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With renewed awareness of racial discrimination and marginalization of Black and Brown Americans, many organizations are looking for ways to demonstrate a commitment to racial equity and inclusion. Learning about the Black and Brown experience in society and the workplace, and taking concrete steps to address bias and exclusion, are cornerstones of this process. To further develop teams, leaders are enrolling employees in organizational culture training in the workplace to include racial-related education.

Diversity Builder’s course, entitled, Cultural Competency and the Black Experience is led by qualified experienced trainers and covers specific knowledge and strategies to support employees facing racial inequities and marginalization to create an inclusive workplace. This course has been facilitated for HIPO banking and finance employees as well as Black and Brown corporate executives and mentors, it would be beneficial for any organizational leaders looking to improve understanding and best practices with regard to racial equity. Diversity Builder has led cultural competency workshops for corporations, non-profits, pharmacy, financial and insurance groups, architectural firms, and healthcare groups as well as universities and government agencies.

This course is offered onsite and on webinar platforms with a live trainer.

The Black Experience: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

While racial discrimination has been a long-standing issue in the United States, the last five years has seen greater awareness of the issue. Workplace diversity and inclusion training that focuses on The widespread protests following George Floyd’s murder and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement signaled a reckoning around racial issues in every aspect of American life.

George Floyd’s death, which occurred under the weight of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, opened many eyes to the realities of police violence. Just about every corner of life was affected by the renewed racial justice movement spurred by Floyd’s death: policing, politics, sports, art, culture, business, education, media and more. Social media feeds and kitchen tables and park benches became settings for conversation and confrontation.1

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    Workplace Impacts

    While these discussions often center on misconduct or abuses of authority by law enforcement, Black Americans face hostility in many other situations, including the workplace. Unfair standards and expectations, pressures to assimilate, and a dearth of support make many organizations exclusionary to Black employees.

    Hairstyle Discrimination

    Pressure to change one’s appearance to assimilate with white coworkers is common, which precludes wearing culturally significant or natural hairstyles. A 2023 study found that Black women’s hair is 2.5 times more likely to be seen as unprofessional, while over 20% of Black women between the ages of 25 and 34 have been sent home because of their hair.2

    Black and Brown employees with common hairstyles (including protective braids or locks), or hair types (such as coily or textured hair), or even natural hair without chemical treatments, receive extra scrutiny and are often viewed as less professional or competent. This issue is prevalent enough that twenty-four states have passed the CROWN (or “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) Act, which forbids hair-based discrimination and guarantees the right to express culture, religion, and identity through one’s hairstyle. There has also been momentum to pass this law at the city and federal level. Furthermore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibits treating employees differently based on specific characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture. Companies should be aware of these protections and treat these issues with awareness and sensitivity.

    Racial Stereotypes: Examples

    Furthermore, Black and Brown employees are often viewed as angry or aggressive for simply being assertive in the workplace. Compounding matters is the fact that white employees often see their company policies and opportunities as more equitable than Black employees, further alienating Black and Brown individuals.

    Reporting Racial Inequities and Discrimination

    Finally, employees have few options when reporting racial issues. A recent nationwide poll showed that 32% of employees of color haven’t felt empowered to speak out about discriminatory behavior that they have observed or experienced themselves.3 With this level of scrutiny, it’s natural that Black Americans feel unwelcome and driven out of the workplace.

    In addition to these factors, Black and Brown Americans face barriers to career advancement and leadership opportunities. While they are statistically overrepresented in frontline and entry-level roles, they are underrepresented in management. The number of Black CEOs in major companies has improved, but there are still only eight Black CEOs among Fortune 500 companies, which speaks to the lack of progress in this area.4

    [1] Garcia, M. (2021, May 25). The monumental impact of George Floyd’s death on Black America
    [2] Crown Act Research Studies. (n.d.) Hair Discrimination Research: Dove CROWN Studies. https://www.thecrownact.com/research-studies
    [3] Hue x Harris Poll: State of Inequity Report 2022 https://theharrispoll.com/briefs/diversity-inclusion-workplace-state-of-inequity-hue-2022/
    [4] McGlauflin, P. (2023, June 5). Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 reach new record high in 2023—meet the 8 executives. https://fortune.com/2023/06/05/black-ceos-fortune-500-record-high-2023/

    Equitable Practices in the Workplace

    Taken together, these facts paint an alarming picture that should concern executives and managers regarding equitable practices in their own companies. In addition to demonstrating solidarity with Black and Brown employees, addressing these issues can also be beneficial because research indicates that people in diverse, inclusive workplaces are more likely to be happy at work and report better work-life balance.5 Fostering a multiculturally welcoming organization with just and equitable practices in the workplace will also help management recruit and retain talented Black and Brown employees.

