Ep. 11: Addressing Racism at Work - bettHR

In This Episode

  • Let’s open up the dialogue on racism at work and what we, in HR can do to start impacting change.
  • Two very specific actions we need to take now, to ensure our employees feel heard and safe.
  • First, we need to communicate, have a response, and be transparent.
  • Second, we need to evaluate what our own biases are, and how we have been making hiring and promotional decisions, through the lens of racism.

Resources

(00:00): Every time. We don't take action. Every time we keep silent, every time we turn the other way, we're missing a huge opportunity and we're telling our employees that all those things we want are actually not important. I'm Melissa Anzman, HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide and I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun. Fast forward past many fail tactics and lessons learned and you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters, work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact.

(01:02): If you're an HR leader or one on the rise who's looking to stop spinning your wheels doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results or you want to have a career you love, you're in the right place. Let's get started. Hi, friends, this is a special episode of the rethink HR podcast or should I say not what we had planned for this week, but when the world around you is hurting as much as it is here in the U S right now, plans need to change. Now, I am not an expert in how we can make things better, but the best way that I know how to work at this is to share with you what I do know and what we can all do in HR to be better and foster dialogue and change. In this episode, I want to address two very specific ways HR can help change from within your own organization.

(01:57): I will note these discussions aren't going to be easy for me, for you, for your company, for your employees. I want to also apologize in advance if I make any missteps along the way. I am learning to and want to create dialogue and it likely won't be perfect and you likely won't be either when you start out. This is new for us, for many of us I should say, but we're going to tackle this anyway. We have to today I want to dive in to what HR, yes, you, HR and me must do right now to help your employees learn, cope and change to address the social and racial injustices and protests following the murder of George Floyd. I know your instinct right now is to stop listening because we're taught particularly in HR to not go there, but we have to and I'm not going to ask you to take big sweeping changes or steps outside of your comfort zone in a big way.

(03:02): So please hang in with me here. I've been really intentional on the things that we can influence and that will actually create change. So even though you're fighting against it, please do. Please stick here. Please don't turn away because instead I want you to start the conversation and here's what I mean by that. I want to do a little quick comparison. When coven 19 started ravishing the world, what did you do? Well, we quickly mobilized to change the way we work, provide staff and support support to our staff. We communicated a lot more with a lot more information and details and transparency. We shared wellness and mental health resources. We updated our external advertising campaigns to reflect the quote unquote current times. Our social media posts changed and so on. Many of us also had to lay off employees and communicate those changes as well and all the various moving pieces and I haven't seen those same principles that all hands on deck over communication, transparency apply to what's going on now.

(04:16): I haven't seen companies as a whole talk about racism, how it's impacting their employees, the many recent events, their stance on them. There is Acceptability of them. I haven't seen it at all for covert. There were so many emails and resources to retool our businesses and lives, but now we're going to be silent. But we have companies NHR have gone silent. We were all in this together when we were battling a pandemic. And now when we're battling a 400 year old society injustices that are finally being elevated and talked about at a national level, we're quiet and being quiet as I've learned means we aren't taking a side. You aren't taking a stand, you aren't creating a truly safe work environment for all of your employees. Likely you're not doing it intentionally. You're probably also not intentionally bringing your own biases and perspectives of years of corporate appropriateness to the situation.

(05:29): But we are and we're letting our employees down. And personally I'm devastated. I hadn't realized this sooner. So what can we do to change this? Well, we must communicate to our employees what we stand for and take action about the things we stand against. We absolutely must. We need to show and tell our employees how as a company we're working towards creating a safe environment for all of them and invite them to help us to do so and listen to what they tee up, tell us, listen to what they're trying to teach us. Go back and review the requests that have come before that we have said, eh, not right now, not top priority. Not sure how this helps. We must listen. Have you reached out to your colleagues of color, black colleagues in particular? I've been told we must call them out like that right now and checked on them to see what support you can offer them.

