Employers, Here Are 4 Ways You Can Advocate For Your Underrepresented Employees
The goal of advocating for underrepresented (minorities and women) employees means making them feel safe, welcome, appreciated and equal. Prior to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movement, it was the unspoken truth of the workplace that women and minorities were inferior to their white male counterparts. Women and minorities faced, and continue to face, harassment, disrespect and discrimination from their counterparts while leadership turns a blind eye, retaliates against them for speaking up or they’re pushed out of the company.
Although these movements have brought awareness to an issue that has been ongoing, companies are slowly starting to understand the importance of making their employees feel valued. Recently, Goldman Sachs’ announced they won’t take companies public unless they have at least one “diverse” member on its board.
According to Farzana Nayani, diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and strategist, “underrepresented groups including women and minorities systematically faced discrimination due to unconscious bias and policies that prevent their full leadership potential from being recognized and fully realized.”
Here are four ways employers can advocate for their diverse employees to create an equitable culture.
Create Community Through Mentorship
Underrepresented groups such as minorities and women should have a support system where they’re comfortable and safe having conversations around workplace relationships, current events as well as the journey of their career.
Book clubs are a valuable way to share insights and gain new perspectives. Additionally, companies can host regular discussions and workshops around networking, skill development and negotiation that feature internal and external speakers.
According to a Randstad survey,
- 72% of companies don’t offer mentorship or leadership programs geared towards women
- 58% of women said a lack of promotion to a leadership role was a top reason for gender inequality in the workplace
Nayani recommended employers to consider holding “a fireside chat with a female executive, or a panel discussion with senior leaders who are people of color so that employees at the company can hear their journeys within the company and industry and be inspired.”
Engage In Difficult Conversations
Most managers shy away from difficult or sensitive conversations for fear of creating a divide within the workplace. However, by not having these conversations, companies are missing out on meaningful dialogue and impeding the growth of their workers.
Before engaging in difficult conversations, it’s crucial that both managers and leadership set and commit to maintaining guidelines. This prevents discrimination or disrespectful comments. Furthermore, it keeps a pulse of the room, helps to clarify expectations, seeks feedback and works together to find solutions.
Managers and leadership should lead this by asking difficult questions and listening carefully to understand what challenges their underrepresented workers face. Suzanne Brown, award-winning author, explained “it seems simple, but it’s a multi-step process and ends with making things happen instead of listening without action.”
Employees not only want to have their voices heard but they want their employers to follow through on the commitments they’ve made to them. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there are things that can be done that will have an impact such as immediately addressing disrespectful comments, having difficult discussions, engaging men as allies for women and consistently communicating expectations as well as what won’t be tolerated.
Revise And Tailor Policies To Workers Of All Backgrounds
Companies can advocate and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for both women and minorities by revisiting and revising their current policies and benefits. For example, offering more flexibility so single mothers or parents can take care of their responsibilities such as taking children to doctor's appointments, staying home with them when they’re sick, attending their own doctor's appointments, etc…
According to Pew Research, out of 41 countries, the U.S. is the only country that lacks paid parental leave creating more stress for single parents or households that can’t afford to take unpaid leave. Companies should aim to improve their parental leave policies giving more time to employees who are new parents. Moreover, employers should adopt a more flexible workplace so individuals don’t have to choose between the health of themselves or their family and a paycheck.
A few other policies employers should consider are:
- Incorporating a SAFE leave policy for domestic violence victims to have the support they need to leave an abusive relationship and protect themselves
- Implementing a policy against micro-aggressions and bias by openly communicating how issues and mistreatment can be reported and engaging men as allies
- Committing to a zero-tolerance policy that eliminates offensive and undesirable behavior such as harassment, discrimination, violence, etc…
Malte Scholz, CEO and co-founder of Airfocus, shared “employers often focus on major harassment issues but fail to address mistreatments that happen on a daily basis.” For example, certain jokes that are inappropriate and make people feel uncomfortable often go unaddressed or aren’t taken seriously when a complaint is made. In order for zero-tolerance policies to be effective, Scholz said “they need to be bias-free and applicable to everyday situations.” Violators, regardless of rank or title, should be held liable for their actions. This shows underrepresented workers that their employer is committed to serious change.
Provide Support Through Training
Nayani asserted companies should have their unconscious bias training coupled with bystander intervention training. These trainings will empower workers with the skills and resources to report any bias they witness or experience.
More often than not women and minorities don’t speak up because they’ve been made to feel their opinions aren’t welcome or their voices don’t matter. Providing training and coaching can help underrepresented individuals find their voice and the confidence to use it. When living in Germany, I provided a lunch training at a WeWork in Berlin to their women’s group teaching them how to negotiate salaries and promotions.
Furthermore, leadership and management should advocate for underrepresented individuals by inviting them to share and making their voices feel heard. Diversity means little without inclusion. Hiring diverse employees means little if those employees don’t feel heard or valued. When employees feel like they belong they’re more comfortable speaking up and expressing themselves confidently.