"Racial Inclusion in the Workplace" with Rosa Ponce de Leon, Leadership Strategist

Racial Inclusion in the Workplace

“Racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better.”

Everyone should be able to bring their unique gifts and talents to the workplace, regardless of their ethnicity or background. I was raised by Mexican parents in a racially diverse community where I experienced discrimination first hand. Because of this, I learned just how important it is to embrace different cultures.

Now more than ever, there is a divide and people are hurting. We cannot pretend to be open-minded. We all have certain blind spots or prejudices and we can either help or hinder change based on our actions as leaders.

How to make your workplace more inclusive and why zero tolerance is not the best tactic

One of the first “solutions” companies jump to is the idea of a zero tolerance policy. Having a zero tolerance policy may sound nice in theory, but it can actually cause more harm than good. When there’s a zero tolerance policy, people tend to hide issues from you. Let’s face it, no one wants to get anyone else in trouble.

So how can you make your workplace more inclusive? Look to your own blind spots. Have you noticed that you tend to hang out with a certain race? Are members of your leadership team representative of one culture or race? Where is your company on the spectrum of diversity?

Making your hiring process inclusive

Having a racially diverse team starts with the hiring and promoting of people. Do your people have access to the same opportunities? Or is there a ceiling for certain types of people?

When you look at your hiring process, consider your track record. Who have you hired? Who have you not hired? Who are you attracting? Look at who is currently inside of your organization and ask yourself “why?” Look at those that have been rejected or denied opportunities, what would they have to say?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying all the right things but not actually practicing what we preach. We start with good intentions but sometimes our own prejudices cloud our judgment and decision making. Recognize that these prejudices exist in all of us. Be open minded to hearing a different POV. Are you being as open minded as you say?

As a child, I remember spending hours working hard on a school science project. I was excited to present my project at school until I saw what the other children had created. While I had worked on my project alone, the other children had the help of their parents. Let’s face it, the “help” they received meant the parents made the project for them.

In this example, I felt defeated and not smart enough. I didn’t understand why the other student’s projects were “perfect” and mine wasn’t as good as theirs. While my parents would have loved to help, they were busy working and supporting our family in other ways. Simply put, I didn’t have the same opportunities as other children in my class.

As a leader, be aware of this happening in your workplace. Not everyone has the same support system at home. Not everyone has the same opportunities in or outside of the workplace. You can help by investing in those people yourself. Start by listening and regularly checking in on these people.

How to ensure all voices are heard

To ensure all voices are heard, start by genuinely listening to what people have to say. Don’t be afraid to ask. And once you do, really care to listen. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up in a large group, take them to coffee or send them an email. Not everyone has the same communication preferences as you, so make a point to at least meet them halfway.

Historic tensions in the workplace

We can’t just sweep the past under the rug and act like it didn’t happen.  Racial tensions still exist. People are hurt and subject to certain triggers. 

Leaders have a role in listening to understand, while others have a role in healing. Be graceful with others. Not everyone is in your shoes or has experienced what you have. And as someone who has experienced discrimination first hand, it’s important to seek healing so that we don’t hold others responsible for something they didn’t do.

Give people the choice of when they are ready to make a change

When it comes to racial inclusion in the workplace, start by listening. Ask questions to understand, rather than being judgmental. Be the kind and caring person that you would want someone to be with you.

What steps will you take to create a more racially inclusive workplace?


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