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The Path to Becoming an Antiracist Organization

Antiracism work is multifaceted and holistic and involves all departments, processes, and systems, expanding as the work gets deeper...

Published onAug 25, 2021
The Path to Becoming an Antiracist Organization
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Beginning your journey toward building an antiracist organization can feel daunting, even for companies that have engaged more actively in DEI efforts in the past. Antiracism work is multifaceted and holistic and involves all departments, processes, and systems, expanding as the work gets deeper. Indeed, the work is never finished and the journey consistently changes. To help break down the journey into individual and achievable components, we have provided a basic journey map and assessment quiz to help determine where your organization is and what its path forward looks like.

Antiracist Journey Map for Organizations

Antiracist Journey Map for Organizations: Circular image showing the process for implementing antiracism into your organization. The steps are to Assemble, Assess, Implement, Plan, Listen/Learn/Measure and Repeat.

Assess > Assemble > Listen / Learn / Measure > Plan > Implement > Repeat
Credit: Dawit Tegbaru, Knowledge Futures Group, Cambridge, MA

Step 1: Assess Where You Are

First, know your starting point. There are many ways to perform such an assessment (see this list of resources). Here, we provide a simple quiz to help you gauge where your organization is on its antiracist journey. This can serve as a useful tool for helping leadership/governing boards to contextualize your organization’s efforts and see why it is important to prioritize this work. Note that taking this quiz may feel uncomfortable at times; integrity in the answers is not a shaming indicator, but a learning tool.


Credit: Stephanie Lovegrove Hansen, Silverchair, Charlottesville, VA
Source: Surveymonkey


Step 2: Assemble Your Team

Making sure you have the right people at the table for antiracist work is critical to its success. Isolating these topics to a human resources department or employee resource group (ERG) ignores the systematic changes needed to achieve an antiracist organization. Including senior leaders, BIPOC, and others throughout the organization who are committed to this work will help to ensure full company-wide support and that any efforts reflect a broad range of experiences and perspectives. Laura Martin, senior project and change manager at Wiley, affirmed, “Taking an inclusive approach to change gives your organization the best chance of success” [1].

It could be that your “team” also calls for external resources, whether that is contracting an outside firm, working with a consultant, or hiring a DEI officer. Please see the section “Creating Structure to Support DEI Work.”

Step 3: Listen/Learn/Measure

Many organizations may be tempted to charge into action as a way to show their commitment to the cause, but this often leads to missteps, missed goals, and missed opportunities. One of the most important parts of any antiracist journey is committing to listening and learning from BIPOC voices inside and outside of your organization and to researching the work of organizations that are ahead of you on this journey. Measure where you are. Survey your employees and community; benchmark your systems, processes, and representation. This will help you to set goals and measure your progress. Please see the section “Using Measurement and Metrics” for more information.

Step 4: Plan

Having done your research will help immensely with the next stage: making a plan. Mirroring examples from other organizations and following recommendations from experts will help you lay the foundation for your work. Next, tailor your plan to address the specific needs of your industry, your organization, and your people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what has worked for you in the past may no longer serve you. Intentionally building flexibility into your plan will help you adapt as you go.

Step 5: Implement

Put your plan into action! As you roll out your plan, be sure to involve a wide variety of stakeholders to improve adoption, and check in frequently with your team about feedback, milestones, and measurements.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 3–5

Equity work is not a linear path. It is a constant cycle of iterative learning and adjusting. Before, during, and after you implement your plan, continue to listen: What’s working? What’s not? Whose voices aren’t being heard? Learn more: research, participate in trainings, go deeper. Measure your progress to see where gaps remain. Antiracism is about active, engaged, sustained efforts to affect systematic change and therefore needs to be an ongoing part of your organizational strategy.

Taking Action

Once you have assessed where your organization stands in its journey toward antiracism, you should identify specific, measurable, and tangible steps your organization can take to move itself forward in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Crafting a DEI Statement

As a first step, your organization should make a declarative commitment to supporting antiracism work, both internally and externally. Many organizations choose to craft a public-facing statement announcing the organization’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and/or to advancing antiracism. Some examples of these statements include:

Your diversity statement should be unique and specific to the field and communities served by your organization. Though statements are useful in declaring your organization’s intention, they should be considered only a first step. Any diversity statement should be coupled with concrete, measurable steps that your organization plans to take to promote antiracism.

In an article in Academic Medicine, Carnes et al. outline these recommendations for how to craft a diversity statement:

1. Create aspirational statements, rather than declarative statements implying that the organization is already equitable and diverse;

2. Emphasize personal autonomy to promote diversity, rather than promoting controlling messages;

3. Use multicultural rather than colorblind statements, combined with broad definitions of diversity [2].

Some organizations may opt to couple their diversity statements with a framework or outline for achieving their DEI goals. See APA Publishing’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Framework as an example:

Graph depicting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) Framework for American Psychological Association (APA) Publishing. The framework includes equitable content, inclusive science, a diverse community and an inclusive publishing industry.

Credit: American Psychological Association “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in APA Journals”
Source: American Psychological Association, Washington, DC


It can be easy for DEI work to become performative unless your organization couples its statements with long-term plans to address disparities. Your diversity statement should be followed by key metrics, goals, and priorities for your organization. Below is a list of dos and don'ts to keep in mind as you begin this work.

DO
DON’T
Remember that DEI work is unending. Your work should never feel finished, and there is always room to do better.
Blame or shame. DEI work is about learning and doing better; it should not be punitive.
Build DEI into your organization’s values and mission. One statement is not enough—you should also imbue your organization’s culture and climate with DEI-centered values.
Rely on quotas. Representation does not equal inclusion, and quota systems can sometimes lead to tokenism.
Use metrics. Measure and track your organization’s DEI efforts for better accountability.
Task only one or two people with handling DEI efforts; the work should belong to everyone.
Set SMART goals. DEI goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based will be more likely to succeed.
Settle for one-off training. While diversity trainings can be helpful, studies have shown that the positive effects of single diversity trainings are not long-lasting [3].
Be comfortable with mistakes, and learn from them. DEI work is an iterative process, and it requires both humility and a willingness to learn from our errors.
Neglect the importance of leadership buy-in. Your DEI work won’t be sustainable unless it has sufficient resources, support, and prioritization from your organization’s leaders.

Budgeting for DEI Work

A crucial step in creating a DEI plan for your organization is to develop a budget for the work. The budget should account for finances, staff time, and other resources necessary to achieve the work. Your budget will vary depending on the specific goals and priorities for your organization’s DEI work, but it may include such items as:

Financials

  • Funds for a staff diversity training program

  • Salary and benefits for a chief diversity officer, DEI consultant, or other program leader

  • Funds to support mentorship and networking programs

  • Funds to support paid internship programs

  • Funds to address gender or racial pay gap disparities

Staff Time

  • Dedicating certain staff hours to advancing your organization’s DEI goals

  • A DEI staff advisory committee

  • DEI training for hiring managers

Other Resources

  • Flexible work hours (particularly helpful for parents, caregivers, and staff with disabilities)

  • Paid leave benefits

  • Distributed workforce equipment

What You Can Do with Little to No Budget

No DEI plan can be successful unless an organization is willing to dedicate money, time, and resources to supporting antiracism work at every level [4]. However, there are some steps you can take that require little or no cost to implement. This 2020 article by Jennifer Kim offers many low-cost ideas for cultivating DEI in your organization; below we’ve highlighted several from this list, as well as others not included.

  • Use preferred pronouns. Encourage staff to add preferred pronouns to their email signatures and Zoom names, and when introducing themselves. This is an easy way to promote an inclusive environment for team members who are trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming, or who have gender-neutral or non-English names.

  • Update job descriptions with inclusive language. Audit your organization’s job descriptions for exclusionary language. Be sure to use gender-neutral language whenever possible. Use tools such as the Gender Decoder to identify subtle gender bias in your job descriptions or this 2019 article by Alaina Leary, which offers guidance for writing inclusive job descriptions for people with disabilities. Some style guides may also offer recommendations for using inclusive language; for example, APA Style includes a comprehensive guide for using bias-free language. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office includes a tool for checking inclusive language in the program’s grammar checker function.

  • De-identify résumés when hiring. Removing identifying information from candidates’ résumés during the hiring process could help reduce bias in recruiting and hiring [5]. Anonymizing résumés and cover letters can help hiring committees avoid assumptions based on name or address.

  • Make note of multicultural holidays on staff calendars. Promote awareness and inclusion by integrating an “inclusion calendar” into your organization’s email client. Inclusive calendars can help staff plan meetings and events around important cultural events beyond only the (typically western and Christian) holidays acknowledged in many workplaces. Microsoft Outlook allows you to add holidays for specific countries to your calendar, while programs such as those offered by Diversiton can seamlessly integrate key religious dates, festivals, holidays, and important diversity dates in your organization’s main calendar for a relatively low cost. You can also celebrate holidays and events for marginalized groups, such as Juneteenth and Pride, in your organization.

  • Conduct a workplace climate survey. Measuring the current climate and culture of your organization is an important step in understanding what needs to be done to improve DEI. A workplace climate survey is easy to create and often free (or low cost) to disseminate. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has created a sample survey (access requires a SHRM membership) that you could adapt for your organization.

  • Share a clear agenda ahead of meetings. Sharing agendas in advance of a meeting can enable team members who may otherwise feel excluded—or who need time to process their thoughts—the chance to participate in meetings more fully.

  • Look for free training courses. There are many free resources your organization can use to further team members’ antiracist education and training. Indeed’s Career Guide offers a list of 10 free virtual DEI courses; programs like Coursera and TED have many options to choose from too. Hollaback! offers bystander intervention resources.

Creating Structure to Support DEI Work

Who Should Lead DEI Work and What Form Should It Take?

According to a 2014 survey by the SHRM, only 15 percent of organizations have dedicated staff members for diversity and inclusion [6]. Across scholarly publishing, organizations have varied structures for supporting this work. Larger publishers may have a dedicated DEI officer, while small and medium-sized publishers may distribute the work across a committee or ERG.

In May 2021, several organizations shared their structure with us:

  • At Columbia University Press, the director of human resources is officially responsible for DEI, while the Anti-Racism, Equity, and Justice Committee is responsible for making specific, actionable recommendations.

  • Duke University Press has an equity and inclusion (E&I) task force chaired by two staff members; the task force reports to the press director. Members of the task force are also chairs of E&I subcommittees on topics such as training resources, mentorship, programming, queer and trans inclusion, vision, and metrics.

