The country is – at last – seeing a potential end to the Pandemic Era and its associated lockdowns. President Joe Biden has said that vaccines will be available to anyone who wants one by May, paving the way for full re-openings, a return to socialization, and the welcome arrival of the next chapter, the “New Normal” in this country. Yet within this “New Normal,” what can corporations do to ensure racial equity has a meaningful role? a few strategies to consider over the next few months, as organizations begin to move out of crisis-survival mode and back into regular business operations.
First, it is important to realize that this next chapter truly is a new chapter for this country. The last year has opened millions of eyes to long-held biases and long-standing racial wounds in communities across the country. What’s been seen, said and done cannot be erased. Especially with trials, protests and injustices still ongoing in many places, it will not be possible – or even practical – to attempt to return to the ways things were. Thus, it is not an efficient use of time or resources to even attempt to “just pick up where we left off last year” when it comes to corporate racial equity initiatives.
Secondly, there needs to be much more listening and pulse taking within organizations around racial issues and racial equity concerns. Many employees have had a raw and challenging year personally, to say nothing of what they have been through in the workplace or seen unfolding in their communities.
According to experts interviewed by The HR Team, the COVID-19 pandemic functioned as a “perfect storm” that ripped apart systems and communities on an unprecedented level. Emotions are running high while stores of energy and mental bandwidth are low. Thus, ensuring that everyone is feeling heard and developing a true comfort and consensus around equity within the organization is essential, even though this can sometimes run counter to the desire to see quick, positive change in the world. As they say, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. This end goal of unified progress on this critical initiative must be kept in mind.
Third, it is increasingly clear that well-meant but empty words and lip service will no longer be tolerated. This pandemic exposed copious examples of words not aligning with actions, systems not living up to ideals, and leaders operating with a “rules for thee but not for me” mindset. These transgressions and failings were called out on social media and other platforms, sometimes by reporters, but more often by employees and stakeholders who would no longer stand for a world that operated in such an unequal and inequitable way.
In light of this increased attention – and increased comfort on the part of individuals in speaking truth to power – corporations will need to do more than issue the right kinds of statements or donate to the right causes. Instead, transparent systems of action will need to be adopted. For example, instead of saying “We support diversity in hiring,” and doing nothing more, firms will need to establish recruitment practices that bring more diverse candidates forward. Firms should also expect – and be ready to answer – questions about the design, funding, implementation and ongoing monitoring of their equity initiatives.
Finally, corporations need to accept that none of this work can be done in isolated silos. Racial equity is not a C-suite problem or a frontline problem. It is not something for diversity, equity, and inclusion group to solve alone or champion alone. Most importantly, it is not something that can be done quietly as an addition to other duties.
In the “New Normal” that lies ahead, corporations need to make a break from the past, listen and encourage listening, put systemic action behind their words, and embrace racial equity as something that is a part of – and the responsibility of – the entire company. In this way, the knowledge, awareness and lived experiences of the last year can become the foundations of a world where we truly have built back better.