2020 has exposed many things, many divisions, many inequities and many flaws in our humanity. But the exposure that has been most impactful to me given my employment law experience is the spotlight on racial justice. We can no longer deny that some individuals in our community face systemic racism and institutional inequality. As leaders of organizations, we must recognize that these barriers affect our employees — their ability to find a way into a corporate career, their experience once they get there, and their sense of belonging and safety in the environment.
Of course, in the diversity and inclusion field, we talked about equity previously, but mostly in the context of pay equity and the gender pay gap. This year we must all make racial equity and equality a central aspect of our dialogue on diversity and inclusion initiatives. And employees are looking for more than initiatives. They are looking for sustained action, they are looking for transformational change, and they are looking for true commitment.
I’ve received questions about what statements should be made, how to discuss race more openly in the workplace, and how those of us who are white can be real allies to colleagues who are persons of color. These are all very important steps that should absolutely be implemented, but we need to do more. Companies have the power to create systemic change in our culture, and it is time to use that power to break down barriers to opportunity. We will only achieve diverse representation when we roll up our sleeves and work to address the issues that are preventing diverse applicants from having a path to our front door. We will only achieve an inclusive culture when we overcome the many avenues to promotion and advancement within our company that are lined with unconscious bias and cultural stereotypes. We will only achieve an atmosphere of belonging when no one has to hide their true identity in order to succeed in the organization.
In the past, terms like social justice or social innovation were not commonly accepted business terms. But 2020 has opened our eyes to circumstances we previously did not see (or did not want to see). We can’t unsee these things. We can’t go back to our blissful ignorance. Our new normal includes difficult conversations and challenging old assumptions and understanding privilege. The new normal for our organizations must also include racial justice and equality. Our employees will accept nothing less.