  • Princeton University Press has an equity and inclusion council chaired by the press director, in collaboration with the chief of staff, which collectively oversees a budget for investment and programming. The council has appointed positions based on area of responsibility: editorial, human resources, operations, marketing and promotions, UK/Europe. Staff can also choose to participate in an equity and inclusion committee. The co-chairs are appointed by the committee, and these chairs serve on the E&I council. The Press also has an opt-in community-building committee with a focus on inclusion and its own budget, as well as staff-led ERGs.

  • Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies has an associate dean for organizational development, inclusion, and diversity, as well as a council (commissioned by the dean of libraries) on equity, inclusion, and belonging. They are also working with a provost’s fellow for diversity and inclusion work.

  • Springer Nature shared that “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is one of the highest strategic priorities for Springer Nature, and the governance structure reflects that. The group-wide DEI strategy has two main streams of activity: an internal focus on the organization; and another external view into the research, education and professional communities that Springer Nature is part of. The DEI council, chaired by a member of the Management Board, provides a single governance structure to support the organization’s DEI ambitions, and aligns and coordinates both internal and external DEI activities. In creating the DEI Council, several conditions were established: it should represent the diverse population of Springer Nature and its geographic footprint; it should include representatives of all three business divisions (research, education and professional), employee networks, employee representative bodies and internal functions that are key to the implementation of the company’s strategy. Springer Nature also continues to work with external experts to provide advice and guidance where needed. Each business division has created its own plan for external DEI outreach and activities relevant to its business activities and communities, aligned with the group-wide external DEI strategic framework.”

  • Wiley. Under the executive vice president and chief people officer, Wiley has three employees dedicated to leading its global DE&I efforts: a senior vice president for talent and DEI, a DEI senior manager, and an ERG program manager. They work to analyze and improve the DEI efforts of the company and its culture. The DEI team designs and executes the Wiley enterprise strategy through the DEI operations model, including a global enterprise committee, business councils, and ERGs. Currently, Wiley has four business councils, including the research DEI council that focuses on three workstreams—editorial, marketing, and data—and the foundational workstreams examining current and future practices in legal, human resources, strategy, and operations, and change management. In this way, Wiley is working to approach DEI as holistically as possible to embed a new way of working internally and externally.

  • SAGE Publishing provided this organizational chart:

Graph from SAGE Publishing depicting the impact of their Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee on various working groups and employee resource groups in the United Kingdom and United States.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Governance at SAGE Publishing
Provided by Kiren Shoman, Vice President of Pedagogy at SAGE Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA

Who Bears the Responsibility for DEI work?

A DEI Officer

For many organizations, an important question in their journey to becoming antiracist is whether it is necessary to add a new staff position that focuses exclusively on DEI. Often called a chief diversity officer (CDO) or simply diversity officer, this individual’s job, broadly speaking, is to maximize organizational culture and ensure that the organization’s DEI goals align with business outcomes. Additionally, a CDO will scan the external environment for changes that could affect the organization’s employees or its culture. The job of a CDO can comprise dozens of discrete responsibilities, depending on the nature of your organization. Common duties include [7], [8]:

  • Research, create, recommend, and implement strategies to support the diversity goals of the organization.

  • Design a recruitment strategy to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

  • Review current practices and policies, assessing and analyzing them through a diversity lens to see if they support the organization’s diversity goals.

  • Oversee the process for employee complaints related to discrimination or harassment, among others.

  • Research different types of DEI and antiracism training and develop or acquire modules.

Organizations typically add a CDO to their staff for one of two reasons: either they are coming out of a crisis around DEI (or trying to prevent one) and need help navigating a path forward, or antiracism has become a priority for the leadership team [9]. In other words, for either reason, addressing issues around DEI has risen to the level of hiring a dedicated person to oversee the organization’s efforts in this area—leadership has decided that such efforts cannot be managed by existing staff because of a lack of expertise or capacity (or both)—and, additionally, the organization is looking to signal, both externally and internally, their commitment to DEI.

If your organization decides to hire a CDO or comparable position, what factors will help this individual be successful [10]?

  • Access to the CEO. Having a direct line to the CEO (or comparable position) is critical, as the CDO needs to have the support of the top-level executive to carry out new initiatives and programs that will support the work around DEI.

  • Buy-in from the senior leadership. Likewise, the senior leadership of an organization needs to believe in and commit to the work of the CDO, helping to implement change across the organization.

  • Access to the boardroom. If your organization has a board of directors, the CDO needs a line of communication to that body, as it is often the case that the board decides the direction of the organization and where to allocate resources.

  • Close partnership with human resources. To implement new policies, practices, and procedures, the CDO will need to work closely with the human resources staff.

A DEI Consultant

Attempting to operate your organization under an antiracist ethos and incorporating a comprehensive DEI program can be daunting—where exactly do you start? A DEI consultant can help answer that question. What other advantages can a consultant bring to the table besides helping you get started? They include:

  • Credibility and objectivity. Efforts led internally by human resources departments may be met with a lack of trust in organizations where employees feel that human resources is there to protect the company, not the employees. A consultant can mitigate this lack of trust and lend a sense of objectivity to the process.

  • Expertise. Existing staff may not have the expertise around DEI to effectively lead efforts toward creating an antiracist organization. A well-vetted consultant will bring experience, training, and education that help achieve that goal.

  • Capacity and speed. Most staff are already at capacity; adding DEI programming to their plate is something they may not have time to do. Hiring a consultant will address this issue—they will dedicate the time to create a plan and strategy at a faster pace than employees who already have full-time jobs.

Naturally, hiring a DEI consultant depends on having available funds. The cost of consultants varies widely, depending on the scope of the work you intend to do, the length of the engagement, and the rates of the specific individual or firm you hire. You can hire a consultant for anything from a simple half-day workshop to developing large-scale and long-term initiatives. Other tasks or initiatives DEI consultants commonly undertake include [11]:

  • Benchmarking and research into your current culture and efforts around DEI, using surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews.

  • Identifying and implementing DEI programs based on the benchmarking data.

  • Reviewing existing documentation on policies through an equity lens and making recommendations for what needs to change.

  • Developing training opportunities around topics such as microaggressions, accessibility, unconscious bias, and privilege and identity.

  • Crafting goals your organization wants to achieve around inclusion.

  • Conducting a wholesale intervention in which the consultant undertakes an enterprise-wide assessment, followed by organization-wide education and training, with the intention of changing systems, practices, policies, and procedures.

If your organization decides that hiring a consultant is necessary, what types of competencies should you look for? First and foremost, the consultant must understand the type of business your organization is engaged in. Also, the consultant should be able to tie equity efforts to your work processes. Other important competencies include understanding systemic issues of discrimination and the differences between equal employment opportunity and affirmative action and diversity and inclusion, as well as a willingness to confront difficult issues within your organization. Perhaps most importantly, a consultant must have a deep understanding of racial equity and antiracism.

Human Resources

Almost all organizations have a human resources department or staff and, in many cases, DEI efforts are led by this area. For many human resources programs, attracting and retaining a diverse workforce are already part of their job description. It may make sense, therefore, to add other DEI efforts to their role. Additionally, human resources staff occupy the unique position of being able to cultivate diversity leaders throughout an organization, providing them with the lens necessary to establish an antiracist culture.

Leadership/CEO

According to a 2017 report by Deloitte, 38 percent of executives report that the primary sponsor of the company’s DEI efforts is the CEO [12]. Research has shown that having a top-level executive like the CEO lead DEI efforts can ensure that diversity isn’t considered a barrier to progression. It’s important to know, however, that for a chief executive to lead an organization’s diversity efforts, they must have ample time and be fully engaged [13].

Committee/Task Force

What if your organization does not have the resources to support a full-time diversity role, your human resources staff is already overburdened, and your chief executive doesn’t have the time or inclination to lead the DEI work? Another viable, cost-effective, and inclusive option is to form a committee or task force to develop a DEI program. Responsibilities of such a body could include:

  • Identifying organizational priorities related to DEI.

  • Establishing short- and long-term goals around integrating antiracist principles and practices throughout the organization.

  • Creating a DEI strategy with clear metrics.

  • Reviewing existing policies, practices, processes, and communications and recommending changes.

  • Identifying opportunities for increasing engagement of diverse groups that are historically excluded in the organization.

DEI Advisory Board

No matter what form your efforts take, it is important to ensure accountability to those most impacted by your organization’s equity work. A DEI advisory board can help keep your organization’s leaders on track and accountable to their goals. Unlike a DEI committee or task force, an advisory board may comprise individuals from outside your organization’s staff and serves to monitor the organization’s efforts. The advisory board might consist of community members, association governance leaders, colleagues from partner organizations, specialists in DEI work, or a combination thereof. Purposes and duties of the board might include:

  • Reviewing and approving a DEI vision statement, mission statement, and strategy for your organization, created by your organization’s DEI leaders.

  • Setting priorities, goals, and timelines for DEI work in consultation with your organization’s leadership.

  • Advising your organization’s leadership on outreach strategies to recruit, retain, and engage with marginalized communities.

  • Making recommendations on current or new plans for promoting DEI.

  • Ensuring the perspectives and needs of marginalized community members are heard and addressed.

The Importance of Embedding DEI Efforts

For your organization to be truly effective in moving toward an antiracist culture, any structure you employ around DEI work must be embedded throughout every aspect of your organizational ecosystem—having the work siloed in a single area or department simply won’t work. This approach will help ensure that you are creating a sustainable movement [13].

How can you embed DEI into your structure? There are many ways to do so, but perhaps, most importantly, you need to apply a diversity lens to everything you do, from talent management to program development to systems and processes. Additionally, diversity and inclusion must be practiced by everyone, at all levels, in the organization. You must view DEI efforts as a business responsibility, not just a human resources responsibility [12].

Regardless of how you structure the DEI leadership for your organization, the commitment to DEI cannot stop with the CDO or the DEI committee. As Denise Hamilton, CEO and founder of WatchHerWork, wrote, “One person cannot push this boulder up the hill alone,” and diversity leadership roles can quickly lead to burnout [14]. To ensure that DEI work is sustainable, your organization should build DEI into every team member’s job—and be sure to evaluate and compensate them appropriately for that work. For example, your organization could:

  • Include supporting the organization’s diversity and inclusion priorities in each employee’s job description; build time into each team’s schedules for DEI work on a regular (e.g., weekly) basis.

  • Ask project managers to state whether a specific project furthers a DEI goal as a metric for identifying project priorities.