(06:43): Have you made wellness and mental health resources available to your employees? Again, have you opened the dialogue and conversation? Have you been transparent about what your company thinks about all of the things going on right now? What is your plan for educating all of your employees and how to uncover their biases, intentional or not? How are you going to stop the cycle, especially with the not so overt things that we've all seen and it either didn't register for us or we turn the other way. This is not going to be an overnight change, but as HR leaders, we are uniquely positioned and required frankly to start working on this right now to start doing the deep work needed to change our workplace culture and experiences. We cannot wait, but we have to start and we do that by communicating. You don't need to be perfect or an expert, but you do not continue to be silent about it.

(07:46): Your leaders must speak up, ask them to speak up. Your employees need guidance and they need to hear from the top. Ask your employees how they can help you be better stewards, partner with an expert. You may even already have an in house diversity and inclusion expert who can help guide you or at least bring you to the right resources. We have to think and act in this situation and topic with the same mobilization and rigorous figure that we did for covert 19 and in the show notes I've shared some resources to help you get started and figure out where to go next because it isn't easy. The second thing we need to do to fully realize and change is this truth. It's a hard one. HR has been complicit in perpetuating racism in the workplace. Now, please don't get defensive here. This is really important and unfortunately it's true.

(08:55): I want to talk to you about the Cooper incident in New York city public park. That happened about a week and a half ago or so. At this point, the incident absolutely took my breath away. I had a physical reaction to watching the video and watching what happened. In case you haven't seen it in short or haven't read about it. In short, a white woman went to a park and was not following the rules they had. She had her dog off leash, a another park visitor, a birdwatcher who was also a black man, asked her to leash her dog and he had the foresight to record the situation. Now I say he had the foresight. To me, it's a thing I would never would have thought of it likely, but as a black man, he knew to get his phone out again. Heartbreaking. But what unfolded after there was truly horrifying to me.

(09:58): The woman used race as a threat to the man, then created fake panic while calling the cops and had it all wrapped up about him being a black man all about race. The incident itself was scary to me. Just watching. I cannot even begin to imagine how Mr. Cooper was feeling or how he feels every day of his life. But what struck me like a brick was that that woman, the woman perpetuating this was a senior level executive at a well-respected financial company. She was a VP and she'd been a senior leader at other organizations. Her current company, after watching the video did fire her, which in my opinion was the only move to make and no that didn't take place on company property or company time. But I would ask you, is that the type of employee who embodies and fosters a safe work environment?

(11:01): The answer is no. It's definitely not. So the company took action, but it got me to thinking a little bit bigger and I'd like to shout out to HR apprise for also sharing her thoughts on the matter which happened to just bring my own to the next level, which is how many times has HR looked the other way or not been brought in or not made aware or ignored or didn't realize that she had potential racist thoughts at work. Specifically as I think about this one person's employment and growth up the promotion ladder, and I know that may sound like a leap, that her actions in a park are related to her promotions at work, but based on how she handled the situation in the park in that moment, it was not a knee jerk reaction. It was an ingrained part of who she is now.

(12:07): She may not have ever been this overt at work. We'll never really know those details, but in this moment it was absolutely her default and she continued to escalate it and escalate it and she was a senior leader in several organizations. She was the person that was promoted. We in HR were part of allowing that culture to be amplified and held up as the shining standard of what we want in our organizations. Now, she likely never came out and said, obviously quote unquote racist things at work, but how many candidates weren't hired because she didn't think they were a culture fit or as Franklin Leonard asked, how many times has she said behind closed doors that a black coworker wasn't a team player? Isn't one of us or made her uncomfortable. She's just one person. But I look back to my own experience and career in HR and I can point to dozens, if not hundreds, not exaggerating, of people who have been promoted with subliminal problems with concerns that had been raised, but not quite fireable.

