Ten Ways to Address Systemic Racism in Companies

by Deborah Leipziger

Winston Churchill advised that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.”  So as the world takes to the streets to protest racist systems, what can we do as board members and as companies? What can we achieve in the coming months to make 2020 a year of inclusion and equity?

Hiring practices – Most companies use hiring practices designed to screen people out rather than to be inclusive. Let’s instead advocate for inclusive hiring and open hiring to bring in people who have been excluded. The ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s has created values-led hiring, dismantling barriers to hiring for people who face discrimination.

Pay structures – Companies should conduct human rights due diligence to ensure that there is equity in how staff are promoted and rewarded.  

Policies – Ensure that you have policies in place to promote equity and inclusion. Reward staff for implementing inclusive policies and hiring and promoting diverse candidates.  

Security in the workforce – Many companies hire security without much thought as to whether or not these security guards are trained to respect human rights. Consider making training a priority to avoid human rights abuses.   

Discuss the undiscussable – Does your company create open forums for discussion? Does it operate channels to address complaints, concerns, and allow for communication on issues that are too often ignored?  

Environmental justice – Is your company or your suppliers complicit in environmental racism, polluting water ways and communities that are home to disadvantaged groups?

Mentoring – What mechanisms does your company have to advise staff from disadvantaged groups? How do you use mentoring programs to promote leaders from diverse backgrounds?

Inclusive sourcing: Sourcing from suppliers and local businesses which are owned by disadvantaged groups can leverage opportunity. Companies can source from businesses such as ArtLifting that support people with disabilities, or those transitioning to secure living spaces. Taj Hotels sources its uniforms from a village of weavers, Serai Mohani, whose traditional culture of weaving had been lost.

Symbols and systems – What does your company value? How do you express those values? How are people rewarded? What is celebrated? While symbols are not enough, they are meaningful.

Be a change agent – Speak up! Use your company’s platform to lobby for inclusive laws. Encourage employees to participate in public life by giving them paid time to vote. Work collectively with your industry to be an advocate for change and to amplify your message to build a more inclusive society.