  • Offer continued training courses on reducing implicit bias and promoting inclusion and cultural competency on a regular basis.

  • Encourage or require everyone to set at least one goal around the organization’s DEI priorities per year; recognize and compensate team members who exceed their DEI goals.

  • Build competencies that center on equity and inclusion into performance evaluations, such as:

    • Collaboration: demonstrates ability to work across teams and address disparate viewpoints.

    • Willingness to learn: demonstrates ability to learn from mistakes, ask for help, and accept new ideas or ways of thinking.

    • Valuing diversity: treats individuals fairly and respectfully; proactively minimizes barriers and ensures opportunities are available to all.

    • Empowering others: gives credit to others for their contributions to a project or task.

Antiracist Recruitment and Hiring Practices  


I wonder how much unconscious bias prevails, when people of colour, especially black people… no matter how brilliant, no matter how talented, no matter how experienced and suitable, are finding it extremely hard to be seen as “the right fit” when applying for jobs.

— Bernardine Evaristo [15]


When an organization commits itself to an antiracist framework of words and actions, a wealth of opportunities can be considered and executed upon to help build an equitable workplace. A workplace with these commitments would not be hindered by a homogeneous culture of ideas or oppressive practices that stunt innovation [16] and negatively affect BIPOC employees. Such a workplace would contribute to meaningful change within scholarly communications by not allowing white supremacy culture and appropriation to thrive at the level of internal decision-making.  

One fundamental way in which an equitable workplace can be realized is through robust human resources policies that systematize antiracism in hiring practices, onboarding, and retention work. Without this work, organizations that lack an understanding of how networks and structures of exclusion function will continue to incubate racial inequality and negatively affect the long-term well-being of BIPOC employees.  

Talent Acquisition

When filling leadership roles in the organization, whether externally or internally, review job postings and descriptions to ensure that they include competencies that speak to the six traits of inclusive leadership: commitment, courage, cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration [17]. Additionally, incorporate questions on inclusion in the interview process, such as:

  • Tell us about a time when you failed to actively prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. What was the situation and the outcome? What did you learn and how did you share those lessons with others?

  • Share one or two ways that you are actively working on building an inclusive, equitable, and diverse culture. Where have you been successful and where have you fallen short?

Questions for Equitable Hiring

  • Do your job advertisements explicitly invite BIPOC to apply?

  • Do you explicitly reach out to professional networks for BIPOC for your job postings? If U.S.-based, do you share job postings with the career services departments of HBCUs?

  • How many applicants in your pool are BIPOC? Is that representative of current demographics?

  • Do entry-level job advertisements suggest that experience and knowledge based on privileged routes of access will be advantageous? 

  • Have hiring managers received adequate anti-bias training to select, interview, and hire BIPOC? 

  • Will candidates who are BIPOC receive fair consideration in the selection process and not be tokenized? 

  • Are hiring managers accountable to human resources or executive leadership for their sifting, interview, and job offer decisions?  

  • Do you have a defined schedule and the necessary resources for human resources to roll out new hiring practices and processes?

  • When you post jobs to Twitter, do you use hashtags that will bring them to the attention of a diverse audience? In June 2021, popular hashtags to diversify publishing include #MinoritiesInPub, #PocinPub, #Latinxinpub, #EditorsOfColor, and #DiverseBooks.

Provide Hiring Managers with Tools and Resources

If hiring managers are reliant upon recruitment practices that have not been reformed in any meaningful way, your organization will continue to produce the same pool of candidates that you have always had. Equally, without significant challenges to the active biases that manifest themselves via hiring managers in the recruitment of candidates from that pool, candidates who are BIPOC will remain excluded. Importantly, widening the net of applicants should not be approached as “extra work,” rather as a vital and supported effort to address historical exclusion that will positively impact the longevity of your organization, as well as improve workplace culture for existing and new employees who are BIPOC.  

Hiring managers are encouraged to look past “cultural fit” to what unique characteristics and perspectives applicants can bring. Distribute a bias awareness checklist to all hiring decision-makers before they meet with candidates [18]. The checklist should help the interviewers stay conscious of bias throughout the interview in relation to:

  • Phrases or questions spoken to the candidate (and vice versa)

  • Vocal inflections and accents

  • Facial or verbal expressions

  • Perceptions versus facts

  • Names

  • Physical characteristics

Replace and expand existing advertising channels. Use application data to determine whether you are receiving a significant number of applications from BIPOC candidates. If not, research relevant networks, companies specializing in recruiting diverse talent, organizations, and universities to advertise your jobs through, and consider long-term partnerships with them. Replacing existing advertising channels through exclusive job sites and informal networks of influence is equally important and may be a crucial tool in limiting the overrepresentation of white candidates. Check the sites on which you advertise and expand into areas where you may be missing candidates. Make use of organizations that are formed to advertise opportunities to historically excluded groups, such as Creative Access and the Society of Young Publishers (SYP), both based in the UK.

Similarly, making sure your organization is known to a wide range of people outside of job postings is key to building wide candidate pools. Up-to-date career pages and insight days that provide opportunities for excluded groups of people to speak to existing employees, gain knowledge of internal processes, and learn more about the industry and where your organization sits within it may encourage more applications from BIPOC and build trust and inclusion.

Change your job advertisement templates. Recognize that requirements in job ads affect the gender and ethnicity of applicants for a role [19]. Job advertisements in scholarly publishing often communicate an underlying tone of elitism and excellence that is generally reflective of the prestige and perfectionism with which the organization wants to associate. This tone suggests that a higher level of qualification, competency, and experience is preferable than what is actually listed as the essential criteria or qualifications for the job. This in turn contributes to entry-level positions having an overrepresentation of white people who possess the highest-level qualifications, such as an MA, PhD, and/or exclusive work experience.

Such a “tone” may distill the hallmarks of “white supremacy culture,” as defined by Tema Okun [20]. Such hallmarks include perfectionism, a sense of urgency, quantity over quality, individualism, power hoarding, and worship of the written word.

Include language that invites BIPOC to apply. Your job advertisements should explicitly invite candidates who are BIPOC to apply—by not doing so, you are privileging and centering white candidates by default. For a clear illustration of this wording, Princeton University Press uses the following statement on their job adverts in 2021: “PUP is a strong advocate for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the university press community. Individuals who are members of groups historically excluded in academic publishing (which is, according to research by Lee & Low, historically a majority white, straight, cisgender, and nondisabled industry) are encouraged to apply” [21].

Revise language. Descriptors that contribute to the aforementioned exclusivity include extensive use of words such as “excellent,” “exceptional,” “impeccable,” “highly,” “meticulous,” “strong,” and “quickly.” Taken together, these words code the above-defined culture of elitism and prestige, suggesting that the preferred candidate should easily assimilate into the existing culture.

Emphasize employee investment. The job description should communicate inclusivity and strong investment in all employees in addition to the more common exhaustive task lists that refer to processes, systems, knowledge, and responsibilities. For entry-level candidates who would not need to have a full understanding of or exposure to internal processes and systems, avoid jargon and consider explaining properly what the role involves to someone who has never worked in publishing. If onboarding and training are thorough, as they should be, consider how the tone can and should differ according to the level of recruitment, and remember that an entry-level position is about investment as well as competency.

Reconsider requisites and experience. Vagueness and contradictions within “Knowledge/Skills/Experiences” sections create inequities in applications and selection. Prioritize the minimum non-exclusive requirements for a role, i.e., not referring to advantageous experiences and knowledge is preferable for equitable job advertisements and attracting wide candidate pools. A two-tier system of criteria creates a two-tier system of candidates that will always preference those with more experience and privilege, so avoid additional headings in this kind of section, such as ‘‘preferable” and “advantageous,” to make sure you are giving qualified and talented applicants—who are currently excluded—fair consideration.

Reform the standard résumé and cover letter application process. Large organizations should review their recruitment platforms to make sure they are capable of supporting antiracist hiring practices. For example, if you are not able to capture who is applying, being sifted, or selected for an interview, how can you assess what needs to change? Résumés are statements of privilege, or lack thereof, and they are often read for the prestige and experience that matches the hiring manager’s own background (aspirational or otherwise). One option is to anonymize résumés, and another is to remove them altogether and embrace a more inclusive application form of questions that enable candidates to contextualize their experiences and convey competence, talent, and passion through a wide range of skills and non-exclusive experiences that do not encourage confirmation bias on the part of the hiring manager.

Create a hiring team that communicates the organization’s commitment to antiracism in recruitment and retention. Hiring managers need to be accountable for their decisions, but they also need to have a clear understanding of the organization’s commitment to antiracism in recruitment, onboarding, and retention, as well as human resources’ enforcement of it. Consider formalizing your organization’s commitment to antiracism by outlining new hiring policies and practices that support positive change and providing them to hiring managers. Explaining why it is necessary to attract and select a wide range of candidates who are BIPOC involves challenging and reforming the existing organizational culture and needs to be done actively through consistent and unambiguous communication. Once created, such a document can be worked into the hiring process as essential reading prior to the recruitment of any new position.

Organize pre-interview training to address bias and racism. Although your organization may have rolled out unconscious bias training, and/or systematized some changes in hiring practices, it is worth readdressing the unique biases that play out at the interview stage prior to them being carried out. Educating hiring managers on interview-specific biases via a qualified human resources advisor or DEI expert as a constituent of the recruitment process can teach hiring managers to consider their past and forthcoming hiring decisions critically and may help to improve the possibility of fair assessment for interviews with BIPOC. This type of work, be it one-to-one or open discussion, should enable a hiring manager to engage with the organization’s historical exclusion of BIPOC and should get them thinking about why and how the organization has privileged white candidates in the past and continues to presently.

Make hiring managers accountable to human resources and executive leadership for their decisions. Rolling out a series of checks and balances helps to create accountability across the organization, among hiring managers, human resources, and executive leadership. Without such systematization, the discretion, bias, and effort (or lack thereof) of individual employees will lead to an uneven engagement with antiracist recruitment and hiring practices. One key way to create accountability at the interview stage is to require an accurate record of the interview, i.e., by having someone (ideally not the interviewer/s) record, as verbatim as possible, questions asked and answers given. To ensure greater transparency and potential for racial equity, a post-interview form or scorecard should be issued by human resources and agreed upon prior to the interview process. This would require the hiring manager to map answers against the minimum-level competencies for the advertised role and provide an explanation as to why a particular candidate is being offered the role over the other candidates selected.

