Since 1976, February has marked Black History Month, a time to celebrate the rich and complicated history of Black Americans. But the month also serves as a somber reminder that Black Americans face systematic discrimination on a daily basis.
This is especially the case for Black workers, who encounter many barriers in the labor market – including discrimination in their job searches, occupational segregation, lower wages, increased risks of being fired, and higher levels of unemployment than their White counterparts. It’s not just along the traditional career inflection points that Black workers face discrimination; they also regularly experience at work micro- and macro-aggressions that not only can make them feel marginalized and unsafe, but also uncertain about their future at work. These factors can greatly affect Black workers’ ability to access, let alone climb, the corporate ladder, which has lasting impacts on Black Americans’ economic stability. Today, more than 25% of Black families have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than 10% of White families, and the median wealth of a Black family is $11,000 versus $95,000 for a White family.
That’s why this Black History Month, JUST Capital is highlighting the ways in which corporations can hire, support, and hold on to Black workers – with the hope that companies can play their part in rectifying the imbalance.
Conduct an assessment of your current workforce demographics.
Before taking direct steps to hire Black employees, you need to know the current demographic state of your workforce. Is the current number of Black employees on your team reflective of national demographics? Is it reflective of the local population? Understanding the racial and ethnic makeup of your workforce is an essential first step in determining what changes you might need to make to ensure your team is demographically representative – an imperative we’ve heard echoed by the public in focus groups across the country.
Set recruitment targets to address any discrepancies for Black employees.
Once you know the current makeup of your workforce, identify the specific positions and levels – from frontline workers to the C-suite – where Black employees are underrepresented. From there, set concrete recruitment targets, paired with accountability mechanisms that ensure that these targets will be met. Companies across sectors – from Microsoft to Johnson & Johnson – tie executive compensation to meeting diversity targets, and leaders at other companies like Citigroup are held accountable to the company’s targets in their performance reviews.
Develop recruitment strategies that prioritize the inclusion of Black candidates.
Today, Black employees face tremendous discrimination in the labor market, experiencing levels of unemployment at close to twice the rate of their White counterparts. Not only that, they tend to be out of work longer than their White, Asian, and Latinx peers. To include more Black candidates in the hiring process, build recruitment strategies and processes that account for racial and ethnic diversity – like ensuring that at least one ethnically/racially diverse candidate is brought in for final-round interviews for a position and/or establishing resume screening techniques that work to eliminate bias and discrimination.
Build a pipeline for local talent.
In addition to setting recruitment targets, invest in initiatives that build skills and provide opportunity to your local workforce and community, which can aid in ongoing recruitment efforts for Black candidates. A great example of this is IBM’s P-Tech associate degree program, which provides skills training to students from high school through early college in areas of applied science, engineering, computer science, and other STEM disciplines, which then feeds the company’s apprentice program and hiring pipeline.
Build an internal pipeline.
Black workers with college or advanced degrees face a higher likelihood of being underemployed than their White counterparts (3.5% vs 2.2%). Further, Black workers face greater barriers to advancement, with few represented at management or executive levels – for example, for every 100 men who are promoted to management, only 58 Black women are promoted and only 1 in 25 C-suite executives is a Woman of Color. Provide Black employees with additional training, career development opportunities, and managerial support to ensure that they are well-positioned to advance to more senior openings.
Create pathways to employment for persons with criminal records.
Black Americans are arrested at a far higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S., and in 2016, constituted 27% of all individual arrests, twice their share of the U.S. population. The 77 million Americans with a criminal record today are 50% less likely to receive a call-back or job offer, and the impact is twice as great for Blacks. To help combat this issue – one the American public has highlighted to us in our focus groups – implement a second chance policy that helps individuals with criminal records re-enter the workforce, or actively establish a recruitment pipeline for formerly incarcerated persons. At this time, only 13 companies of the 922 we ranked in 2020 have established such a policy. Flower Foods stands out in this regard: 30% of the workforce at its Dave’s Killer Bread brand in Oregon has a criminal record and the company is actively encouraging other brands to follow their lead.
