Image: Nike

Protests have erupted across the world in response to the senseless killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then came #BlackoutTuesday, an initiative that saw black squares dominate social media as countless individuals and organizations aimed to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. While this social media-centric initiative has raised awareness, it is only the first step towards addressing racial injustice. The next step is to actively make change.s 

With that in mind, here are a few of the ways businesses can show their support beyond tokenistic social media posts, and how they can play a pivotal role in actively changing their workplaces … 

1. Beyond black-washing

Advocating for diversity and inclusion publicly should be more than just a marketing exercise, otherwise, it is just an example of Black Power-washing. This is where brands issue empty statements about their commitment to ethnic minorities without showing a real commitment to change their practices. 

One of many examples of how to stand for real change is Nike’s sponsorship of Colin Kaepernick, which showed that a company was willing to stand for freedom of speech when the NFL and their customer base was divided on the issue of racial injustice. This action involved taking a risk and alienated some of Nike’s customers.

Simply posting a black square on Instagram one day and going back to business-as-usual the next day is disingenuous. Businesses should pledge to be part of the solution.

By now we all know that as consumers we have some power to vote with our wallets. This means you can actively seek out black-owned businesses to spend with. Some lists can make your spending more informed, from those that list businesses supporting black communities and others that compile the responses to racial injustice of various brands. 

2. Be an anti-racist organization

There are two main reasons to be anti-racist. The business case: the idea that avoiding discrimination makes good business sense. And the moral case: the idea that avoiding discrimination is the right thing to do ethically and legally. An anti-racist takes action to challenge racial inequality. It is not enough to avoid acting on the unconscious biases we all hold. Being anti-racist is about speaking out on and changing structural inequalities at work.

This year, 2020, is the poster year for anti-fragile businesses, organizations that improve and strengthen from crises and stress. We can combine being anti-fragile with being anti-racist. 

How has your organization responded to recent crises? Would uncovering racism or other forms of discrimination in your organization be an opportunity to change and improve? Do your employees feel that they have the freedom to speak up and out about discrimination?

3. Understand the impact of intersectionality

We are all diverse and unique. However, for some, these characteristics of diversity combine to create a toxic cocktail of inequality. Race inequality can be compounded by issues of class, gender and age. The same efforts made to promote equality based on one characteristic should be applied to all.

In the United Kingdom, for instance, we are now committed to reporting the gender pay gap. The next step is reporting the pay of different ethnic groups within the organization.

4. Sponsor refugees

Minority groups are disproportionately affected by conflict and war and many become refugees who can no longer depend on their state for protection. Businesses can join the 150 UK workplaces, colleges and community groups who sponsor refugees through the citizens UK’s scheme or international ones.

5. Re-invent your hiring practices

Discrimination is still a major factor in the unemployment of ethnic minorities. To reduce this you could invest in blind hiring practices. Removing names from resumes is the first step. This can be followed by diversity auditing. We can ask ourselves how diverse are the teams making hiring decisions? Are we advertising in places that may attract a diverse talent pool? 

Finally, and most radically we can ask if the traditional interview is the best way to select a candidate? Have we considered other methods or recruitment products that reduce bias.

6. Support mental health at work

Ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by mental health issues. Research shows that racism damages mental healththrough unemployment, underemployment, associated sexism and lower social and political capital. Creating a supportive work environment where employees are empowered to have courageous conversations about racism is one practical way of supporting your colleagues. Many people are unaware that they create hostile work environments where employees are scared to share their experiences and implement change. Does your workplace have culturally competentresources where employees can go for support? 

By effectively managing mental health practices you are fostering a culture that is consciously supportive for all. 

7. Recognize privilege

Diversity affects everyone. If you feel like you do not share diverse characteristics yourself talk to your colleagues about your privilege and how you can use it. You are still an important part of the conversation. 

To all the organizations that have stood with the Black Lives Matter movement, I commend you. Now ask yourselves and your colleagues, what are you going to do to enact real change?

Ricardo Twumasi is a lecturer in Organizational Psychiatry and Psychology at King’s College in London (via The Conversation)