Recruit BIPOC for mid-level and senior-level roles. One of the most common ways in which larger organizations commit to diversifying majority white workplaces is through entry-level recruitment, but it is also essential to evaluate the exclusion of BIPOC employees in mid- and senior-level roles. Actively supporting the recruitment of qualified candidates who bring expertise and experience to mid- and senior-level roles can bolster inclusion, dismantle psychologically damaging hierarchies, and create innovation in new growth areas for the organization. For departments and roles where the exclusion of BIPOC staff remains acute, consider targeted programs that focus on mid- and senior-level shadowing opportunities, internal departmental exchanges, and investment in new positions that undermine existing hierarchies and concentrations of power (see ‘Power Mapping’).  

Understand that pay transparency closes pay gaps. In organizations that practice pay transparency, pay range information is shared, as is the criteria for how pay is determined. Existing research shows that bias (conscious and unconscious) is the number one reason why BIPOC are paid less than their white counterparts. Human resources, leadership and others can play a role in affecting change in this area. Adopt new policies to address the pay gaps that have historically affected people of color. Social media company Buffer, which uses a formula that factors in job title, experience, and cost of living to determine staff salaries, doesn’t have a pay gap among men and women in the same roles (although it does across the company) [22], [23]. For more on pay, see our section on Pay Equity Audits.

Phase out referrals. Ongoing surveys carried out by PayScale reveal the harsh truth of referrals (the practice whereby an organization incentivizes employees to refer job candidates and gives those candidates preferential treatment, e.g., a guaranteed interview). Female and minority applicants are much less likely to receive referrals than their white male counterparts: white women are 12 percent less likely, men of color are 26 percent less likely, and women of color are 35 percent less likely to receive a referral [24], [25].

Counter bias during the selection process. Reliance upon a formalized structure can ensure equitable treatment of all candidates. See the BBC Worklife guide for more information on bias in the staff selection process [26]. We recommend the following steps:

  • Anonymize résumés

  • Always involve more than one person in the selection process: hold panel interviews rather than one-to-one conversations

  • Hold initial interviews over the phone to allow a greater variety of candidates to participate

  • Have clear selection criteria and ensure you stick to them (and that they are transparent)

  • Focus on skills, not experience/background

  • Ensure your onboarding processes are clear to applicants and that they extend beyond a new employee’s first week [27]

Solicit the right applicants by bringing DEI into your external-facing employer brand. Before prospective employees consider applying for a position at your organization, you have the power to show them that antiracism is a part of your employer brand. It can attract like-minded prospective employees and will send a clear message to BIPOC that they are welcome. 

Ensure that your organization’s commitment to inclusivity is well-communicated across your external-facing channels. You can leverage communications in ways that will help you be more successful at accumulating a pool of candidates that is more diverse, inclusive-minded, and qualified. Do you already have core values that at least in part promote diversity, equity, and inclusion? If so, make sure that those values—and their connections to antiracism—are advertised on your website and branded social media channels.  

Demonstrate your commitment to DEI with videos and stories. Feature staff or leaders who have unique and interesting experiences to share in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion, showing how their experiences tie in with the organization. When featuring employees’ stories, avoid doing so in a tokenizing way, and make sure your company culture is in line with the values presented.

White male sitting on a desk in an open office area. The background is of people working and walking around.

Credit: Zoe Litaker Photography. Courtesy of Research Square, Durham, NC.

Story illustration: Why did one organization’s founder start his company? To ensure that researchers who did not speak English as a first language would have less difficulty in getting their work accepted in English-language journals. View story


Invite your employees to share thoughts, experiences, or stories on your company’s social media channels through words, images, sound, or video. Such posts are loaded with human elements and can be remarkably powerful tools to communicate your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Story Illustration: The following videos were produced by employees for a distributed workforce all-staff meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. All employees were encouraged to express their feelings and thoughts—and their creativity—through video. The approaches ranged from serious and heartfelt to humorous and entertaining, and celebrated the diversity and uniqueness of employees at all levels while also promoting inclusion.  

Working at Research Square During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Credit: Dash Weiland, Research Square, Durham, NC

Work-Life Balance at Research Square During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Credit: Michele Avissar-Whiting, Research Square, Durham, NC

Invite applicants to discuss their own antiracist commitments. When candidates are ready to fill out your online application, add a pre-screening question that allows them to share their thoughts and/or commitment to diversity. It clearly signals to the candidate that DEI is important [17].

Interviewing Candidates Virtually

From a recruitment perspective, the interview process in a distributed workforce environment is predominantly—and sometimes 100 percent—virtual. 

Without in-person, face-to-face communication, it can be difficult to gauge a prospective employee’s fit with your work culture in addition to their fit with the job itself. If that isn’t hard enough, you and your team must also gauge how DEI will be included in your interviews and what expectations your new hire should meet in these areas. At the same time, your organization’s employees must be aware of potential hidden bias during the selection process. How do you balance all of these considerations while interviewing candidates virtually? The following suggestions can help you along.

  • Introduce candidates to your organization virtually through a package of information that supports your employer brand and tells a story about your organization’s human side [28]. Items can include:

    • A list of employer awards or other forms of recognition 

    • News articles or videos that highlight your organization’s involvement in community service programs 

    • Employee profiles, written by the employees themselves, about the organization and its culture

    • Videos, photos, or quotes from employees

  • Use a talent scorecard and share evidence in a formal debriefing session to ensure that those involved in the hiring decision keep the main focus of discussion on the job requirements and the candidate’s ability to meet them [28].

  • Encourage interviews that start with a phone screening. The phone minimizes the visual part of the first-impression bias. 

  • Bring culture into the interview. Gauge candidates on enthusiasm for your organization’s mission, its stated culture, and their interest in supporting antiracism in your work environment through their position.

  • Invite BIPOC employees to be a part of your interview panels to get their perspectives as you go through the hiring process. 

  • Bring outside training into your workforce through DEI certificate programs to ensure that hiring managers’ knowledge and processes are up-to-date [17]

Please see also the section “Antiracist Recruitment and Hiring Practices”.  

Publishing has historically relied on the labor of unpaid interns entering the industry right after graduation as well as on low-paid, entry-level positions. These low- or no-pay jobs are barriers to publishing careers for many. Individuals who come from economically advantaged backgrounds are much better able to take such unpaid or low-paid positions, and the industry needs to open doors to people without those economic advantages.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2019 Student Survey

  • Hispanic-American and multiracial individuals were more likely to not have an internship.

  • African-American and multiracial individuals were more likely to have unpaid internships if they did find an internship.

  • Hispanic-American, African-American, and multiracial individuals were the least likely to have a paid internship.

Interns by Race and Ethnicity Chart [29]

Chart indicating where a group is underrepresented or overrepresented in a particular area such as unpaid internships, paid internships, and no internship.

The red and green arrows in the figure above show where disproportionality exists, indicating when a group is underrepresented (red arrow) or overrepresented (green arrow). If there is no arrow underneath a column, then that demographic group is proportionally represented in that internship group.
Credit: Mimi Collins, National Association of Colleges and Employers, Bethlehem, PA
Source: NACE 2019 Student Survey Report

Organizations that are serious about creating a diverse and inclusive talent pipeline will want to pay their interns and make sure entry-level jobs are commensurate with the cost of living.

As a benefit to the scholarly publishing community and its future professionals, SSP offers free internship postings on our job board for both member and non-member organizations. Internships give students and recent graduates important experience and an advantage when they search for their first job. In an effort to promote greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing industry, SSP made the decision to no longer advertise unpaid internships on our job board.

Unpaid internships unfairly disadvantage people who are not able to work without a paycheck which can perpetuate a lack of diversity in scholarly publishing, since students who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color disproportionately don’t have the means to take on such unpaid roles. Without the benefit an internship provides, individuals often start out behind their advantaged peers in terms of salary level which further widens the gap and potentially slows the path to leadership positions.

— Melanie Dolechek, executive director, Society for Scholarly Publishing [30]

Case Study: Assessing Internship Applicants

All organizations and employers must realize that existing, structural inequalities can intensify from treating applicants “equally” according to impartial standards, such as grades, school, or university performance. When companies make human resources decisions, feeling they are evaluating candidates “fairly and objectively” on the premise of “equal” measures, it neglects the reality that white, non-migrant applicants benefit from privileges. In contrast, BIPOC and applicants from other ethnic minority and marginalized groups have already been disadvantaged in the form of institutionalized racism, inherent discriminatory structures, and implicit biases. Therefore, it is important to understand an applicant’s performance in the context of these structural realities.

Example Scenario: Two applicants, Amina and Marie, apply for a six-month internship, helping your company with social media outreach. Both applicants are enrolled at a prestigious business school, taking courses relevant to the role, and need to complete a mandatory internship as part of their master’s program. Marie finished her bachelor’s with honors, and her grades are on average slightly better than Amina’s.

About the applicants

Marie comes from a white, academic family. Her parents are both doctors, running a private dentistry practice. She is their only child and spends her free time studying or on extracurricular activities.

Amina is the oldest of three sisters. Her grandparents migrated from Algeria following a call for foreign guest workers. Amina’s mother attended nursing school and is working night shifts at the hospital; her father runs a small supply store. Amina received a tiny scholarship from a Muslim community organization in her neighborhood to support her tuition fees and is working at a coffee shop when she is not studying or in class.

Whom would you choose?
Barriers and filters in the university system (and in the education system overall) replicate social hierarchies and systemic mechanisms of exclusion, reproducing inequalities along the lines of class, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, migration history, and social and economic background. Achievements and academic success are presented as the outcome of hard work, neglecting that privilege, access, and power are distributed inequitably since an individual’s school years [31], [32].

If both applicants are evaluated on the premise of their university performance alone, the internship position may be awarded to Marie. The hiring managers may consider the selection method to be objective and fair. However, their decision neglected to consider the realities and power structures at play in their collective context. If Marie is selected, the applicant from an already privileged background will benefit from further economic and intellectual capital as a result of getting the job. If Amina, who has likely been placed at a disadvantage in educational institutions and encountered various forms of discrimination up to the application process, is not selected, she will be even further adversely affected by the asymmetries of privilege, because her achievements are not considered in the context of her reality. Amina’s opportunities are not equal to those of Marie, whose privileges give her a pre-existing head start. 

Note: This example was inspired by Mohamed Amjahid’s book “Der weiße Fleck” [32].

Leveling the playing field is not about me and whether I am considered exceptional, it’s about how many others like me would be competing for that scholarship or job opportunity. Whether exceptional or not, only one of me on this playing field is not enough. There need to be more at all levels of merit. Having more applicants of color increases the likelihood that someone of merit and of color gets the job.

