social justice graphic of protesters holding up signs

How the Social Justice Movement Is Showing Up in the Workplace

The momentum of social justice movements has seen conversations with friends on racism, sexism, homophobia and other societal issues pour over into conversations with colleagues, complete strangers and family alike.

These topics have become more prevalent in the workplace, and organizations have to think differently about their approach to speaking on these issues. The content of what they say impacts how the organization is seen internally and externally because corporate America influences and shapes our culture and public perceptions around these issues. With great power comes responsibility, and the public now expects corporations to use their power for the greater good.

While some will argue that it isn’t the place of businesses to do such things, the fact remains that those expectations exist. If not met, the silence can seriously impact the organization’s ability to recruit, retain and manage top talent.

Meeting Expectations

There are a lot of different elements to creating an atmosphere where the organization actively supports the progress of social justice movements. The first thing most people think of is the work centered around diversity, equity and inclusion. That starting point makes sense as it’s the most direct strategy to impact equality and equity within the organization and set an example of how it can be done for the outside world to follow.

The elements of that DEI effort are what consumers and employees alike are now looking closer at, including:

  • Prioritization and assessment of corporate accountability
  • Corporate structural evolution
  • Empowerment of employees to change company culture
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives
  • Support of social justice movements and activist organizations.

To achieve all of this, organizations must start thinking bigger than and beyond solidarity statements when a tragedy occurs. Data will have to be at the center of any efforts to show that the company isn’t taking social justice or DEI lightly and provide a level of transparency that gives any effort credibility. Additionally, a data-centered approach can justify any decisions made.

Another expectation is that employees be involved in the formation of any process that impacts their working environment. Action plans for DEI, CSR and initiatives tied to corporate structure, accountability and culture should be vetted by employees first and include the following:

  • Development of manager performance reviews to determine if leaders are creating a culture where equity and inclusion are the norm
  • Providing financial support for community partners working on local social justice initiatives
  • Highlight employee involvement in social justice initiatives during performance reviews
  • Remove structures and processes that prop up cultures of privilege.

The Problem Within

One of the things the social justice movement has highlighted is the amount of racism we see within our organizations. While many in positions of privilege struggle to see systemic racism as a workplace issue, there is a growing awareness of it and how it impacts people of color.

Some steps can be taken to help mitigate the impact of systemic racism in your workplace and instill a culture of equity. In a piece for the Harvard Business Review, author Robert Livingston outlined a five-step process of working toward racial equity in the workplace. The five steps, also known as PRESS, are (1) Problem awareness, (2) Root-cause analysis, (3) Empathy, (4) Strategy, (5) Sacrifice.

Each step requires commitment from the organization. For example, problem awareness requires committing to an honest assessment of organizational diversity. Moreover, it involves realizing that merely having a commitment to diversity best practices isn’t enough to prevent the ills of systemic racism from creeping in.

Understanding root causes can lead to uncomfortable conversations and realizations, but it must happen before an organization can begin to grow. Empathy is ultimately a choice to care, something that takes willpower and a genuine concern about how systemic racism harms people.

Strategy is a firm commitment to changing the organization’s cultural norms, forming new institutional policies and helping people evolve their personal attitudes toward diversity, equity and inclusion. Once there is a strategy in place, leaders and people in the DEI sphere must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for it to work.

What We See Today

In 2021, there is still a lot of talk, but progress remains elusive for many organizations. Actions are being taken with greater regularity, but in a tumultuous year that has seen heavy turnover among DEI personnel, maintaining or advancing these efforts has been a significant challenge.

As 2022 approaches, organizations will have to think hard about their strategies and the sacrifices they’re willing to make to promote an equitable workplace. Those sacrifices may be the only thing that can stop the turnover among DEI teams and build the momentum needed to keep up with people’s demands for social justice.

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