Racist behavior isn’t limited to racial violence. It’s also found in workplaces around the world.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Monika Diamond have gripped our hearts and dominated the news. But these horrifying stories are not new. Black and brown people are dying at a staggering rate from coronavirus, and we have been dying at a staggering rate from racial violence for centuries. This moment is almost too much to bear, yet it demands action.
As a Black woman and a Latina, we know all too well that racist behavior isn’t limited to racial violence. It’s also found in workplaces around the world, in big ways, like biased hiring practices, and smaller ways, like microaggressions – for example, being talked over in Zoom meetings. To make progress toward equity for everyone, workplaces must change too.
Our organization fights gender bias, and we know that must also mean fighting racial bias, including delving into how racist views and behaviors impact our work. In the words of political activist and writer Angela Davis, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
Lean In has not always been on this journey. Our founders Sheryl Sandberg and Rachel Thomas often say that if Lean In were launched today, both the book and the foundation would look very different from where they began. But in our time with the org, we have seen that it is sincerely committed to doing the work – learning, failing forward, and always going deeper.
As the co-leads of Lean In’s “More Voices” team, we lead the foundation’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Amanda is a Mexican-American, bisexual woman with white skin (and all of the privilege that comes with that) and the daughter of an immigrant. Rachel is a Black woman who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in a majority Black city with activist parents. Although we are leaders of the More Voices team, we know that each of us has our own blind spots and we are continually learning about DE&I issues to expand our leadership ability. Right now, many workplaces are asking how they can do better. We want to share some of what we have learned, in case our experiences can be useful to others. We definitely don’t think we have all the answers; we are still on this journey and always will be. But some of what we’ve done has worked well for us. Maybe it will for you too.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is woven into everything we do, from hiring to programs to content. Here’s what that looks like in practice. On hiring, we’ve put multiple anti-bias practices into place, including reviewing candidate assignments blind (taking off the name so unconscious bias can’t creep in), requiring at least two candidates from diverse backgrounds in a final slate for every open position, including at least one underrepresented minority—Black, Latinx, or Native American), and assigning someone to call out any bias that may seep into conversations about hiring decisions, including racial, gender, LGBTQ+, class, ability, or educational bias. On programming and content, we review all materials specifically to ensure they’re not solely aimed at white women. We always ask, “Who is this for? Whose experiences are being centered?” We frequently change content, strategy, or images to make them more inclusive.
We also do a lot of work on our workplace culture. We take microaggressions seriously; our research shows that these everyday slights can really eat away at an employee’s experience at work. One rule we’ve worked hard to establish is that good intentions don’t excuse harmful impacts. You can be a “good person” and still do something that perpetuates racism. We expect our non-Black colleagues to work through their discomfort when they are rightly called out, and to do better.
Every week at our all-hands meeting, the More Voices team selects a DE&I issue and educates our colleagues on it—a few weeks ago, we discussed the adultification of Black girls, the harm it causes, and how it strips Black people of humanity and joy. Our goal is to dive beneath the surface and get at the structures that prop up unjust systems. These conversations can be intense. We learn and hold each other accountable.
A few months ago, expert trainers led the whole foundation team through a multi-day training to examine how white supremacy shows up in every facet of our lives and to start to develop the tools to unlearn these behaviors. It was an extraordinary few days and gave us tools we can use to contribute to decolonizing feminism.
Again, we share these thoughts because we hope other workplaces might benefit from our experiences. To that end, Lean In has also compiled an anti-racism library featuring several amazing speakers, authors and other resources.
For over a year we have made DE&I part of our everyday work culture, and we see change. We are proud to stand alongside the most diverse team the foundation has ever had. You need a team that is representative and an environment where they have a voice if there is any hope in getting this work right. This is an ever-evolving and continuous journey because being anti-racist is a lifetime practice. We work on it every day and always will.
Edit: This article was originally published without proper attribution to Angela Davis. Thank you for holding us accountable as we’re committed to doing the work. #alwaysgrowing