— Ernesto Andrianantoandro, scientific editor, Cell Systems [33]

Employee Resource Groups/Affinity Groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) and affinity groups are inclusive communities formed by employees and endorsed by the company. These groups are often formed from the bottom up, generally by colleagues that share a common characteristic, often from a historically excluded group:

  • Ethnicity

  • Gender

  • Disability

  • Sexual orientation

  • Age

  • Caregivers

  • Other categories that connect employees (e.g., a distributed workforce)

ERGs have been around since the 1960s and have a long history of lobbying for change within their companies. In Forbes, Rebekah Bastian noted that “the first group to be launched was the National Black Employees Caucus, developed to address the issue of workplace discrimination” [34]. From this first successful example, to the hundreds that we see across companies today, it is clear that ERGs have the power to change policy and make voices heard. Lattelle Reeves, manager of the DE&I Program at Wiley, wrote in her blog about the power of being seen and heard at work and shared her advice on how to build and sustain support for ERGs [35].

ERGs and affinity groups provide key support for marginalized, and especially BIPOC, individuals. These groups help to ensure the success of BIPOC staff in the workplace by providing much needed support and empowerment.

Image describing the different employee resource groups at SAGE Publishing. The groups are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), Menopause, Women in Tech, LGBTQIA+, Parents and Employees with Impairments.

Provided by Kiren Shoman, Vice President of Pedagogy at SAGE Publishing, Thousand Oaks, CA. Illustration credit: Sunni Losito, MSM, and Sarah Williamson, MA, American Gastroenterological Association, Bethesda, MD

ERGs vs. Affinity Groups

ERGs and affinity groups are both communities where employees of similar backgrounds, interests, or demographic factors can come together. Unlike affinity groups, ERGs are explicitly tied to supporting business goals and objectives. This means that they can go beyond creating safe places for BIPOC and other members of traditionally marginalized groups; they can also support your organization’s overall DEI goals. They can be transformative because their efforts will be closely linked to return on investment.

ERGs provide multiple benefits to both employees and the organization, serving as a fundamental support to critical business and talent objectives. Some of these objectives include increasing employee retention, developing new leaders, and helping to recruit high-quality diverse talent, in addition to providing helpful insights and innovative thinking to enhance the organization’s products and expand into new markets.

Five to Nine highlights ERGs as “think tanks that can guide business strategy in concrete ways,” including [36]:

  • Ensuring employees have an opportunity to be heard, valued, and engaged;

  • Gaining a better understanding of who your customers are;

  • Getting insight into business performance; and

  • Providing employees with the opportunity to problem solve, innovate, and develop, regardless of seniority or status.

Characteristics of Effective ERGs

  • Allyship: working with those outside of the affinity group (though ERGs should still hold safe spaces just for those within the group)

  • Intersectionality: working with other ERGs

  • Business impact: working to improve the organization’s mechanisms

  • Operating rhythm: an annual calendar and a cadence to meetings

  • Professional development: providing opportunities to colleagues

  • Metrics: proof that their work has brought valuable change

Many organizations start with affinity groups and later implement ERGs when they understand how ERGs can support their business and equity objectives. ERGs are high leverage because each ERG has a leader, typically a senior-level leader, who sponsors the group to make sure that it meets its mission and has the organizational support necessary to thrive. Additionally, sponsors can remove barriers and obstacles that ERGs might experience and/or help them secure resources, such as funding for professional development, while not interfering with the ERG’s autonomy.

ERGs are most effective when DEI initiatives are fundamental to your organization’s business priorities. If this is not the case, ERGs can lose their impact.

How to Start and Support Employee Resource Groups

Make sure your colleagues are aware that they are encouraged to start an ERG or affinity group. Raise the idea at your next company briefing. Include instructions in company-wide communications. Create a form that colleagues can send to a designated group in leadership or human resources. Do whatever suits your organization to encourage people to sign up.

Ensure that employees who are interested in setting up affinity groups or ERGs connect with your human resources team. That team can help groups establish their mission, develop strategies to recruit team members, and share best practices to make sure that the groups are effective.

We recommend that ERG leaders follow a guide, such as those provided by Janice Gassam Asare or Lyssa Test, to start their groups successfully [37], [38].

Once your ERGs are formed, you should encourage them to follow the 4C ERG Model, created by Robert Rodriguez [39]. As the diagram explains, any action of an ERG can be assigned to one of the following four areas [40]:

  • Culture: Efforts that raise the cultural competency of the company by promoting inclusion, raising awareness, and dispelling myths.

  • Career: Initiatives designed to help the career advancement, professional development, and education of ERG members.

  • Community: Actions that connect an ERG to community outreach and volunteer efforts.

  • Commerce: Activities that link ERGs to business goals, corporate initiatives, and strategies.

Chart depicting the 4C's of an employee resource group. They are culture, career, community and commerce.

Credit: Robert Rodriguez, Ph.D, President, DRR Advisors LLC, Chicago, IL

Five to Nine provides excellent guidance on establishing ERGs [36]:

  • Identify the purpose of the ERG to set it up for success.

  • Select an executive sponsor and identify success metrics for the ERG.

  • Equip the ERG with a budget.

  • Align ERG objectives with business goals.

  • Discover initiatives that support the ERG’s goals.

  • Establish key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • Create visibility for the ERG.

  • Incentivize participation.

  • Iterate.

Organizations, especially those committed to diversifying leadership, pay particular attention to individuals who lead ERGs. Individuals who are volunteering their time to support both business and cultural objectives, via ERGs, should be identified for potential mentorship and/or sponsorship.

Track Performance

Rodriguez recommends measuring your ERGs across eight categories that fit into the 4C model. Rate your ERGs on a three-point scale in order to understand your strengths and weaknesses and then strategize accordingly.

Image of the 4C model: Culture, Career, Community and Commerce

Credit: Robert Rodriguez, Ph.D, President, DRR Advisors LLC, Chicago, IL

A final note: ERGs represent a community that increases value to employees through career development and/or community outreach. It’s possible to extend this focus and integrate business goals to form business resource groups, where the ERG’s presence adds value directly to the business. This value might be found in increasing the inclusivity of the business group or in lobbying for better working conditions for the representative group.

Please see the Appendix for a list of affinity groups associated with scholarly publishers.

Mentorship, Reverse Mentorship, and Sponsorship Programs

Members of the BIPOC community face more hurdles during a job search than white people. According to Refinery29, “white applicants received significantly more callbacks than equally qualified Black and Latino applicants, 36 and 24 percent more, respectively” [41]. Once BIPOC are offered a job, they face still more hurdles due to the systemic barriers in place within the organization: lower pay, fewer job growth opportunities, sparse mentoring opportunities, implicit bias, and overt racism. Many organizations are embracing mentorship to address some of these barriers.

Professor Katherine W. Phillips of Columbia University recommends that organizations consider “creating a buddy system of informal mentorship, in which more-experienced employees help facilitate social relationships for new hires, particularly minorities who may feel marginalized in the organization” [42].

Mentoring programs raised minority representation in management by 9% to 24%, according to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations [43]. The study also found that mentoring programs dramatically improved promotion and retention rates for BIPOC and women by 15% to 35% compared to non-mentored employees.

Mentorship Should Be Intentionally Inclusive

Ruchika Tulshyan, a writer for the Association for Talent Development, underscored the ways in which mentorship should be intentional. She suggests employers state their intention (e.g. increase representation of Black employees in managerial roles), recruit intentionally by approaching and inviting potential participants, and train intentionally by providing participants with a structure that establishes expectations on meeting frequency, goal setting, and communications. Finally, she suggests measuring impact with intention, making sure you know who is participating, the level of support that participants feel has been provided, and the perceived effectiveness of the program [44]. You can compare life cycle data regarding retention, advancement, and engagement of those participating versus those who are not. This will not only guide your structure but also encourage others to join. Host in-house mentoring, but encourage employees to find their own mentors, both within and beyond the company.

Ally, Role Model, Coach, Mentor, or Sponsor?

Just as it’s helpful to have a range of people to make up your mentorship teams, it is worth considering having different roles represented.

An ally, who can be a colleague at any level, uses their sphere of influence to amplify the voices of those who do not have the authority or support to make themselves seen or heard. Being an ally is about expanding your circle to those who would normally not have access.

Allyship is not a role that can be claimed by the person advocating for others; according to the training organization Allies for Change, “people who are targets of oppression determine who their allies are” [45]. There are many resources available on how to become a better ally, such as Better Allies.

Dr. Ruth Gotian explained how role models, coaches, mentors, and sponsors can be effective for ensuring career success [46]:

What's in a Name Image from Dr. Ruth Gotian's presentation. Describes a Role Model, Mentor, Coach and Sponsor

You should have a Role Model, Mentor, Coach, and Sponsor

Credit: Dr. Ruth Gotian, Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Professor of Education in Anesthesiology and former Assistant Dean of Mentoring and Executive Director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY

A role model is somebody who embodies traits you admire and wish to emulate. You may know them, or just know of them.

A mentor is a figure in your professional life who talks with you about you career, goals, plans, and aspirations.

A coach works with you on improving a specific detail of your professional work (e.g., executive presence) or finding your passion.

A sponsor is a colleague, often higher up in leadership, who will promote you and your work when you are not in the room. Studies by PayScale, as communicated by J. Lewis of The Balance Careers, show that the difference in earnings for sponsored workers with a bachelor's degree versus those without sponsors is significant:

Hispanic women with a sponsor earn 6.1 percent more than Hispanic women without one. Black women with a sponsor earn 5.1 percent more than Black women without one [47].

It is important for colleagues to know the difference and for teams to be informed on how these structures of support can be incorporated into your company working style. When you survey colleagues, ask how many would consider themselves to have a role model, mentor, coach, or sponsor, and try to determine where there may be gaps.

Mentorship vs. Sponsorship

At its most basic level, sponsorship typically involves someone with privilege or authority who can advocate for someone in their organization to be promoted or have access to high-profile work. This can be significant, especially for members of marginalized communities/identities, because many of the conversations that provide opportunities to elevate an individual’s work and performance, champion someone to lead a project or cross-functional initiative, and the like happen behind the scenes. Being someone’s sponsor means you amplify their name, you make their contributions and abilities known, and you use your privilege to make sure that the person is acknowledged in conversations that will lead to them being promoted.