    This training workshop, entitled Cultural Competency and the Black Experience, includes case studies that will aid participants in identifying issues and missteps in mentoring and working with colleagues of color. These exercises allow participants to discuss sensitive situations in a productive way, positioning them to effectively handle inequitable behaviors.

    Cultural Competency

    Culture consists of social norms and beliefs including values, practices, and communication systems that a group uses to define itself. While people don’t necessarily spend a lot of time thinking about culture, it has a profound impact on social relationships, people’s actions, and how they experience the world. When groups (such as coworkers) are culturally homogenous, they share many practices and beliefs. However, when diverse individuals join them (especially those from a marginalized group), the newcomers are often othered and have difficulty bonding with coworkers.

    However, there are specific steps employees can take to develop cultural competency.

    At a high level, individuals should examine their own biases and assumptions. Next, sharing their individual culture, identities, and values (if they feel comfortable doing so), allows for discussion and connection with others. This leads to the next step, in which individuals can form connections with those from different backgrounds as well as looking to hire diverse employees. Finally, workers should seek out different perspectives by listening to those with diverse identities and backgrounds.

    Discussing these issues is crucial, but leaders should be mindful of their approach in communicating with Black employees and managers.

    Here are some common mistakes and alienating behaviors to avoid in the workplace:

    • Not listening to or centering Black voices
    • Placing Black employees in a role of educating colleagues on racial issues
    • Pressuring Black or Brown employees to share personal experiences about discrimination, which can be traumatic
    • Considering Black Americans as a monolith, as if one person’s opinion is universal for that group
    • Describing the organization as inclusive once there are Black executives and managers in place
    • Reducing employees’ identies to their race or one aspect of their identity

    By analyzing their own culture and beliefs, engaging in open discussions, and seeking knowledge from diverse voices, employees will be well-positioned to be culturally competent leaders and mentors after this training.

    [5] Krentz, M., Dartnell, A., Khanna, D., & Locklair, S. (2021, September 20). Inclusive cultures have healthier and happier workers. BCG Global. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2021/building-an-inclusive-culture-leads-to-happier-healthier-workers

    Intersectionality, Microaggressions, and Bias

    A key aspect of cultural competency is understanding that identity is complex and multidimensional. For example, a Black woman faces different biases than someone who is a Black man or a white woman. This describes intersectionality, in which two or more factors can lead to compounded discrimination (where an individual is treated differently based on the combination of their identities). The term intersectionality was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to illustrate how identities can complicate discrimination. As Crenshaw wrote in a 2017 interview,

    Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.6 Intersectionality Quote: Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

    While race often comes up in discussions of intersectionality, there are many identities that affect how one is treated or perceived.
    Here is a non-exhaustive list of other factors that impact people’s lives:

    • Religion
    • Nationality
    • Sexuality and gender expression
    • Age
    • Ability
    • Education
    • Economic background
    • Neurodiversity

    Employees will consider their own multifaceted identities and how identities might correspond to various advantages and disadvantages. A person’s perceived or actual identity often comes along with assumptions, which can damage relationships and lead to harm or othering. For example, we might assume specific things because we think we know someone’s motives, skills, education, level of understanding, or goals. Participants in the training workshop will examine these preconceptions and to think about how to respond to Black and Brown employees in more open-minded ways.

    [6] Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality, more than two decades later. (2017, June 8). News from Columbia Law. https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later

    What are microaggressions?

    Microaggressions are smaller but harmful instances of bias, and a major source of inequity in the workplace. Microaggressions are often verbal, but can also be behavioral or environmental.

