What do you do when you see others who aren’t treated fairly, who are passed over for promotions, or who are ignored in meetings that you don’t run? When there’s a spate of exits by people of color or women (who already make up the minority of the company), do you speak up? Even after bringing up issues and citing specific instances, management still feels strongly that the company is run as a meritocracy. Where do you go from here?
It’s challenging when management hasn’t bought into the idea that their company might not be supportive of a diverse set of backgrounds, opinions and experiences. Who wants to think they’re less than awesome? It might be difficult for those who are in senior positions to admit that there’s a problem and that they should shoulder some responsibility. This, however, is what should happen in order to move forward and grow as a company. The research is there for anyone to see. So, what can you do? Here are a few options for you to consider.
First, fight imposter syndrome
It can be really easy to assume that the problem lies with you. You may feel that you’re the one that’s not the ‘team player’ and that you’re causing friction in what would otherwise be a completely harmonious and perfect work environment. We call BS on that. Don’t give in to imposter syndrome! The best ways to fight this are by writing down your experiences (or saving any relevant emails and chats) and finding allies. We dive more into finding allies below. Know that if others are validating your experience, it’s not you.
Be clear on what you want
You’ve witnessed or been subjected to enough instances of bias that you want it to change. Be very clear on what you want that change to look like. Write it out. Start with being clear on what the biases are (including specific examples) and how you want things to change. Be helpful by making suggestions for improvement. Suggestions could include: the formation of an employee resource group (see below), making salaries transparent, working smarter and harder to increase diversity initiatives when hiring, training to address unconscious bias in hiring practices and workplace inclusion, etc. Whatever the relevant suggestions for your particular situation may be, make sure to come prepared when you have conversations with people.
Find allies in leadership
In a perfect world, awareness of bias and a willingness to be proactive in creating an inclusive culture comes from everywhere, and definitely from senior leadership. The best thing you can do is find your allies– the more senior they are the better, since they’ll likely have the power to implement change more quickly. There are several ways you can find allies. If you have good relationships with senior staff you trust at the company, start there. If this isn’t the case, it’s worth focusing on your direct manager. Your manager is key to making or breaking your job. If they have your back and are advocating for you, you’re in a strong position to be heard and grow. If, however, your manager isn’t willing to do this, it might be time to move on. And you wouldn’t be alone. One of the primary reasons people leave their current job is having a bad manager. If your manager is an ally, you should be in a good position to advocate for change through them. However, remember that allies can come from anywhere. Look to your co-workers, managers on different teams, employee resource group leaders, or (if your company has one) members of the diversity office.
Invite everyone to watch a video training on unconscious bias
Book a conference room and send out an invitation! This can work out well for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll know that the people in the room are likely ready to support you. Second, you can have a frank discussion about actual examples of unconscious bias you’ve witnessed at the company. Remind people that one of the most powerful takeaways is that bias doesn’t equal bad. Bias should be acknowledged and adjusted based on the situation. It’s worth watching this video on how to talk about race. Conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, are all complicated and hard, but they shouldn’t be avoided if there’s something worth discussing. Once you have a list of allies, consider starting an employee resource group or having a regular discussion (online and/or in person) about issues of unconscious bias.
Build an employee resource group
Employee resource groups can be incredibly powerful with or without a formal budget. By coming together as a group to discuss issues specifically related to a particular need (whether gender, race, sexual orientation, or something else) and finding creative ways to problem solve, you’ll be in a better position to advocate for your needs. Here are some quick tips on how to start one:
- First, check with management or HR to see if there are already any existing groups, or plans to start any. Confirm if there are any issues with starting a group. Acknowledge that there’s no expectation that there will be budget put towards this effort (although you never know– maybe you will be able to get some if you just ask!). The main thing to get clarity on is to be sure that you didn’t sign anything as an employee that says you can’t start a group.
- Put out a call and get a group of interested people together to have a first meeting. In that meeting, talk about what you would like your mission to be, and what some goals are. Some examples are creating a mentorship program, support the company’s goals to hire more diverse talent, build internal support for the group. Identify whether anyone would like to also take on leadership roles as part of the group.
- Set up a regular meeting schedule.
- Set up a Slack channel or another tool that allows for internal communication.
- Stick with it! While the company may not be in a position to financially support the group, if it grows and data is used to support its usefulness to the company, that could change.
What are other steps you’ve taken to get your company to focus on creating an inclusive culture? We’d love you to tell us!
Photo Credit: Women of color in tech