Mentorship slightly differs from sponsorship in a couple of ways:

  1. Mentors can be internal or external to the organization. Mentors can share expertise, provide advice to help mentees overcome challenges within their organization, coach, provide career advice, and so on. Mentors are often good sounding boards and thought partners, active in developing the perspectives of their mentees. When it comes to career development guidance, mentors who are internal or external to the organization often open up their networks to help their mentees advance in their careers. There aren’t consequences to the mentor in such a scenario.

  2. Sponsors are internal to the organization. Sponsors typically understand the politics and power dynamics of the organization. They can share advice or help the person that they are sponsoring navigate the visible and invisible structures that exist within the organization. The sponsor’s reputation may either benefit or be adversely impacted by the performance of the person they are sponsoring.

Many advocates for sponsorship warn that formal mentorship programs can inadvertently imply that BIPOC team members are deficient in the skills necessary to advance. Proponents of sponsorship highlight instead that many BIPOC team members already have the experience and skill set to be promoted; what they are missing is visibility. That is where having an effective sponsor changes the dynamic. The sponsor can make sure the person isn’t being overlooked.

The perfect scenario for many BIPOC individuals is to have both a sponsor and a mentor. An external mentor and an internal sponsor may provide the best of both worlds. The team member benefits from the power and privilege of the internal sponsor to pave the way for promotion, as well as from the expertise and network of the external mentor, who provides guidance and advice unbiased by internal workings of the organization.

Reverse Mentorship Programs

In reverse mentorships, originated by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, more-experienced staff are paired with newer employees to learn from their perspectives. Many reverse mentoring programs now embrace the BIPOC community as mentors, recognizing that staff from non-BIPOC communities have much to learn from working with those who have experienced racialized interactions and racial biases within their organization. Keep in mind, however, that a reverse mentorship program should not impose an obligation on BIPOC employees to educate their white peers.

According to Sharlene Gandhi, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “upending the power dynamic of the traditional mentoring model promotes a sense of belonging and nurtures stronger connections between colleagues. It is this human connection that will lead to a more equitable future” [48]. Reverse mentoring can break down stereotypes of what talent looks like, what the background of that talent can be, and the “not listed in your job description” experiences that can contribute to success.

There is also value in members of BIPOC communities mentoring each other and sharing their experiences of how to navigate the workplace. Tammy Allen, author of Designing Workplace Mentor Programs, wrote that the trickiest part of mentoring, and the one we know the least about, is pairing. Some organizations use algorithms, like those used by dating apps. Some just make random matches. One of the most effective ways, though, is to allow participants to choose whom they want as a mentor or whom they want to mentor.

Create a format for all mentors/mentees and let the pairs figure out their schedule and how much they want to share. Trust takes time and not all matches will work out. Be flexible and realize that changes may need to be made in the mentorship matches, which is fine. At the end of any mentoring cycle, evaluate your program to see how you can make improvements.

Employee Progression and Retention

When first considering how to improve progression (and retention) of BIPOC employees in your organization, ask yourself the following questions. Consider how you can create a more structured approach to ensure equitable treatment of all employees.

  • Where do you recruit for your talent pipeline?

  • Where do people drop out?

  • How are selections for promotions, leadership programs, etc., carried out?

  • How are projects assigned?

Providing Staff Equity Training

Types of Training

Though insufficient on its own, one of the most obvious ways you can move your organization toward an antiracist culture is to launch a training program that spans all levels and all departments.

As part of a multipronged strategy, DEI training is an invaluable tool for engaging, educating, and inspiring employees to be antiracist and inclusive in their thinking and actions. And it’s important that individual organizations tailor their educational strategies and opportunities to their own unique employees, history, and strategic goals. Staff training can accomplish numerous objectives, including amplifying leadership’s commitment to antiracism, raising awareness of unconscious and implicit bias, addressing workplace microaggressions, and promoting cultural competency and empathy.

Surveys can be helpful tools in assessing staff knowledge and experiences and can guide priorities for education and training. Numerous online survey templates (SHRM membership required) exist that are specifically designed for this. Similarly inspiring are equity audits, which organizations like The Equity Paradigm offer, based on observations, staff surveys, and interviews. 

The training program that you develop must “clearly convey why DEI is important, what inclusion actually looks like, and how each team member” is responsible for building an antiracist culture [49]

While the “why” can include the business case for DEI, do not forget the need to foreground the ethical and moral case for prioritizing equity and becoming an antiracist organization. “What” is where practical examples of inclusive policies, communications, and other tactics can be shared, along with showing what exclusive behavior or language looks like so it can be intentionally avoided [49]

Organizations should also educate employees about the realities and inequities of our society, increasing awareness and offering strategies for the individual accountability and structural changes needed to support inclusive workplaces.

— Evelyn R. Carter [50]

Like any learning endeavor, antiracism training requires practice, reinforcement, repetition, and prioritization of time.  

The type of training you choose can take many forms, ranging from one-time engagements to ongoing efforts that are offered periodically. The cost of training can also vary widely, depending on what you’re aiming to achieve and whether you use an off-the-shelf product or engage a consulting firm to conduct the training. Regardless, many types of training will match the financial resources your organization has available. Even if you work with consultants, remember that leveraging internal groups—such as committed leadership, ERGs, and DEI councils or committees—is key to effective antiracist training and education [49].

Although research on the effectiveness of diversity training shows that results can be mixed, a study by Lindsey et al. argued for two strategies that may be most effective: Perspective-Taking and Goal-Setting [51].

  • In Perspective-Taking training, you are asked to imagine what challenges a marginalized individual/group might face in the workplace. This type of training can yield long-term positive effects.

  • With Goal-Setting training, you are asked to specify goals related to diversity in the workplace. The goals must be measurable and attainable (yet challenging). For example, you might set a goal for yourself to speak up when you hear disparaging remarks about a marginalized group or individual. Research showed that this type of training led to more pro-diversity behaviors and attitudes up to months after training. 

In addition to Perspective-Taking and Goal-Setting, there are other types of training your organization can consider, ranging from the fundamental to the advanced. Some examples include [52]:

  • Common Ground. This type of training allows you to define terms, values, and priorities, getting everyone in the organization on the same page.

  • Town Halls. These provide a safe and non-threatening environment to address issues and pain points around diversity that people observe within the organization.

  • Cultural Sensitivity Training. This helps employees become aware of other cultures and lifestyles and to increase empathy.

  • Unconscious Bias. This type of training sensitizes employees to the kinds of unconscious bias that exists in the workplace and how to mitigate them.

  • Microaggressions. Training that focuses on microaggressions teaches employees how to communicate and collaborate in a way that avoids harmful stereotypes that can often create a hostile work environment.

  • Inclusive Management. With this type of training, supervisors are taught how to identify and address discrimination.

  • Leading Diverse Teams. Managers of teams are given the skills they need to effectively lead a diverse workforce.

  • Senior Management Coaching. Change comes from the top. With this type of training, senior leaders are counseled on how to encourage diverse viewpoints and guide safe discussions around antiracism.

Regardless of the type of diversity training your organization chooses to pursue, several factors may maximize your success [53]. Perhaps most importantly, the aim of your training program should be to provide practical ways for staff to engage in respectful and positive behavior while reducing discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, training should be targeted to staff at all levels. Additionally, it’s important that you tie DEI training to your organization’s overall vision, mission, values, and goals. Ideally, training should be an ongoing initiative, over time, and should be customized for the needs of your organization. Finally, use an integrated approach with your training—in other words, use a variety of formats and methods, as different people learn in different ways.

This is not an optional sign up. The courageous conversations need to be required, and the importance of doing this needs to be conveyed at the highest lever.

— John Pham, Cell Press editor [54]

Addressing Microaggressions

According to Tupoka Ogette, microaggressions are subtle and encroaching acts in everyday communication and behavior that are directed in a derogative or ostracizing form toward BIPOC and other ethnic minority and marginalized groups. These actions include insults, degradation, and humiliation [55]. Ogette explained that different types of microaggressions can be observed through:    

  • Subtle acts and communication (“micro-insults”) that are insulting or insensitive.

  • “Communication that is ostracizing, negativing, or invalidating towards BIPOC in a subtle way (‘micro-exclusions’).”

  • “Deliberate and intentional acts or insults (‘micro-assaults’)” using racist language or symbols.

Microaggressions might appear as individual acts, but they are closely tied to structural and institutional racism. When confronted with their microaggressions, white colleagues may tend to invalidate their BIPOC colleagues’ experience as emotional, oversensitive, or subjective [56]. Having to respond to daily racism—whether structural or in the form of microaggressions—is stressful for those affected by it. This racial stress has a direct impact on an individual’s stress tolerance or how at ease they feel in given situations. BIPOC and other minority and marginalized groups are therefore constantly pushed to develop strategies of resilience to avoid this form of stress in different environments—in school, 7university, or the workplace. Because microaggressions often cannot be predicted or apprehended, BIPOC who are affected by them cannot prepare for the situation. This means they are often in a state of constant alertness that they may sense consciously or unconsciously. Concerns for their personal security and those of loved ones, both physical and psychological, can be (re-)traumatizing. Certain factors—such as continuous stress, emotional or physical abuse, economic distress, and violence—are so-called toxic stressors and can lead to severe illnesses (e.g., depression, autoimmune diseases) [55], [32].

Racism is not linked to intention. Naming an act as racist or addressing someone’s racist behavior does not require that the person’s action(s) occur on purpose or with intent. Even when the action was not intended, it is not up to the person who caused it to interpret whether it was racist. Trivializing such actions as “not racist” invalidates the experience of the colleague affected and permits the person who caused it to not take responsibility for their action [55]. Racism has to be acknowledged as a system and not an individual act of intention in order to understand our own position within and contribution to that system, and our responsibility to deconstruct it [55].

Fostering Antiracism in a Distributed Workforce Environment

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, more organizations began offering the option of working from home and in a distributed environment. Some degree of a distributed workforce is expected to continue even after the pandemic. Fostering antiracism and DEI commitments in this “new normal” environment can be challenging, but it is not impossible. This section is intended to guide organizations in ensuring that DEI is front of mind for current and future employees no matter where they are located. 

Roadmap for Building a Culture of DEI with a Distributed Workforce

Fully offsite and distributed workforce environments can implement much of the advice shared in this toolkit, making use of video conferencing, direct-messaging systems such as Slack, and phone calls, to communicate an organization’s commitment to a culture of antiracism. This culture should be visible internally to employees and externally to other audiences, especially prospective employees.

