Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates the day (June 19, 1865) when slavery officially ended in the US. Two and a half years prior to this date was when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Currently, it is considered a holiday in all but three states (Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota need to get with the program!)
There’s still so much work to do. While Juneteenth is a day for celebrating, and spending time with our families, it is also a day we must reflect, organize, strategize, mobilize, and vote. Systemic racism is still rooted in all aspects of our society today, and there’s still a lot of work to do for Black Americans to achieve equality in housing, wealth, education, workplace, health care, criminal justice (and policing), and voting rights. It’s complex and interconnected. Let’s dig deeper for a minute in one aspect of our institutions: the workplace.
According to a Harvard study, “White” sounding resumes get twice as many interview requests as identical resumes with a “Black” name (1).
Black unemployment rate is twice as high as that of White unemployment, even among college students (1).
According to Pager (2007), White men with a criminal record are slightly more likely to be called back for a job interview than Black men with no criminal record, even when they are equally qualified (2).
Eight percent of people employed in white-collar professions are Black (3). There are only 4 Black CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies (4), of which none of them are women.
Nearly two-thirds of Black professionals agree that they have to work harder than their colleagues to advance their careers (5). Slow career advancement increases likelihood of them leaving.
Black professionals are nearly four times more likely to encounter prejudice as White professionals are (5).
Black professionals often have to encounter common cultural stereotypes of their race, and are treated as representative of their entire racial group (5).
The Economic Policy Institute says that in 2017, Black men made about 70 cents for every $1 their White counterpart made. Black women make 62 cents for every $1 a White man makes, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
These are just a few of the realities for Black people in the workplace today. So, as leaders, where do you even begin? While establishing Employee Resource Groups, or making claims to improve D&I initiatives, has good intentions, that just isn’t enough. Companies have been doing that for decades, with very little improvement in actual equity. Below are three steps to help you begin dismantling systemic racism in your companies:
Education: Understand how pervasive systemic racism really is. Read this.
Introspection: Assess your current organization on how your hiring practices, policies, racial equity awareness, and D&I initiatives are negatively impacting your Black employees, and inevitably impacting your overall organization. Note: Relying on your Black employees to do this work is can cause more harm than good, especially if you are not compensating them in some way. I recommend hiring experts that have an outside-in perspective to help with this.
Action: Take ownership of your findings, and thoroughly interrogate the disparities that come to light, and commit to concrete steps to address them. For example, commit to increasing the ranks of women AND people of color in your workplace. Put actionable steps in place to make this sustainable. Also, invest in organizations that have been doing Racial Justice work for years. Get engaged in your communities. One of many examples to get engaged is here. Diversity without equity and inclusion just doesn’t work. D&I initiatives alone won’t do the trick. Commit for the long haul.
Let’s dream a little bit here. What if we more proactively observed holidays such as Juneteenth in our organizations? Afterall, most of us have the day off for Fourth of July. Why not Juneteenth?Are you ready? Let’s do the WORK!
Systemic Racism Explained Video. ActTv YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ. Accessed June 1, 2020
Sensoy Ozlem, DiAngelo Robin. Understanding the Global Organization of Racism. In: Banks, James A. Is Everyone Really Equal?. Edition 2. New York, NY: Teachers College Press; 2017: 150.
Charlton, Lauretta. Study Examines Why Black Americans Remain Scarce in Executive Suites. The New York Times website. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/09/us/black-in-corporate-america-report.html. Published December 9, 2019. Accessed June 1, 2020.
There are just four black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Here’s how they are addressing the death of George Floyd. https://www.koamnewsnow.com/i/there-are-just-four-black-ceos-of-fortune-500-companies-heres-how-they-are-addressing-the-death-of-george-floyd/. Published June 2, 2020. Accessed June 6, 2020.
Center for Talent Innovation. Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration Report. https://www.talentinnovation.org/_private/assets/BeingBlack-KeyFindings-CTI.pdf. Published 2019. Accessed June 6, 2020.