brand Marketing Blog, “the power of branding is its ability to influence behaviour”, and we agree. With this incredible power comes an opportunity, not just to positively represent our people and culture, but to help drive change. To say and do things that not only change consumer behaviours, but positively change employees’ lives. That opportunity is in front of all of us right now. 

We are committed to listening, learning, and doing better.  We also are eager to hear what you have to say. 


Author: Stacy Parker, Co-Founder and Managing Director – Blu Ivy Group
Photo: Jessica Felicio on Unsplash


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