To start, make sure that your employer vision and culture include elements that support DEI. The DEI elements do not have to take center stage, but they should be stated and notably consistent with other important aspects of your organization. If you have not yet built a culture of antiracism, here are some steps for moving forward:

Get your leadership on board. In nearly all workplaces, including those with distributed workforces, leaders are in the best position to influence an organization’s culture. Ask them to promote and endorse their position on DEI as much as possible, not just through dry announcements, but also through everyday activities such as sharing DEI-related resources through communication channels both internally and externally. 

Form a DEI committee or ERG. Develop an employee-based committee that meets virtually to develop a plan of action for incorporating DEI programs and a culture of DEI into your organization. As an organization with a distributed workforce, use your various internal communication channels to invite involvement. Read more about successful ERGs.

Encourage desired behaviors. Telling or reminding employees directly that they should follow the organization’s culture or values is not persuasive or effective. Instead, incentivize employees to become shining examples of the organization’s culture through fun and creative forms of recognition on virtual channels.

Story illustration: During their all-staff meetings, Research Square Company employees use the power of video in creative ways to recognize colleagues for staying true to their employee culture, writing and recording songs, producing short skits, and even developing animations. It’s a fun and entertaining way to keep employees connected to the organization’s culture.

All Squares Meeting 2021
Culture Champion Award Winner Chris Bauer; Presenter: Jennifer Grodsky, Research Square, Durham, NC

Document and promote successes as you go. Produce periodic reports that show the progress your committee has made toward its goals. In organizations with a distributed workforce, users can celebrate these successes via video conference during all-staff and departmental meetings. On messaging systems like Slack, committee members can send staff celebratory messages that show enthusiasm for the organization’s DEI efforts. The more you celebrate DEI successes, the more DEI becomes ingrained in your work culture.

Make antiracism a two-way conversation. Invite employees from across the organization to be a part of the conversation on building an antiracist culture. Consider developing messaging channels specific to DEI work. Invite employees to share personal stories and challenges, issues of importance, and general comments. The more you make antiracism an ongoing conversation in the organization, the more it moves to the forefront of employees’ minds [18].

Assigning Work: Glamour Work and Office Support Work

Glamour work “gets you noticed by higher-ups, gives you the opportunity to stretch your skills with a new challenge, can lead to your next promotion” [57], and positions employees for promotions. Middle-level managers are typically the people who control who gets these high-profile assignments [58]. In contrast to the recognition and development of new skills that we see in glamour work, office support work is the necessary and often unappreciated work that we see most often undertaken by women, particularly women of color [59].

Williams and Multhaup, in Harvard Business Review, underlined how we can assign work better, summarized as follows [57].

How managers can distribute glamour work fairly:

  • Consider all eligible employees.

  • Formalize a pool of employees with requisite skills and establish a rotation of the best assignments.

  • Rotation systems for this work should be strategic and aligned to employee skills.

  • If employees do not have the requisite skills to take on the best assignments, invest! Junior employees can shadow senior workers, or human resources can apply funds toward professional development. Another tactic is to reframe the assignment so it can be worked on by more people.

How managers can address the problem of office support work:

  • Identify the office support work and survey your team (see example survey).

  • Determine what the main tasks are and whether they are distributed equitably.

  • Don’t rely on volunteers for office support work; do establish a system, however arbitrary.

  • Hold the team accountable.

How senior leaders can help:

  • Understand that having more employees who are capable of glamour work is better for the company.

  • Leaders should convene to identify the glamour work and the lower-profile work in their organization, and who is being assigned to each. (This worksheet and meeting protocol can help).

  • Leaders should ensure that a third party is analyzing data, looking for company-wide and individual patterns to determine the wider picture of your organization’s glamour work, and identifying any supervisors who may be approaching the assignment of work with some bias.

  • Make sure that work such as mentorship and DEI committee participation counts as glamour work and that time spent in these spaces is considered in promotions and raises.

  • Set goals for the allocation of assignments and hold managers to this standard.

Making Performance Evaluations Equitable

Performance reviews can often serve as a major barrier to equity and inclusion in the workplace, where BIPOC and women are more likely to fare worse in a performance review compared with their white male colleagues. For instance, studies have shown that performance evaluations tend to be more positive for men than for women [60], [61]. A 2001 study likewise found that 41% of Black female managers claimed they had to outperform their male colleagues to overcome bias in the performance appraisal process [62].

To address these disparities in performance reviews, the Center for WorkLife Law has developed the Bias Interrupters Model, an evidence-based framework for reducing performance review bias in small but meaningful ways. The model highlights four tendencies for bias that you should watch out for [63]:

  1. Prove-It-Again! (PIA). Groups stereotyped as less competent often have to prove themselves multiple times before their competencies are believed.

  2. Tightrope (TR). For women and BIPOC, a narrower range of workplace behavior is considered acceptable.

  3. The Parental Wall. Assumptions about family status can affect people differently, including employees without children or other caregiver roles.

  4. Tug of War. Bias can create conflict within marginalized groups, unfairly pitting members against one another.

Consider these additional solutions to mitigate bias in your organization’s performance evaluations:

  • Implement a bias interrupter. Have someone (or several people) on your team review performance evaluations for potential bias and work with managers to revisit any potentially problematic ratings before sharing them with employees.

  • Expand (or revisit) what is being evaluated. Rather than focusing on technical skills alone, incorporate additional values such as emotional intelligence or other soft skills into the performance evaluation structure. (See the paragraph on The Importance of Embedding DEI Efforts above)

  • Give evidence. Back up your evaluations with examples to explain your ratings. Focus on fact rather than opinion.

  • Monitor language for bias. Are your male employees receiving more work-related feedback, while female or non-binary employees are receiving more personality-based feedback? Check your own assumptions against the bias tendencies listed above.

  • Collect more feedback. Managers tend to identify more errors in the work of people from marginalized groups. Collecting more feedback, more often, on employee performance may help mitigate some of these biases.

  • Be clear. Set clearly defined goals and create a rubric for meeting performance expectations.

  • Talk often. Encourage open communication about performance and give employees the chance to improve. Nothing in a formal performance evaluation should be a surprise to the employee.

  • Keep a written record. Managers should keep a catalog of written feedback they receive for their employees (both positive and negative); employees should track any positive feedback they receive to supplement their self-evaluations.

  • Pattern or one-off? When you receive negative feedback for an employee, reflect on whether it is signaling a pattern of behavior or whether it’s a one-off issue that can be addressed in the moment.

  • Don’t insist on gendered qualities. Subjective traits such as “likability” are often expected from some team members and not others.

  • Don’t make assumptions. Managers should observe and communicate rather than rely on assumptions about what caregivers—or those who are not caregivers—can do.

  • Use multiple feedback sources to limit bias. When reviewing a colleague’s performance, ask for a 360-degree review (from managers, colleagues, and reports), as well as the comments of the colleague who is being reviewed. This may reduce the likelihood of bias and creates an environment of ongoing feedback. Be mindful that there can be drawbacks to this process, such as staff resistance to rating their peers, anonymity not being guaranteed, and peer ratings that may be inaccurate [64].

  • Be explicit about use of inclusive language. Ask those providing feedback to check their language. Including a snippet such as the following could have a helpful impact on feedback forms:

Language is one of your most powerful tools for creating an environment where everyone feels welcome, respected, and included. Be mindful about your language and consider the possible reactions of the person you’re giving feedback to. Avoid words, phrases, and tones that may offend or stereotype the person based on attributes like ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and age [65].

  • Reinforce inclusive behaviors. Include this as part of the review and recognize behaviors where staff contribute to a welcoming and inclusive environment. For example, note when a staff member actively seeks input from people who don’t usually speak up in meetings.

  • Use these reviews to ask employees how they feel. Performance reviews can be listening opportunities for managers and leaders. Ask key questions such as:

    • Can you be your authentic self at work?

    • Do you think people make assumptions about your strengths and/or weaknesses based on cultural stereotypes?

    • Do you ever feel as though you need to conform to the standards of the majority to be successful at work?

Employee Development Plans

Your organization should create guidelines for colleagues to write their own professional development plans and ensure managers are trained in how to support their teams in achieving those plans. We suggest using the next three stages of thought to create a development plan that works across the organization, but also for the individual. It is vital that these plans lead to action, so managerial follow-up is key. See the guide from Bamboo HR for a more detailed approach to defining your employees’ development plans [66].

After you develop a framework for development plans, be sure to track the results and refine over time.

Leadership


It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. The world is desperate for braver leaders. It’s time for all of us to step up.

— Brené Brown, Author, “Dare to Lead” [67]


Multitudes of studies have shown that the highest-performing leaders are those who are brave and resilient and who empower staff to action. In committing to antiracist organizations, leaders have opportunities to be courageous and inclusive, as well as to exercise humility, an essential element of empathic leadership. No matter the organizational structure—hierarchical or horizontal—leaders are responsible for ensuring alignment of resources relative to priorities, including how staff are investing their most vital resources of time and expertise. In order for DEI and antiracism to become part of organizational DNA, leadership advocacy is essential. Teams look to leaders for guidance in every area of the business, including team collaborations, and DEI is no exception.  

Few leaders, however, have long-term experience or expertise in DEI, and the learning and humility required can be challenging. But this work provides a tremendous opportunity to learn alongside and listen to staff, which can have a positive impact on creating an inclusive culture. As challenging as DEI work can be, it is also an opportunity for leadership growth as well as new collaborations among the team.  

The Resource Section provides some recommendations for learning and training resources, along with programs specific to leadership in equity and inclusion. But even without specific knowledge or expertise, there are general approaches that a leader can embrace to clarify positive intentions and support for DEI.  

How do I become an antiracist leader?

This section is for all leaders—team leaders, department heads, committee liaisons, future leaders, board chairs—not just top executives.

When considering how to become an antiracist leader, ask yourself some questions:

  • Why do I want to be an antiracist leader (in contrast to just being a good leader)?

  • How do I embody the behavior I want to see in others?

  • Are there organizational systems in place that should be revised or removed?

The author, historian, and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, Ibram X. Kendi, wrote, “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist” [68]. According to Professor Kendi, the behavior of an antiracist leader includes believing people. Believe people when they say that they are troubled about something they overheard or that a racist comment was directed at them. Do not minimize it by responding, “oh, maybe they didn’t mean it that way... maybe they were having a bad day.” Believe people when they say that you will never understand what they are going through. They are giving you information based on their lived experience. Believe people when they say that there are barriers in place that impede their professional growth. Listen to them and investigate what you are told. Remember that barriers can also be people, not just internal or external systems.

