16 Actions for Shifting Culture to Support Black Employees

June 26, 2020 | By NACE Staff

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TAGS: best practices, diversity, nace insights, operations,

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There are specific actions that institutions and organizations can take to ensure that they create a culture that supports the personal and professional growth of Black individuals.

During a recent NACE session titled “Being Black in Academic & Corporate Culture,” Kacheyta McClellan, career experiences professional at Ivy Tech Community College, shared 16 steps he identified for organizations to take to get an introspective look at their culture and bolster their efforts in focusing on their Black employees.   

“The 16 steps address creating a culture, changing a culture, and turning the page on a culture,” McClellan explains.

“We are at a place in time where we need to have a cultural shift. The concept of ‘Black’ and the things that impact Black people are taboo to talk about in the workspace because there is an uncomfortable truth there. It is an embarrassing part of our history. Even the term ‘racism’ raises the hair on some people’s neck, whether they are racist or potentially could be seen as someone who is racist, even if that's not true.”

Racism, McClellan stresses, is a system, not a person, meaning that institutions and organizations cannot eradicate racism simply by getting rid of people who are racist. The problem goes much deeper than that.    

“Our entire country is built on systems of oppression, white supremacy, and racism,” he points out.

“That's not my fault, that's not your fault, that's just how it is. There have been laws that have been created to systematically, intentionally, and purposefully disenfranchise Black people in this country. We have never properly addressed and corrected that. Institutions, such as education, banking, and others, have policies that fortify white supremacy or racism. These concepts inform the business of most institutions in some way. To break from the status quo, a cultural shift must take place.”

McClellan says that to begin the cultural shift, individuals need to not only consider what they, themselves, are doing to contribute to solutions and positive change, but what they are doing in concert with their colleagues and leaders to make positive changes.

“That is where policy is made and where we can realize the necessary changes that need to be made,” he notes.

McClellan says that an institution’s or organization’s culture that is focused on Black employees:

  • Is “Color Brave” and aims targeted strategies toward the recruitment and retention of Black employees at all levels (See Mellody Hobson’s TedTalk “Color Blind or Color Brave”);
  • Makes Black employees feel valued and encouraged to be innovative;
  • Empowers Black employees to share their experiences and solutions for inequalities without fear of retaliation;
  • Compensates Black employees equitably;
  • Provides Black employees with reasonable pathways to promotion;
  • Encourages and supports professional development for Black employees;
  • Connects Black employees with a mentor within your company;
  • Connects Black employees with a sponsor within your company;
  • Have Black men and women in leadership roles;
  • Have Black men and women on your board of directors/trustees;
  • Ties metrics to its strategic diversity plan that names Black men and women;
  • Provides appropriate accommodations for employees who don’t feel safe in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black men and women are high risk and die at an alarmingly higher rate than their peer identity groups;
  • Creates an intentional supplier diversity program that allocates a significant percentage of your budget dollars to Black-owned business contracts;
  • Markets to Black consumers in culturally nuanced ways;
  • Contributes financially and otherwise to causes that benefit Black organizations or scholarship funds specifically for Black students; and
  • Builds and supports Black employee affinity groups.

Companies that are not leveraging diversity as a strategic competitive advantage are missing the opportunity to be better and to do better, McClellan says.

“Companies have a particular clientele they believe they are going to alienate if they change, and there may be some truth to that,” he explains.

“There may be alienation from their supporters if they make this shift. However, if you look at the landscape and how the world is evolving, the population is changing and the ideals of Americans are changing. Now, companies that are taking a stand and are at least trying to be on the right side of history will not only gain more support in the Black community, but also support from people in the majority population. Non-Black allies want to be part of that narrative. They don't want their children and grandchildren to remember them as a person who preserved systems, policies, and procedures that intentionally, adversely impacted, hurt, and kept other human beings down.

“Organizations might lose some support from those who are not necessarily in that boat, but they are going to gain so many other people. There is much more to gain than there is to lose by making this cultural shift.”

For more information, watch the video of “Being Black in Academic & Corporate Culture” or download the session’s PowerPoint.