The picture of racism in American workplaces today is very different depending on who you ask.
Only 7% of White workers agree that racial inequity exists in their workplace, compared with 35% of Black respondents, according to a report released Monday by the Society for Human Resource Management. While almost half of Black workers say their organization isn’t doing enough for Black employees, less than a quarter of the White people agreed.
HR professionals were more likely to report racial inequity than U.S. workers as a whole, but Black HR professionals reported a disparity at over three times the rate of their White counterparts. This difference in perspective can be critical, as harassment and discrimination complaints often go through HR departments. “We’ve got to train our people managers more than anyone else to have conversations with their workers about things that are affecting or limiting opportunities in the workplace,” said SHRM Chief Knowledge Officer Alex Alonso.
U.S. organizations spend about $8 billion a year on diversity training and dedicate countless hours and resources to inclusion initiatives, but a large portion of American workers – 37% of both Black and White respondents – report not even feeling comfortable talking about race. About 30% of White employees, and 45% of Black workers, said their workplace discourages conversations about race.
“There’s three topics you don’t talk about: you don’t talk about politics, you don’t talk about anything that’s going to upset someone, and you don’t talk about taxes,” Alonso said. “The problem is, that’s an avoidance tactic.”
The report, based on surveys in June of 1,275 human resource professionals and 1,257 other American workers, gave some suggestions for guiding effective conversations about race, emphasizing the importance of listening without comparison and setting company-wide goals for eradicating racial discrimination. But creating workplaces open to upfront discussions won’t be easy, Alonso said, in part because many workers are afraid of retaliation for leading uncomfortable conversations.
“There’s really not a tried and true method to date that speaks to how we can manage this in organizations,” he said. “Every organization has approached it to some degree differently.”
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