Employer Branding Recruitment Marketing

7 Actions Employers Must Take Now for Racial Equality

Employees discussing racial equality in the workplace
Profile photo of Shavonne Thomas
Written by Shavonne Thomas

Supporting Black Lives Matter is more than a pledge — it’s also about action. Shavonne Thomas, Employment Brand Manager at Exelon, shares how we can drive change, promote diversity and embrace inclusion.

7 Actions Employers Must Take Now for Racial Equality
4.8 (96.47%) 17 votes

Many employers have made public statements and pledged their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and against racial injustice. But I think now it’s time to talk about what’s next: Creating action plans that will drive change within our organizations.

As HR, talent acquisition and Recruitment Marketing professionals, we’re in a unique position to influence this change because we represent the needs and voices of employees and candidates.

For too many and for too long, the candidate experience and the employee experience are both areas where racial inequality exists. Black candidates who use White sounding names on their resumes are more likely to be interviewed (I have close friends who have tested and experienced this firsthand). Studies have also shown that a racial pay gap still exists between Black (and other minority groups) and White employees. In addition, 26% of EEOC discrimination claims were made by Black workers, even though Black people only make up 13% of the workforce in the U.S.

None of this is okay, and as a Black professional and Recruitment Marketing leader, I want to share some of my personal thoughts on how we might work together as a community to make progress towards racial equality and dismantling systemic racism in the workplace. I am by no means the voice of Black employees and the Black employee experience, but I have some thoughts here based on my experiences and encounters that I would like to share with you. Here is my take:

What can employers — and we as practitioners — do to end racial inequality and build a more diverse and inclusive workforce?

To start, we can help move our employers from statements to action by working with our leadership to create a racial equality action plan. Let me share some thoughts on what items I think should be in that action plan, and where you can focus, set goals and work to drive organizational change.

7 actions employers must take now for racial equality

1. Increase diversity at the executive level

For many years now, there has been a concerted effort to ensure women have a seat at the table and address the lack of gender diversity in the C-Suite.

However, we haven’t talked about the lack of racial diversity as much. And it’s a problem because it’s sorely lacking. I was actually shocked in all the reading that I’ve done to see that only 4 of the Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOs. It saddens me that more of us don’t have influence at the top of our organizations.

Too often I’ve noticed that the highest-ranking person of color is an employer’s Diversity & Inclusion Officer. And while it’s great to have some representation in leadership, it makes me question if that company’s D&I Officer might be the only person advocating for the different racial groups that the company interacts with. When I don’t see more racial diversity in the leadership level, I worry whether the D&I role is in place to check a box, and if there’s any priority or emphasis placed on the work that’s done under this portfolio. These aren’t questions that employers want their employees or candidates asking.

Turning this around and diversifying our leadership teams is important because when you have diversity at the executive level, you have people in the most senior levels of the organization thinking about the interests of different groups in every decision that’s made. This reduces the opportunity for inadvertent systemic inequality to become infused in different parts of a company’s experience and culture.

2. Offer training and educational resources

Education is so central to all of this and to driving change! At my organization, Exelon, one of the things that our team did internally was put together a list of resources and made it available to all employees.

This resource list includes:

  • Articles that offer guidance on how to talk to your children about race
  • Resources about being Black and the Black Lives Matter movement
  • Books, movies and stories written by Black authors or featuring Black characters that can help you gain understanding and broaden your perspective

Here are some of the top resources I’d recommend:

In addition, as part of the education process, I think companies should be willing to create a space where employees can have open, raw conversations about race and about what they’re learning.

I think this part of the action plan is so essential to do on an ongoing basis because it leads to the development of an environment where people can understand each other’s experiences. This gradually creates a culture where people feel comfortable showing up to work as their full true selves.

To make this really concrete, I have a specific example to share here. Personally, I’ve noticed—and lots of others have too—that there’s a lack of understanding around Black hair. On multiple occasions, I’ve received uncomfortable questions about my hair or have even had people ask to touch it.

