Why We Need to Discuss Race and Diversity in the Workplace

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More than 1,000 “bias-related incidents” have occurred in the United States since the presidential election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit hate crime watchdog. While reports have begun to slow down a little, the sheer number of incidents – in which victims are targeted based on criteria such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability – still remains above pre-election levels.

Many in the business world think they need to keep politics out of the office, and in general, that’s not bad advice. But rhetoric on the campaign trail has left many dangerous people in America feeling empowered, and that makes the issue hard to ignore. When your employees are afraid, they need to know they will be okay when they come to work. It’s the responsibility of every company to provide a safe environment for workers. If businesses can’t provide those environments, they certainly can’t expect employees to give their all in these uncertain times.

Seeing the Blind Spots

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational professional services network, is leading the way with a new diversity initiative. Nobody at PwC gets hired or promoted without completing “blind spots” training, which helps each individual recognize unconscious biases they may hold about ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other areas.

“Within days of the recent election, I told our people in a firm-wide communication that we would be doubling down on diversity,” says Tim Ryan, chairman of PwC. “People were feeling uncertain, and I wanted them to know that instead of focusing on differences, we should be focusing on what we have in common: our values. The statement was a reminder that I fully intend to put our values and purpose into action and be a leader within the business community.”

Fortunately, PwC doesn’t have to build its program from the ground up.

“Focusing on diversity isn’t new for PwC. During the past decade, we’ve continued to invest in and evolve our programs and resources,” Ryan says. “I’m particularly proud of our recent ‘Color Brave’ conversations, which gave our people a chance to listen to each other and be thoughtful about how we all help to maintain an open and empathetic workplace.”

Blind spots exist for a multitude of reasons, and PwC’s program is carefully designed to help employees recognize their inherent biases without feeling attacked.

Group“Our blind spots training is comprised of interactive and animated videos as well as resource documents that utilize a fictional company and characters,” Ryan explains. “As the episode unfolds, our people can make decisions to influence outcomes and hear different perspectives from the characters. This provides a less abrasive way to raise awareness of the presence and impact of blind spots on relationships and business outcomes.”

So far, the results have been good.

“I’m glad to say I’ve received very positive feedback thus far from our partners and staff,” says Ryan. “And we aren’t just asking our people to watch videos – we expect them to incorporate the insights from the videos into everyday behavior and how they lead. So it’s not seen as just an opportunity to increase our awareness of potential blind spots, but to help us grow as inclusive and effective leaders.”

No Time Like the Present

The fact is that everybody sees color. Everybody sees sexual orientation. Everybody sees gender. Everybody sees religious belief. It’s how we respond to our differences that defines who we are as both individuals and businesses. Many people of color, LGBTQ people, and people of varying religious viewpoints feel like targets in the current political environment. It’s the responsibility of socially conscious companies to show their workforces that diversity is appreciated and embraced, not feared or ignored.

The time for companies to stand up and let their workers know they are safe and appreciated is now. Whether businesses follow PwC’s example or design and implement their own initiatives, workers will certainly be more loyal to and productive for a company that has their back personally as well as professionally.

“I think what we’re seeing is that employees in today’s world are craving concrete action from their leaders and the business community at large,” Ryan says. “I’m glad to see other CEOs stepping up within their industries and companies, and I expect to see more of these types of actions in 2017.”

By Jason McDowell