Workplace Experience & Retention
Conduct an analysis to confirm that you are paying Black employees equally.
Too often, we look at individual workers and find justifications for why they are not being promoted or given raises as regularly as other employees. Today, Black men and women make 72 cents and 62 cents, respectively, for each dollar their White male colleagues make – which is why it is critical to look at how Black workers are being paid compared to their peers. Look at the compensation of your employees, and ask: Are your Black employees paid less across the board? Are they promoted less frequently? Are they receiving smaller raises? Conduct a pay equity analysis that looks at both race/ethnicity and gender across roles, be transparent about the results, and create a plan to correct any discrepancies you find.
Acknowledge and work to combat racial stereotypes.
There are a number of distinct racial stereotypes that surround Black individuals, which can profoundly and negatively impact their experience in the workplace – particularly, Black women and men can be perceived as angry, aggressive, or evening threatening. Managers and colleagues should work to build awareness of these stereotypes, and pay attention to instances where they might be treating Black colleagues differently. In particular, managers should recognize that it can be triggering for Black employees to receive criticism that reinforces racial stereotypes. Unconscious bias training – while limited and not an outright solution to these issues without the implementation of organizational policies and procedures – can be a valuable first step in confronting these stereotypes, and better understanding how they, and the actions that can result from them, impact the experiences of Black colleagues. It is important to note that these trainings – which focus group participants have told us they want to see from corporate America – are most effective when they happen on a regular, rather than one-off, basis.
Ensure that managers know how to support Black colleagues.
Managers play a critical role in ensuring that Black employees feel supported and encouraged to advance within their organization and beyond. Make sure that supervisors are aware of issues Black people face in the workplace, and provide them with training and resources that helps them better support their Black team members. Catalyst, for example, has developed a guide for managers looking to better support their Black female colleagues, providing a framework for how they can become aware of stereotypes, challenge assumptions, and recognize their own status and privilege. Note that the issues faced by Black women and men can be different, and it is important that managers understand key nuances in working with Black colleagues of different genders. Unfortunately, managers can also be a source of discrimination, and it is critical for colleagues and other managers to listen when Black employees voice concerns that they are being marginalized by teammates or supervisors.
Foster inclusive spaces for Black employees.
Black workers often express that they feel they don’t fit in to the dominant culture of their companies, and it’s important to ensure that your company’s culture embraces the strengths in your team’s differences, creating space for every individual to bring their authentic selves safely to the workplace. Provide a supportive structure for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to be created. Studies have shown that the mentorship provided through these groups has helped Black workers – and other workers of color – with recruitment, internal mobility, and retention. Ensure these groups exist not only within your company’s headquarters, but are also available in other locations and to all workers. In addition, conduct regular employee engagement surveys, and look at the results by demographics to identify specific issues Black workers may have raised and next steps your company can make to help address them.
Implement clear mechanisms for response to discrimination against Black workers.
Whether or not employers implement all the best practices above, discriminatory situations are unfortunately likely to still arise, and what matters most is how companies respond and react to those situations. Often workers who report discrimination face retaliation, creating a climate of distrust and even fear, where Black workers may be worried to even bring forward a discrimination claim. In addition to following due process, it is important for White colleagues to respond from a place of empathy and understanding that they may not fully comprehend what constitutes a micro-aggression. Create clear grievance mechanisms for employees to report instances of harrassment or discrimination, and be transparent about steps management will take to address what has happened.
Most important for all corporate leaders to understand is that the fight for equality for Black Americans is never over. Our country has struggled with the issue of race for hundreds of years – from the moment European settlers set foot on American soil, to 60 years ago when Black Americans earned the right to vote, to today when the fight for equal treatment continues, not only in the workplace but in communities, in hospitals, in schools, and in courtrooms. Racial bias is unacceptable but remains part of the fabric of our nation to this day. Corporate leaders can and should play their part, endeavoring to improve experiences for Black employees by taking as many of the above steps as possible. Doing so will not only help your Black workers feel more safe and supported within your company, but could be an important step toward equality for future Black Americans.