Work and Money
I’m Not Sure What a 'Safe' Workplace Feels Like
As I watch multiple companies I’ve worked for reckon with the reality that their company cultures have become mired in the mistreatment of employees of color, I realize that I don’t know what a safe workplace looks or feels like because I’ve never truly experienced one.
All of my workplaces were dream spaces: In true tech- and media-industry fashion, they were filled with unlimited snacks, fun people, and games and events. From one perspective, employees of color at those companies were working dream jobs in style. The reality is that no amount of office perks can rescue an organization from perpetuating attitudes that are harmful to the people of color it employs. In the last decade, we’ve seen “diversity" and "inclusion" become buzzwords that grace the pages of employment reports that boil down to “We hired three people of color this quarter!” and do little else. Instead, the work of being honest about company culture is being done by former employees of color who don’t want newer hires to meet similar fates.
When I expressed excitement over one job to a person who had worked at that organization previously, we arranged a phone call right away. On that call, they were frank about the company being a good place to earn money and enjoy great perks but incredibly hostile for people of color. When I got there, I saw exactly what they meant.
"I don’t know what a safe workplace looks or feels like because I’ve never truly experienced one."
Black parents have said that Black parenthood is a series of conversations about the heartbreaking realities of racism. “The talk” for Black children doesn’t mean the birds and the bees. Instead, it often sounds like “You have to work twice as hard to get half as much.” Like that talk between Black parents and their children, experienced employees of color are having a talk with potential hires. Just as hiring teams perform background checks and check references for their candidates, job candidates of color are researching potential employers — and we aren’t liking what we see and hear. And for our own safety, we are avoiding those companies.
I truly believe that healing and reconciliation come after companies are held accountable and people take action. Here are a few suggestions:
5 Ways to Foster a Safer Work Environment
- Make employee resource groups (ERGs) a standard across your organization. Empower them with a proper budget and access to company resources.
- Understand that diversity on paper does not equal a safe workplace.
- Acknowledge that implicit bias shows up in every part of your organization. Lean on experts to help the company discover where, then get to work.
- Make employee surveys truly anonymous and ditch identifying categories. By asking for information like gender and race, companies make it more likely for people to match feedback with an individual, exposing them to retaliation.
- Hire more employees of color across your organization in roles that allow them to directly impact company culture and direction. This looks like people of color in the C-suite, in HR, on your marketing teams, and across all functions.