By Shalini Ramakrishnan, Director of Product Marketing

Businesses started caring a great deal more about racial bias and began taking diversity seriously after a series of high-profile lawsuits that rocked the corporate world back in the 1990s. As a result of these, today, organizations are focusing heavily on diversity training, and we would like to believe that we are moving towards a more racially just workplace. However, while there has been considerable advancement of equality in the workplace, some still remain more equal than others, thereby bringing the focus on racial equity.

Racial equity is an outcome of mutually reinforcing actions that dismantle systemic racism and inequity. It is essential to place our focus on driving racial equity now because recent events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have exposed the disproportionate depth of racial inequality. At the same time, it has ushered in the era of heightened awareness and understanding which demands that organizations lead the change towards racial equity.

The challenge for organizations is to follow good intentions with sustained commitment and action to challenge beliefs, change behaviors and lead towards a more racially equitable future.

Workplace Racial Bias is Real 

The first step towards solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. 

  • Research shows that 42% of U.S employees have experienced racism in the workplace. And yet, 93% of white workers believe that racial or ethnic discrimination even exists in the workplace.
  • 35% of Black workers believe racial or ethnic discrimination exists in their workplace, but only 7% of white workers believe the same. 
  • “Whitened” resumes are more likely to get callbacks as compared to resumes that are ethnic-sounding. 
  • Black professionals (31%) have less access to senior leaders at work than white professionals do (44%) 

A simple google search will throw up many more such compelling statistics to lull us out of the dream of an equal and equitable workplace. 

Understanding racial bias?

Racially charged jokes, slurs and the like are blatant acts of bigotry that are easy to spot and call out. But racial bias emerges in more than these apparent ways. While organizations have many policies in place to arrest such blatant bias, it is the unconscious bias or the implicit bias that we have to work towards controlling. 

Unconscious biases are “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions unconsciously.” Everyone brings in some form of unconscious bias into the workplace and because these biases are reflexively triggered without our knowledge, they are virtually unconcealable. Assuming that an older person is technically challenged while a younger person is not is an example of unconscious bias. 

Unconscious bias contains many microaggressions and microinvalidations that send out denigrating messages to individuals because they belong to a certain group.

It is these biases that impact diversity and inclusion initiatives, undermine recruitment efforts and employee development, impact retention rates, and promote a disconnected culture. 

McKinsey’s Delivering Through Diversity report points out, “Gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, continue to be correlated to financial performance across multiple countries worldwide.” 

While hiring employees from different backgrounds is a stepping stone for a united culture, organizations have to work towards creating a workplace that facilitates inclusiveness where everyone is valued and differences are embraced. 

Is Coaching the Antidote to Racial Bias?

Organizations have relied on diversity training to reduce racial bias in the workplace but while it has been successful in somewhat reducing bias, it has not been successful in stamping it out. 

Tools to police thoughts and actions such as grievance systems are important but social scientists reveal that people often rebel against such rules to establish authority. Research also shows that organizations get better results when they ease up on the control tactics and, instead, take that path that allows people to increase their social accountability with the desire to be fair-minded. Being around people who are different than us, engaging with people who have a fair mind and believe strongly in racial equality and equity is bound to bring better results. This is where peer coaching comes into play as an antidote to racial bias. 

Why Peer Coaching Works to Battle Racial Bias

Peer coaching is the process where managers, executives, and professionals, who may or may not work together, form a trusting environment to help and support each other and facilitate learning by reflecting on current practices and sharing ideas. 

  • Non-directive: A peer coaching network within the organization is non-directive, as opposed to directive or evaluative feedback. It works through compassionate and caring inquiry and helps people improve their abilities via practice and reflection on what works and what doesn’t. 
  • Holistic: The nature of peer coaching makes it a sustainable practice that can be executed continuously to drive behavioral change. It takes a holistic approach towards a topic as sensitive as racial bias and effectively helps people understand the impact of their attitudes and stereotypes that influence their actions. 
  • Creates understanding: Peer coaching gives people the opportunity to understand themselves better, and how their judgment impacts their colleagues and the workplace. But most of all, peer coaching helps people understand that their own declared beliefs are not absolute and can be malleable, that they might not be as fair as they think they are, and might be completely unaware of their bias. 
  • Promotes behavioral shift: Most importantly, peer coaching works to tackle racial bias because it helps in building that mind shift that is needed for people to see things differently as the circle of influence lies within the organization. We have to remember that while beliefs drive behavior, it is behavior that can change beliefs.

However, peer coaching cannot be approached in a random, haphazard manner. For peer coaching to tackle workplace bias organizations have to:

  • Leverage technology and not guesswork to connect the right coach to the right learner and drive better coaching conversations
  • Make coaching feedback-driven, personalized and contextual 
  • Leverage data to guide people by identifying areas of improvement to reach their full potential 
  • Adopt data-backed methods to identify potential candidates for coaching and also to identify potential coaches from the workforce
  • Cultivate leaders who champion diversity and inclusion, infuse collaboration and empowerment into diverse teams and foster a fair and equitable work environment 
  • Assimilate the corporate culture and build trusted relationships by developing the right mindsets and habits that allow people to connect, care and coach each other

In Conclusion 

Businesses have the responsibility and also the opportunity to improve racial equity in the workplace. A report by Deloitte shows how racial equity creates greater business value. It is all the more essential to move along this path as 94% of millennials and Gen Z expect organizations to take a stand on important social issues such as racial bias, 67% of job seekers report that a diverse workforce is an important point when considering a job offer. Today, public and private investors are also increasingly demanding racial equity and want companies to disclose annual data on the composition of their workforce by race and ethnicity. 