This is a big issue for the Black community because our hair is very important to many of us and a lot of discrimination happens around natural Black hair. In fact, there was a big controversy recently where people uncovered that when you google “unprofessional hair,” women with Black natural hair come up in the search results. This issue is enough of a recognized problem that legislation — called the CROWN Act — was just passed in 2019 (last year!) in several states that made it illegal to discriminate based on Black natural hair when making hiring decisions.

However, through education and open conversation we can remove these types of unintentionally offensive behaviors and discriminatory perceptions and ensure that everyone feels comfortable at work.

I’m appreciative of the approach my organization, Exelon, has taken here in the past. Our company ran a program called White Men and Allies that we’re now looking to run again regularly. It’s a workshop that puts everyone through a dialogue on race, gender, sexual orientation and more. It brings uncomfortable topics to the surface to make sure that our White executives can gain insight into things they may never have experienced before. It also teaches them and encourages them to be allies for those people that we know don’t always have a voice.

3. Give your Black employees a chance to speak, listen and act on their feedback

How often do your employees have a chance to speak openly and honestly? How often is your leadership team reviewing feedback to find out what’s going on at all levels of the organization?

Listening to all employees within your organization is important—but even more so for minority groups that may traditionally have had less opportunity to express their feedback in a way that actually reaches leaderships’ ears. And if the decision-makers of your organization aren’t hearing Black voices, then they can’t understand the Black employee experience and ways to improve your culture.

If the decision-makers of your organization aren’t hearing Black voices, then they can’t understand the Black employee experience and ways to improve your culture.

While a lot of companies might have a Black employee resource group (ERG) or Black History Month programming, it needs to go much deeper than this. There needs to be an executive sponsor who’s listening and getting information and feedback on an ongoing basis. At Exelon, we have an African American Leadership Council that informs our leadership team on how to best serve Exelon’s Black employee population. I love this idea and wish more employers had this in place too.

Even without formalizing this type of council, we can start listening better to employees today. We can organize and lead open conversations with Black employees to find out how they’re doing and solicit feedback. Then teams across the organization, like recruiting, employer branding, internal communications and more, can use the feedback from these conversations to make concrete improvements.

P.S. If HR is already doing this, get involved! You also need first-hand information about the employee experience to authentically represent the company’s culture in your employer brand and recruiting initiatives.

4. Audit and improve your recruiting and hiring processes

Many organization’s recruiting functions have unconscious biases and unintentional inequalities built into their hiring processes. It’s something that we’ve all been working to correct, and now our efforts are in the spotlight more than ever. This is an important time to thoroughly review and scrutinize your processes and approaches to recruiting to see if you can uncover inequalities and then proactively fix them.

For example:

Campus recruiting — one area that can be improved for many organizations is campus recruiting. I’ve heard stories of hiring managers who only want to recruit from their alma mater or only want to recruit from Ivy League schools. This puts qualified candidates from historically black colleges and universities at a disadvantage, when in fact HBCUs produce top-quality graduates. Did you know that there are HBCUs that specialize in STEM, nursing and business, to name a few areas?

Internal mobility — another critical area is internal mobility. How is your organization identifying and developing promising minority talent who are ready for the next step in their career? Can you implement new training or mentorship programs to offer support here? At the very least, we can review internal mobility processes for unconscious bias and implement training for managers.

Vendors and partnerships — Do the vendors you work with all come from businesses owned and run by predominantly White people? By financially supporting Black businesses too you can also help reduce inequalities that exist at the societal level.

If you’d like to see an example of an employer that is taking concrete actions to combat systemic racism, check out what Edward Jones has announced. They are following many of the actions recommended here, including reviewing hiring and HR policies, conducting a pay review creating forums for employee dialogue and making a $1 million donation to the National Urban League’s “Fights for You” campaign.

