Racial Bias In The Workplace

Traditionally, workplace policies are made by individuals that don’t reflect the diversity of the organization. For example, policies may not address racial bias, workplace equity, or the consequences of an employee demonstrating bias or discrimination in the workplace. Moreover, company cultures likely don’t promote an anti-racism approach. In this Live episode, Dr. Giffen provides guidance and understanding of racism, implicit bias, microaggressions, and equity and what workplaces can do to help create a workplace culture that does not just ‘talk’ about diversity in the workplace, but actually takes ACTION.

Live Stream Video


-Hey ….hey……Welcome to The MOD report. This is the show where we talk all things HR and the crazy things, we go through in the hospitality industry. I’m your host, Dr. Ryan Giffen.

-We are streaming this episode live via Facebook and YouTube. After the live stream, you can access this episode anywhere you get your podcast including Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, iHeart, and many more!

For the next 20 minutes, I’m going to talk about the Racial Bias Seen in The Workplace from my perspective as an HR practitioner over the last 14 years…. and…. what I believe can be done today…. to not only create an organizational culture of inclusion.. but… a culture of accountability and one of ACTION towards diversity, not just lip service.

First and foremost, thank you to everyone who sent me their Tweets, DMs, email’s, and comments in preparation for Today’s show. Those questions and thoughts have been integrated into this episode. For those of you watching live, feel free to drop your questions in the feed ….and….. at the end of the show, I’ll do my best to screen through them and provide some thoughts……

In my 14-years as a human resource professional and educator, I have observed workplace policies made by individuals that did not reflect the diversity of the organization. For example, there were and continue to be policies don’t address racial bias, workplace equity, or the consequences towards an employee demonstrating bias or discrimination in the workplace,

Moreover, company cultures did not promote an anti-racism approach. And although there are federal, state, and local laws that ban discriminatory practices, the reality in the workplace….is that it… occurs. It occurs through implicit bias, microaggressions and a lack of equity in workplaces since the inception of the United States of America’s declaration of independence.

So…what is Racism? Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities. It can be seen in many forms. Some of the most subtle and common way’s are through implicit bias and microaggressions

In his book, “How to be an Anti-Racist,” author Ibram Kendi defines Racist and Anti-Racist. He defines Racist as:

RACIST: One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.

ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.

Racism isn’t so obvious at times. There are many forms in which racism occurs. And that’s what I wish to focus on first. Moving forward, I want to focus on three areas: implicit bias, microaggressions, and equity.

Lets first understand the meaning of implicit bias and microaggressions. Then, I will briefly discuss the lack of equity in the workplace, followed by a few examples of what organizations can do today to make their workplace culture more inclusive. Lastly, we’ll take some questions so feel free to drop those in the feed and we’ll address those at the end.

First, implicit bias…

Formally define, Implicit Bias is “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decision in an unconscious manner.” Most people are not even aware of their implicit bias or how it affects their judgement. For example, take a recruiter that is screening resumes. The recruiter is looking at two resumes. Each resume meets the minimum job qualifications and each candidate has the same exact years of experience, education level, and are equally qualified to interview. However the recruiter can only select one resume to call in for an interview. So, the recruiter looks at the names of the candidates, and one name is easier to pronounce than the other. Yet the hiring manager, likely in a subconscious way, selects to interview the candidate that was the easier name to pronounce. This is an example of implicit bias. Our brains are designed to take in information from all of our life experiences and filter it into what it believes is important and what’s not.

In his article republished in Esquire earlier this week, titled, “A letter to my white friends”, Chris Lambert (a Harvard graduate and former Olympic Sprinter) said, “Being black is not the thing that needs to be understood in order to allow black equality to progress. What you need to understand is why you permit our equality to be prevented.” He’s right! And not just in the United States, but other parts of the world including Great Britain. Which may explain why Prince Harry, the grandson of the Queen of England fled his country to Los Angeles, California with Meghan Markle and their child.

Chris Lambert argues that you don’t have to be black to know how to help. Just like you don’t need to be a woman to understand women deserve equal pay or to be gay to understand gay people deserve to love who they want. You help by not being silent! You help by not pretending “everything is fine.” You help by speaking up in the board room when you hear implicit bias or microaggressions. You help by writing, implementing, and enforcing anti-racism policies in the workplace and hold people accountable to those policies…I don’t care if they are your top sales person of the year, or your CEO that you make excuses for by saying “well that’s just the way he is…he’s always been that way.” That behavior and attitude must stop….it needs to stop. The company’s bottom line and financial sustainability depends on it. And if you don’t believe that it does not impact the company or its profits, take a moment and Google CrossFit Gym’s founder Greg Glassman (who recently resigned) amidst what One Person’s idiotic statement can do to dismantle a $4 billion dollar company. Or in another example from this past week, JK Rowlings statement about the Transgender community. Because of these two people’s actions, the conseuqnces to their brand are tarnished if not dismal to say the least.

