READ TIME: 4 minutes.

We had planned a different blog for today. But the death of George Floyd and the surrounding events compelled us to address racism at work. With the country once again in turmoil following (another) death of a Black man at the hand of a law enforcement officer, we are left with a multitude of emotions, urges, actions, and words. Many are speaking up, stepping up to articulate feelings, to push for action, to encourage healing. They are all better suited and better positioned than Avilar to do just that.

What we can speak to are two questions that keep coming up as we contemplate the many years of oppression and racism that led to this moment. Two questions that are relevant to business leaders. Two questions where there are beginnings of answers about changing institutional racism. They are: “What can I do?” and “How can things change?”  

Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

We know that a great company culture can help to attract and retain great employees. Companies that figure out how to create a culture of diversity and inclusion are the ones that systematically recruit, develop, promote, and engage the hearts and minds of professionals with different backgrounds and diverse perspectives. It’s those cultures, those companies, that thrive.

As a company leader, you can step forward and clearly communicate to employees right now about the events that have been happening across the country. Spell out your expectations about how people at your company treat each other. Invite conversations that encourage understanding, generosity, and kindness across the workforce. Look for opportunities to explore differences to spark greater collaboration and innovative solutions. Right now, recognize, listen to, and make space for our Black colleagues who may be exhausted from a long, long fight against years of prejudice, including racism at work. Recognize that your Black employees may be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, adding yet another heavy layer to the burdens of institutional racism. 

Don’t expect that you’ll get everything right. But by intentionally, actively listening to each other, and encouraging diversity and inclusion, you will get enough right to keep learning and keep building a better place for your employees.

Building a Competency-Based, Diverse Workforce

At Avilar we are, of course, big believers in competencies – and using competencies to make important decisions about recruiting, hiring, developing, and promoting employees. By design, competencies do not give weight to one’s educational level or school affiliation. They’re blind to a person’s skin color, gender, religion, gender identity, political affiliation and other labels that can get in the way. Competencies define and measure an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. 

Start by reviewing and adjusting (if needed) any job descriptions that could have a hidden bias. Use the job description to introduce your organization to a potential candidate, spelling out your commitment to a diverse workforce. Steer clear of unnecessary “requirements” and language that might discourage desirable candidates from applying. 

Use skills assessments to assess job candidates objectively and find the person with the best fit for what you need. And keep using skills assessments to measure employee skills gaps, development, and growing proficiency. This feedback recognizes employees’ progress and helps to keep individuals and teams aligned with the most important business objectives of the company. A focus on competencies keeps the door open for employees of all backgrounds to contribute and grow. 

Beware of “baking” unconscious bias into your competency definitions. Test the language to ensure that it does not speak to (or against) one group more than another. 

Combat Racism at Work with Learning Programs

Continuous learning is a must in today’s world, as technology and markets are constantly evolving. We all need to keep up, and learning programs are an important part of developing skills to keep us current. Most organizations require all employees to complete training for safety, cybersecurity, sexual harassment, and ethics. Some career paths require certifications and ongoing training. 

Consider adopting “values diversity and inclusion” as a core competency for every employee at every level in the organization. Offer optional or required learning opportunities designed to educate and invite conversations to promote racial equity, including something as simple as a glossary of terms that we all need to know. The more racial, gender, sexual orientation, generational, and other backgrounds and labels are explored at work, the more we’ll find to give and learn together. The shared competencies and shared learning become explicit statements and actions to support your inclusive work culture.

Be sure to add relevant soft skills to your organization’s core competencies. Active listening, conflict resolution, respect, collaboration and team work are what define and support your culture and interactions. They’re necessary for successful professional exchanges every day. But especially now. 

Of course, just like any learning program, the learning won’t work if the lessons end in the class. Learning is one component of an overall culture of diversity and inclusion. 

It’s a Start

We recognize that these ideas will not solve everything that’s happening in our country right now. It may be, though, especially for non-Black leaders, a reminder that there are things we can do. That we should do. To make our companies and our corner of the world a better place. It’s a start.

Are you focused on combating racism at work by building and sustaining a diverse workforce? Read our Optimize Your Workforce white paper to see how competency management can help. Or contact us to learn how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support your efforts. 


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