    Microaggression Example in the Workplace

    An example would be ignoring or interrupting Black colleagues in a meeting, making those individuals feel sidelined. While microaggressions are often considered minor, over time these comments and behaviors take their toll on already demoralized marginalized people, leading to psychological and physical harm as well as decreased productivity.

    List of impacts of microaggressions

    • Depression and anxiety
    • Self-blame
    • Exclusion
    • Substance abuse or eating disorders
    • Headaches
    • Exhaustion
    • Cardiovascular or respiratory issues
    • Job dissatisfaction
    • Lowered productivity
    • Disengagement and withdrawal

    Identifying and addressing microaggressions are a crucial part of making Black executives and employees feel welcome in a workplace. The training provides examples of microaggressive words and behaviors and scripts, enabling employees to avoid common pitfalls.

    Participants will also examine the unconscious (or involuntary) and conscious (or deliberate) bias that underlies damaging behaviors like microaggressions. Bias comes from many sources, among them culture and upbringing, past experiences, and prevalent stereotypes. Studies show that people develop racial biases at a very young age, with some research indicating that babies as young as six months show preference for faces of their own race versus others.7 Moreover, because our brains are processing massive amounts of information, they often make inferences based on past experiences. While this can be helpful for quick decision-making, it also leads to misconceptions and stereotypes. The trainer will guide employees through recognizing their own biases, questioning and redirecting these beliefs, and visualizing situations ahead of time to act more inclusively.

    [7] Craig, L. (2017, April 11). Racial bias may begin in babies at six months, U of T research reveals. https://www.utoronto.ca/news/racial-bias-may-begin-babies-six-months-u-t-research-reveals

    Being an Effective Mentor for Black Executives and Employees

    Mentorship has been shown to play a significant role in the career success of Black and Brown employees. Black employees and leaders benefit from having effective mentors in order to advance and make changes in their organizations and resolve long-standing issues with underrepresentation.

    Among the learning objectives in this Cultural Competency workshop, participants will come away with actionable tips for how to be a culturally competent mentor (if applicable). For example, building rapport with one’s mentee, and having the trust to have honest conversations, is key.8 A mentor should avoid assumptions about their mentee and have the emotional intelligence to manage their own emotions and to understand others’ emotions. Creating space for Black employees to be their authentic selves and advocating for mentees is equally important. Mentors should look out for instances of microaggressions, exclusionary behavior or practices, and anticipate when mentees could benefit from support. Finally, it’s the mentor’s responsibility to connect their fellow with high-level leadership and opportunities to advance their career, since Black employees often miss these experiences when compared to their white counterparts.9

    Along with individual contributions, the training will cover steps that executives and mentors can take to transform their organization as a whole. Dr. Frazier will outline the qualities of a fully inclusive and multicultural organization, including:

    • Full participation and decision-making power for diverse groups of employees
    • Inclusion is prioritized as a key value
    • Employees have a shared purpose in fighting social oppression and caring for one another
    • Actively contributing to, and working in, the community to effect social change

    While these qualities are ambitious and aspirational, executives and leaders will appreciate the concrete suggestions in this training for transforming their organization into a truly inclusive space and uplifting their Black employees.

    [8] Hassen, S. (2023, January 30). How to start a mentorship program for employees of color.
    [9] Hassen, S. (2023, January 30). How to start a mentorship program for employees of color.

    Books and Articles on Racial Discrimination, Intersectionality, and Mentorship

    Interested in learning more? Take a look at the following resources cited in this article on racial bias in society and the workplace.

    Craig, L. (2017, April 11). Racial bias may begin in babies at six months, U of T research reveals.

    Crown Act Research Studies. (n.d.) Hair Discrimination Research: Dove CROWN Studies.

    Garcia, M. (2021, May 25). The monumental impact of George Floyd’s death on Black America.

    Hassen, S. (2023, January 30). How to start a mentorship program for employees of color.

    Krentz, M., Dartnell, A., Khanna, D., & Locklair, S. (2021, September 20). Inclusive cultures have healthier and happier workers. BCG Global.

    McGlauflin, P. (2023, June 5). Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 reach new record high in 2023—meet the 8 executives.

    Rosanwo, D. Hue x Harris Poll: State of Inequity Report 2022. (2022, February 24). The Harris Poll.