Let’s now look at MicroAggressions…..

One way that implicit biases can manifest is in the form of microaggressions: Defined as subtle verbal or nonverbal insults or belittling messages communicated toward a marginalized person, often by someone who may be well-intentioned but unaware of the impact their words or actions have on the individual.

Although Microaggressions generally aren’t meant to hurt, they do. Under Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s illegal to ask a job candidate, “what country are you from?” This is considered illegal under Federal Law as it questions one’s National Origin. This law has been around for 56 years! 56 years!!!! And it still happens. But outside of the hiring process…what about employee to employee?…perhaps in the breakroom? microaggressions may sound like “wow…your English sounds really good” or “you don’t act like a normal Black person” or “you’re really pretty for being a dark-skinned girl.” Or here’s one I personally experienced among the religious Christian community, “You don’t look gay!”

The impact to the workplace is obvious. Microaggressions can have a detrimental impact on customers and clients, hence dwindling the potential of successful customer service and engagement.

Now let’s discuss, Lack of Equity in the workplace…..

First, what is the difference between equality and equity?

Well, Equality is defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities.

Meanwhile, Equity refers to proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities.

Laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Equal protection clause in the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision of Brown vs. Board of Education, provide equality. Access to public education regardless of the color of your skin.

Examples of equity can be seen with affirmative action or the Help America Vote Act which requires that people with disabilities be provided access to polling places and voting systems equal to that of an able-bodied people. Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that persons with disabilities have equal access to public facilities.

To achieve equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal distribution of resources. For example, need-based financial aid…. reserves money specifically for low-income students. Although unequal, this is considered equitable because it is necessary to provide access to higher education for low-income students. I was one of those students in 1998. My family was just below the federal poverty line and thus I could not access higher education. Although I was equal under the law as an American citizen, I didn’t have access to higher education (and thus inequitable) until the financial aid and Pell grants were available, which made the situation equitable.

A year after the civil rights act was signed into law, even President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the issue of equity. In 1965, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” You see, that’s not equitable.

Workplaces need to become more equitable in their hiring practices, training and development, and promotions and tenure.

Here are a few steps of what organizations can do right now to eliminate racism in the workplace while building a culture of inclusion.

-Start with implementing and enforcing anti-racism policies in the workplace. Ibram Kendi says it best when it comes to policy. By policy, we’re talking about the written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.

-Training and Development. Train employees…role play…..followup…and train again. If you don’t have an experienced HR professional or someone in house familiar with the topic of diversity, inclusion, and equity in your learning and development office, then there are several fine organizations that can help. For example, READYSET based out of Oakland, CA with Consultants all around the United States was founded by Y-vonne Hutchinson. READYSET provides solutions for organizations seeking to build and maintain a workforce of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Website: https://www.thereadyset.co/

Lastly, address the implicit bias and microaggressions immediately. Do not wait! Challenge it when it occurs. And personally, for most situations that may be in a group setting (like a meeting with colleagues), I would do it there. You can simply ask, “what do you mean exactly when you say, “’He’s from Mexico, he must be lazy.’” You, I, WE need to stand up and NOT be silent. We can no longer accept other people’s behavior in the boardroom because, “well…’that’s just Bob’” You are not only asking for a sizable lawsuit, but you’re asking for a potential shut down of your business because of the bad PR….and who does that benefit in the end?

In conclusion, you may say to yourself, “it’s Uncomfortable to talk about this stuff in the workplace, my managers and leaders are afraid of saying the ‘wrong thing.’” And that’s the problem. It’s uncomfortable so we may run away from it and bury it….ignore it….and stay silent. If that’s you….you’re the problem. You can not be silent anymore. As Brené Brown says, “Lean into the discomfort” that is when you’re most vulnerable and that’s when people see you for who you are and your well intent.

We can not be silent anymore. When you see or hear the implicit bias, microaggressions, and lack of equity in the workplace you must do something. Raise your voice, talk to your boss one on one, file a complaint with your state office (like California’s department of fair employment and housing) or the federal equal employment opportunity commission, or yes, you may (and should) resign your position if it’s in direct violation of your personal core values. Values that should never alter for the sake of any organization.

I’m now going to take a look at some of the comments in the thread and address what I can with the remaining time.

Thanks for those questions. And moreso, Thanks for tuning in! If you want to keep the conversation going, feel free to post your thoughts in the Facebook and YouTube thread. Or you can visit my website, inospire.com. Or come on over to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Simply search me by name and together, let’s build workplace cultures that are inclusive and equitable!

The MOD Report is sponsored by Inospire, where cultures are built through innovation and Inspiration. I’m Dr. Giffen, and we’ll see you next time!