Other ways to show your authentic commitment to antiracism, equity, and inclusion include:

  • Listen to understand. Ask questions to ensure that you are clear about what someone is telling you. Do not assume that you get it. It’s okay if you don’t, as long as you ask questions.

  • Antiracism is a way of life. Like starting any new activity, you must practice. Do not strive for perfection because you will fail. Strive for your daily actions to be antiracist. There are many free educational resources available to you to educate yourself, such as the free antiracist 30‐day challenge from Literacy Minnesota.

  • Be courageous. Have those difficult conversations within your network. Remember that becoming antiracist is a journey. You will certainly make missteps along the way. Recognize them and keep moving forward.

  • Do not confuse empathy with sympathy. No one wants you to feel sorry for them. That is sympathy. Practice empathy. Build relationships with people, see issues from their point of view, and try to find solutions.

  • Set key performance indicators to hold yourself and other organizational leaders accountable for creating a culture of inclusion. For example, create performance goals where all leaders are responsible for modeling behaviors and demonstrating skills that foster inclusion. Include questions on pulse or employee satisfaction surveys that measure inclusion. Consider implementing 360-degree reviews where employees can provide feedback on how their leader has fostered a culture of inclusion [69]. (While the 360-degree review can provide information and guidance, do keep in mind that the review must be done properly, otherwise any feedback can create further problems [70].) Plan to review the data and measure retention and advancement of BIPOC employees over time.

  • Seek learning opportunities and share them. Acknowledge and understand the history of bias and discrimination. Be humble about what you don’t know and reach out for advice from experts (see the Resources Section). Do the work by studying the impact of white supremacy, racial violence, and systemic racism on society and on the organization you lead. These issues are complex and pervasive; do not underestimate the time and attention it takes to learn about them.

  • Communicate often and transparently. Name existing racism and bias and make it clear how it is impacting the organization. Include a listening component as a part of any communications strategy. Remember that silence or passivity can be experienced as a lack of empathy or interest. Consider the messages, both implicit and explicit, that leadership styles shaped by dominant culture send to staff, communities, and stakeholders. Create a common language around race equity work.

  • Be vulnerable. Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing lead to silence or disengagement. If you make a mistake, take responsibility. Apologize quickly and use the occasion to reiterate your commitment to combating discrimination.

  • Empower colleagues to speak up about instances of racism or lack of inclusion, even if only implied, including instances where you are personally responsible. You can only grow if others are willing to teach you, and you need to create a safe and confident space to encourage others to do so. Create space, capacity, and comfort for challenging conversations, and ensure that both leadership and staff are able to participate. 

It starts with a conversation—a courageous one at that. Simply put, it is an open and honest conversation in physiologically safe space. The safe space is the foundation to having productive conversation around diversity and inclusion—race and ethnicity. In a safe space people are more willing to engage and share their experience, exchange their viewpoints and allows for learning. It leads to everyone having a clear understanding of one person’s experience vs another and gets them up to speed on issues on race and ethnicity. 

—Kevonne Holloway, vice president of education content at Elsevier [71] 

  • Create a code of collaborative conduct. Make it clear that your organization has a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior.

  • Examine the effects of implicit bias. Carefully examine hiring and promotion, professional development and opportunity, and all organizational decisions. 

  • Invest in resources and expertise. Consultants, training programs, and one-on-one coaching may be needed to increase staff expertise and capacity.

  • Advocate for resources and collaboration. Leading an antiracist organization means that DEI is prioritized everywhere and with all partners. This may entail advocacy discussions with boards, authors, or external partners and vendors. Clearly acknowledge that this work needs to be comprehensive and ongoing.

  • Include a statement of your commitment to diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion in your mission statement. Commit to supporting words with actions; be accountable to those words and actions.

  • Add antiracism to your core values. Evaluate all of your policies and decision-making processes using an antiracist point of view. This is an opportunity to bring in staff of all levels, whether by asking them to participate in strategic planning sessions or by empowering them to apply an antiracist lens to their own work (e.g., considering new sources for cover artwork).

  • Learn, document, and share the positive impact of an antiracist organization.  

  • Lead by example, be present, and be engaged. 

By cementing inclusive and antiracist leadership, organizations are better placed to meet commitments to equity and inclusion at all levels.

Six Traits of Inclusive Leadership

Juliet Bourke described “The Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership” as commitment, courage, cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration [17].

Commitment: A leader demonstrates a true commitment to diversity and inclusion by aligning these goals with their own personal values. Such leaders are invested in the success of their staff, team members, and colleagues. During the onboarding process and at every stage of a BIPOC staff member’s career, leaders must ensure that the individual has the resources to effectively perform the functions of their position. Leaders must effectively communicate performance expectations and encourage staff to speak up when they need support. Opportunities should be created for BIPOC staff to engage and connect with members of the team and other colleagues who work in different business areas.

Courage: A courageous leader speaks up and questions the status quo. By doing so, leaders challenge others (their behaviors, attitudes, and values) and hold them accountable. They will also investigate system processes and procedures at their organization to ensure that they are fair and equitable. Leaders who have courage are also modest about their capabilities; they are vulnerable, admit mistakes, accept and learn from criticism and different points of view, and seek contributions from others in order to overcome limitations [72].

Cognizance of Bias: An inclusive leader is mindful of personal and organizational weak spots and is willing to adjust their own behavior to ensure “fair play.” Inclusive leaders are aware of their personal and organizational biases and the impact that these biases can have on BIPOC staff. Biases against individuals such as stereotyping, microaggressions, and systemic organizational biases such as inequities in promotions and opportunities for advancement can negatively impact BIPOC staff and counterefforts to build a culture of inclusion. Inclusive leaders implement policies and practices to build awareness of and mitigate microaggressions and stereotyping at the team and organizational level.

Curiosity: A curious leader has an open mindset; a deep desire to learn and understand others’ viewpoints, perspectives, and opinions without judgment; and empathy with individuals in the group. When leaders are open-minded, they are inquisitive and listen to the diverse experiences of their BIPOC staff, furthering their learning and growth. Such leaders cultivate empathy toward their staff’s experiences, beliefs, concerns, and challenges.

Cultural Intelligence: Leaders are culturally intelligent when they are attentive to others’ cultures and recognize how their perceptions and expectations of others (biases, stereotypes, and generalizations) impact their interactions and relationships. Such leaders are confident and effective in cross-cultural interactions. Cultural intelligence is a critical skill for leaders. The ability to be attentive to and value cultural differences will foster an environment of trust, enabling leaders to build successful relationships with their staff.

Collaboration: The ability to empower others, encourage and leverage diverse thinking, create a space of psychological safety, and foster team cohesion is a fundamental skill for an inclusive leader. Collaboration is the process of bringing a group of people together to work toward a common goal or purpose or to solve a challenging business problem. When people collaborate they often choose “to collaborate with others they know well or who have similar backgrounds” [73]. The downside of this approach is homogeneity, which stifles creativity. An inclusive leader relinquishes control and recognizes the opportunities afforded by creating a safe space where diverse employees can openly share their perspectives, ideas, and experiences and challenge the perspectives of others through healthy debate. This approach empowers team members, builds trust, drives innovation, and maximizes the overall performance of the team.

Statistical graphic with heading: About half of Blacks say being Black has hurt their ability to get ahead.

About half of Blacks say being Black has hurt their ability to get ahead.
Credit: Pew Research Center, Washington, DC

Stumbling Forward, Missteps, and Apologies: What to Do When You Get It Wrong

“Stumbling forward” is the process of starting a project or initiative, even if you are not quite sure how to do it. It means taking a chance and growing. According to Dan Rockwell, “Stumbling forward only works if you know which direction is forward. Don’t think of stumbling as unfocused wandering. Stumbling forward means you have an idea of where you’re going, but you’re not sure how to get there… Confidence might begin with ‘I think I can.’ But success calls you to boldly stumble forward” [74].

The journey to becoming antiracist will be different for everyone and every organization. Racism and inherently racist practices are deeply entrenched in our systems, and their undoing will be emotionally draining and unfathomably long term. There will be mistakes made during this journey.

What should we do when we make a mistake?

First things first, talk to those you have wronged as quickly as possible once you are aware of your mistake. When holding conversations and owning up to error, Deborah Grayson Riegel suggests three key steps to take [75]:

  1. Take responsibility. Say, “I was wrong.” (Don’t say “mistakes were made” or “it didn’t turn out the way I had anticipated” or any other phrasing that deflects or minimizes your personal responsibility.) Offer a brief explanation, but do not make excuses. Acknowledge that your error had a negative impact on others, and be willing to really listen, without defensiveness, to others’ recounting of that impact. Do not interrupt. Apologize.

  2. Address what you need to do right now. Taking responsibility is critical, as is taking action. This is core to crisis communication, even if your mistake doesn’t constitute a major crisis. With humility, tell others what you are doing right now to remedy the mistake, and distinguish between the parts that can be fixed, and those that can’t. Include what you are doing to address the substantive impact (money, time, processes, etc.) as well as the relational impact (feelings, reputation, trust, etc.) of having been wrong. Be open to feedback about what you’re doing. Over-communicate your plans.

  3. Share what you will do differently next time. Being wrong is messy. Being wrong without self-reflection is irresponsible, even if you dislike self-reflection. Take some time to think about what your contribution was to this situation; identify how others contributed, if applicable. (Try to stay away from using words like “fault” or “blame,” which tend to put people on the defensive.) Then tell those impacted by your error what you’ve learned and what you’re going to do differently in the future. For example, you might recognize that you tend to dismiss the input of someone you don’t see eye-to-eye with, but in the future, you’re going to actively engage them and consider their perspective. Ask for help where you need it and ask others to give you frequent feedback down the road on the commitments you’re making.

Where necessary, apply these steps to a public statement and make sure it is shared to the appropriate channels, such as your website, social media, or wherever relevant.

Franchesca Ramsey recorded her advice on how to apologize in this YouTube video [76]:

Getting Called Out: How to Apologize
Credit: Franchesca Ramsey also known as Chescaleigh, is an American comedian, activist, television and YouTube personality, and actress. New York, NY

To truly grow, we need to be more comfortable with making mistakes. Receiving constructive feedback is the best way to improve your work, and we should not only accept it but encourage it. Read “How to Get More Comfortable Being Wrong” by Sade Jones for more ideas on how to build the resilience and critical thinking necessary to learn from errors [77].


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