(13:33): Definitely not PIP worthy, but just not really who we think we want in that role, but we get overturned or we feel like we can't say something or what have you. Specifically, I think about the white men that I've worked with who've been promoted, who shouldn't have, who held senior positions, who shouldn't have, not because they aren't good at their job, but because they are terrible leaders, they're not inclusive and that doesn't mean that they're necessarily racist. I'm not calling anyone a racist, but it does mean that they created uncomfortable work environments in small and probably big ways and we in HR haven't managed that well. We haven't stood up. We haven't named their names as Rachel Rogers points out. Now, one of the other things I see going on in HR that we absolutely must pay attention to along these lines is our HR leaders are usually white men and our HR workers.

(14:46): Those of us who do the great work in HR are mostly female and quite diverse. How does that happen? I was working at this large company and they had an, the head of HR for the entire company globally was open and in my opinion, they had one of the most stellar HR people I have ever had the privilege of working with in my career. Whose next step was that role? She was most senior. The next role was that head C H R O position. She was a woman. She was a black woman and she was not selected for that role. They brought in an external white man to fill it. Now, I don't know of the qualification parameters or where she stacked up, so to speak. Obviously I thought she was a better candidate, but I do remember thinking, wow, he has absolutely no connection with the team, with the people who are doing the work.

(15:57): He had absolutely no connection. He didn't look, he didn't talk, he didn't know the people who were doing the work. And so I want you to really consider that as you get more senior in HR, more men, more white men specifically are usually promoted when the workers, the people who should be promoted, the ones who have the experience, who show up everyday are usually women and people of color. And now the other thing I want to talk about is diversity and inclusion. So I remember when I was working at another big company and they implemented their first diversity and inclusion hiring standards. So you had to, their standard was you had to interview a certain number of diverse candidates for each position and a certain percentage of the hires had to be what we considered as diverse candidates. And it was a percentage that was low, like lower at the highest levels.

(16:59): So if you had to hire a diverse candidate, let's just say throwing numbers out here at the VP level, you had to hire a diverse candidate 20% of the time. At the manager level, it was a 40% of the time and at line workers it was 50% of the time. So they inherently made it harder for diverse candidates to actually be chosen as a top candidate at the highest level. And I also remember it being very difficult for HR to meet these numbers across the board, the number of interview candidates and the number of hiring candidates to match the diverse numbers and worse, worse. I remember HR telling a strong candidate for a VP position to be sure to self a diverse category that two or more races category instead of the white male category he was actually in, in order to be able to get the job.

(18:02): There were work arounds of their own diversity and inclusion process and this still happens. I spoke up about it. I said something, I didn't think it was right. I didn't think he was the most qualified candidate and I didn't think that hiring a another white man for a role when we had diverse candidates who were equally as qualified was the right thing to do. I spoke up and I was quieted and instead that leader complained to my boss that I undermined him in a meeting and he didn't feel fully supported by his HR partner and my boss. Another white man, female, believed him, took his side and reprimanded me for not doing my job properly. I worked at another super large company who brought on a diversity and inclusion officer who was the only the DNI person for 90,000 employees. He alone was supposed to change the way the company managed diversity and inclusion.

(19:11): He was able to set up employee action subgroups that were hardly attended or participated in and that was about it. The company was simply checking a box. He since been promoted to a different role in the organization like marketing or something after only being in DNI for a year. Another big company that I've worked with has an entire DNI department, but they literally literally refuse to use images of differently abled or diverse people in their recruiting collateral. This is the diversity and inclusion PR program department. My point here is is we are not doing enough. We need to learn how to recognize racism that isn't as avert as we thought it had to be. We have to change the way we approach our culture or hiring our standards the very way that we do HR, because I know that we all want safe and inclusive work environments.

(20:19): I know we all want people, first companies, and I know we want to do HR work that matters, and yet every time we don't take action. Every time we keep silent, every time we turn the other way, we're missing a huge opportunity and we're telling our employees that all those things we want are actually not important. So I ask that you joined me on this journey. It's not going to be an overnight thing, but we have to start with us. HR is the linchpin here. Each one of us can do so much. So I ask that you look at the resources in the show notes, take action, and let's start a dialogue together for real change. Thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including show notes and resources, please go to rethink HR podcast.com/eleven.