The Deloitte report shows that not addressing key racial gaps cost the U.S economy around $16 trillion over the last two decades. Closing these gaps now can add an estimated $5 trillion to the GDP over the next five years alone. 

Clearly, racial equity is great for everyone. But reaching equitable outcomes need concentrated, sustained, and coordinated effort across the organization. 

Connect with us to see how our AI-based coaching platform can power your peer coaching initiatives and help you battle racial bias in the workplace. 

By Madhukar Govindaraju , Founder & CEO

Diversity has been a hot topic over the past years in the enterprise community. A diverse workplace, now, is not a fleeting trend but a key to get higher revenues, capture new markets, and drive meaningful innovation. However, diversity is more than just a buzzword. It is meant to motivate corporations to provide an equitable and inclusive environment to their employees. It is a strategic initiative that has to tackle the systemic barriers and microaggressions that disenfranchise certain groups that hope to create a more equitable workplace. 

Organizations now know that diversity training is essential since:

  • The Millennials and Gen Z, the dominant workforce in the enterprise, are the most diverse generation in history 
  • 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important factor while considering employment opportunities 
  • Organizations with a diverse workforce are more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians 
  • Organizations with ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43% more likely to show higher profits 

The Diversity Conundrum – Diversity Training Doesn’t Work 

While diversity training is essential to help individuals recognize unfair treatment in the workplace, most organizations hold an annual diversity training session that merely pays lip-service to equality, inclusion, and diversity. This traditional model of diversity training does not contribute towards an equitable workplace and can often be disappointing and even counter-productive. 

This is primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, most diversity training programs are focused on creating awareness about hidden prejudices and biases, usually towards women and ethnic minorities. However, raising awareness alone does not change people’s behavior. 

Secondly, unconscious bias becomes hard to address with a day-long session. It is almost impossible to retrain the brain not to fall prey to prejudices that have been socially reinforced throughout our lives. 

That most diversity programs don’t increase diversity is quite clear. You just have to look at diversity statistics for that. But why are diversity training programs failing? It is because, for diversity to work, it needs behavioral change. 

Change Ahead – Diversity Coaching Leads the Way 

Diversity initiatives need behavioral change 

Most diversity training programs assume that people act offensively because they know no better. While this is largely true, unlearning deeply ingrained behavioral patterns is difficult. As such, organizations have to create an environment that has a shared understanding of why certain things are offensive, and secondly, and more importantly, builds a shared understanding of which behaviors and comments fall outside the purview of acceptance. 

Providing clarity on unacceptable verbiage and penalties for transgressions is important. But it is more important to coach people to build empathy and sensitivity to new concepts of identity, fairness, responsibility, and intent. 

Creating such a work environment demands a shift in views and mindsets and can only be achieved through continuous learning. Coaching thus becomes the perfect pair for driving diversity in the organization to make sure behavioral change supports diversity in the workplace. 

Create an understanding of diversity 

Diversity training is supposed to address how different people are represented across the organization. Simply asking people to ‘tolerate differences’ does not fit today’s workplace, one that is defined by the global scope and lightning-fast communication. 

Given the complex narrative, organizations have to now focus on helping the entire workforce understand how a diversity of thought and different approaches bring in new ideas and perspectives. At the same time, they need to help employees understand that they need to embrace diversity and not merely ‘tolerate’ it. 

Diversity coaching helps organizations distill the concept of diversity into the employees such that it becomes a learned behavior. It helps everyone across the board understand that everyone across the organization is working towards a common goal and creates a common bond. Diversity coaching helps people understand that all employees are like soldiers charging up a hill – unless everyone moves forward together, the initiative fails

Battle the impact of learned behaviors

Organizations also should lean towards diversity coaching to create better-learned behaviors while unlearning older behaviors that do not support diversity and progressive thinking. 

A good example of learned behavior would be this statistic – “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” Women often tend to do so as they don’t view the hiring process as one where “…advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications.”  

Acting on these beliefs leads women to leave opportunities on the table. They also often tend to build small deltas in their professional and personal growth by limiting career options. 

Coaching helps bring a step-change in these beliefs that people live by and helps them realize their true potential. It gives them the tools, support, guidance, and network needed to succeed and helps organizations integrate diversity strategies, associated policies, and expected behaviors to align with the organizational goals. All these activities collectively impact the diversity matrix positively. 

Address the key diversity dimensions

Diversity is not unidimensional. It has multiple key dimensions and can be successfully implemented only when all these dimensions are covered to develop a path that ensures an improved arc of change. Achieving this through superficial, day-long training is an overarching, if not an unrealistic, goal. 

Organizations thus need to first identify all the key dimensions that play into diversity. For example, in addition to the hiring process, organizations need to assess the other areas that impact diversity – how are promotions conducted? Are all women employees getting the right kind of leadership coaching? How is the representation in the high-potential candidate pipeline and the leadership pipeline? How well are learning needs being met to create a pipeline of leaders who have the right technical and critical skills? Are we creating powerful networks that enable people to foster their growth path?

Identifying all dimensions that control diversity, all the traits that impact diversity, and all the behaviors that drive diversity have to factor in to make diversity programs successful. Organizations thus have to become more intentional in designing their diversity coaching programs. These programs should be data-driven, should connect the right coach to the right learner, and identify the right needs of individuals to create tailored programs that are measurable and impactful.

Connect with us to see how our AI-powered coaching platform can power your diversity programs. After all, many have a vision of what diversity programs should look like. But the difference between vision and hallucination is implementation.