A year after the declarations of 'Black Lives Matters', was it all a show? - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 10, 2021 8:43 am

A year after the declarations of ‘Black Lives Matters’, was it all a show?

It’s hard to gauge what has actually changed in most workplaces to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for staff, says Generocity columnist Valerie Johnson.

Columnist Valerie Johnson says the proclamations were a trivial, free, performative way to support the movement without actually changing anything.

(Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels)

Last summer, on the heels of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many took to the streets to protest the ongoing police brutality that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. And then organizations jumped to proclaim Black Lives Matter in a show of solidarity.

That’s what it was, though: a show. It was a trivial, free, performative way to support the movement without actually changing anything.

Some orgs stopped right there; they proclaimed that Black Lives Matter and then moved on with their lives. Some took it a step further and hired a DEI consultant to teach their staff how to … do diversity? I don’t know, I’m still kind of confused about the blanket statement “DEI training” because how do you teach diversity, equity, and inclusion?

So yeah, some orgs had some DEI training. Some hired in-house DEI staff in what I truly hope is not a performative gesture but an actual commitment to increasing diversity in their workplace.

A year later, though, it’s hard to gauge what has actually changed in most workplaces to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for staff of all ages, races, genders, religions, and marginalized identities. I do know that businesses are struggling to hire for all positions — for profit, nonprofit, service industry, office workers, it’s all a challenge right now.

Why? Well, I bet I don’t need to tell you why, honestly, because you’re probably experiencing it too. A large number of folks have realized that they don’t need to be in an office to get their work done. Others have realized that they aren’t paid a living wage for their work and have moved on to different careers that actually recognize their skills and expertise.

And then there’s the less visible but still there stuff that can slowly exhaust you. These examples are in no way a comprehensive list of the kinds of things that staff have to deal with during the non-pandemic times. Add the fear, anxiety, and stress associated with a global pandemic that is rapidly approaching year two, and it’s a wonder any of us get up in the morning.

  • The inequity amongst pay for the same positions — men with less experience inexplicably making more than women in the same role.

  • Office-wide staff holidays that adhere to Christian traditions and do not take into account the wide variety of religious and cultural celebrations that fall outside of those days off.

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  • Inflexibility for working parents who can’t always accommodate what’s considered the norm due to a wide variety of kid-related things like child care, virtual school, illness, and genuine fear related to the ongoing pandemic.

  • Non-existent maternity leave policies — as a friend reminds me frequently, the availability of short-term disability leave is not maternity leave.

  • The feeling that you can’t be yourself at work. Worry that your hair, your accent, your style of dress, your cultural norms aren’t acceptable or will draw unwanted scrutiny.

  • Starting salaries that do not keep up with inflation or aren’t reviewed regularly — what was considered a liveable starting salary six years ago would not at all be liveable today.

I’m not just there to be negative, I swear. I’ve also got some suggestions for those of you in positions of power at your organizations who really want to support your staff and don’t want to stop at proclaiming Stop Asian Hate on social media.

  • Use your DEI consultant to do a comprehensive review of your organization’s policies and procedures. Take a look at where you may be subconsciously discriminating based on race or gender. Is your dress code routinely enforced? Does it discriminate against certain races, genders, or religions? What do your hiring practices look like? How do you determine who is the best fit for a role, and how can you update that process to be more equitable? Are your staff holidays based on one religion? I personally think this is a much better use of your funds and your consultant’s time than having an agency-wide training to talk about why it’s important to value diversity.

  • Review your compensation and benefits packages regularly. Pathways to Housing PA did this recently, for the first time, and it turns out we were underpaying our staff in certain roles when compared to similar orgs/roles in our area. We invested $500,000 to raise starting salaries and establish parity across similar roles. Yes, you read that right: we invested over a half of a million dollars in raising staff salaries to ensure we were appropriately compensating our staff. We are also pursuing some changes to our benefits package to further do what we can to be equitable in our benefits. We want to pursue a more equitable compensation strategy and keep it up to date, especially since the majority of direct service providers are BIPOC folks from already marginalized communities.

  • Take a good hard look at your work from home policy. Sure, there are some jobs that absolutely cannot be done virtually, and that won’t change. Restaurant workers can’t take orders or cook food from home. But your accountants sure can. Creating or updating a policy that outlines where you can provide flexibility and where you cannot will help to be as direct as you can with staff about their options. And that policy shouldn’t be based on the opinions of just one or two managers who tend to micro-manage – they should be based in facts.

  • Build a culture that embraces authenticity. At the end of the day, building a space where staff feel free to show up as their authentic selves will benefit your organization. Fear of retaliation that keeps folks from feeling like they can be themselves means they’re not operating at their best. I’d love to see more “DEI training” focus on this instead of the “we need to be able to have hard conversations” brand of DEI. BIPOC folks already know how to have difficult conversations and they’re not the ones who are on the hook when things go wrong; it’s the folks with the privilege who need to adjust their work styles to build trust.

This is just a small sampling — I’m not an expert, just someone who cares a lot who sees room for improvement. I’m grateful that my organization is doing some of these things, especially making such a massive investment in equitable salaries, but I know we’re not the only ones.

What is your organization doing? What can they be doing better? What has worked and what hasn’t? Send me your thoughts!

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