5. Create candidate personas for Black talentCandidat persona template and examples

We also need to address racial inequality from a Recruitment Marketing standpoint, beginning with the channels and the messaging we use to attract Black talent at the top of our recruiting funnel. And like with every good Recruitment Marketing approach, this starts with well defined candidate personas. Yes, I am recommending that you create a candidate persona for Black talent.

Without deeply understanding your audience first, you probably aren’t doing a good job with messaging to Black workers and attracting them to your organization. Since many organizations will be focused on attracting diverse talent in a more serious way than ever before, it’s going to be really important that you have your marketing strategy fully developed here, otherwise you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting.

Creating a candidate persona for Black talent might at first sound like profiling (and I fully recognize the negative connotation) but I believe this is an important step to understanding what Black people are looking for in an employer. It’s similar to other groups like the LGBTQ community or working parents — people who identify as part of these groups are looking at your social media channels, your corporate website, your job descriptions and your careers site for more than your EEOC statement. They are looking to see — by your words, images, policies, benefits and actions — if they will belong at your company and if your company will support their unique needs.

You can create a Black talent candidate persona based on input from your Black employees. You can ask questions like:

  • Why did they come to join your organization and what has their experience been like?
  • What are things that they would change, if they could, or that they feel the organization needs to do to change?
  • How are they supported?
  • What keeps them working for your company?
  • Where do they look for jobs?

This exercise should help you to understand what Black team members love about your workplace, what areas need improvement, where they’re spending time online, their career pain points and more.

Rally Note: If you’ve never developed a candidate persona before and would like more information, you can download the Rally Candidate Persona Template and Examples guide.

After doing the persona work, you might even take this a step further and develop mini employee value propositions (EVP) for your minority employees based on the information that you uncover during the candidate persona exercise. By creating these personas and writing out mini EVPs, you should be able to develop messaging and tell employee stories that will resonate more effectively with Black talent and accurately communicate why they should consider joining your team.

6. Amplify Black voices and perspectives

While telling employee stories is important, it might not be the best time right now to approach Black employees and ask them to create a company video or write a blog post. It’s also not the best time to quote Black employees on why they love working for your organization. If you’re sharing this kind of content on social media, I strongly recommend to pause right now. Instead it’s a good time to share whatever your Black employees want to talk about instead.

This is the approach that Microsoft took with their careers Twitter account (@MicrosoftLife) following George Floyd’s death and the global protests. Microsoft dedicated their Twitter feed to spotlighting organizations that are advancing social justice and sharing quotes from employees. These are not employee quotes saying, “I love working at Microsoft because” – instead these are raw quotes from employees that say, “I’m not okay. This has to stop and I am feeling X, Y and Z.” This approach works well because it’s real and authentic and raw. Which is what people need and want to see right now.

Here are two examples:

Another content type that would work well I think is employee generated content (EGC). EGC is growing in popularity in recruiting because it’s highly authentic, and I think it’s very suitable for this moment because people need to hear directly from Black people to gain perspective and understand their real, true feelings and what they’re going through. It’s more important that we hear from Black people directly right now rather than more generic statements from companies. This movement isn’t about your company, it’s about sharing voices and perspectives that haven’t been given a lot of air time historically.

And if you don’t have any Black employee voices to share or amplify within your organization, ask yourself why that is? Maybe you haven’t created an environment where Black people feel comfortable talking about who they are and how they feel in a professional context. Maybe you haven’t recruited enough Black employees in the first place. This is the time to strengthen your resolve for applying some of the other tips on this list to improve your culture from an inclusion standpoint and attract more diverse talent.

7. Identify who will hold your company accountable for taking these actions

The last suggestion I have for a racial equality action plan is to choose someone to actually hold your company accountable to making change and assessing progress here. If you have a Diversity & Inclusion Officer, this would obviously fall under their purview, but if your company doesn’t have this role, are you willing to step up? After all, we represent the needs and voices of employees and candidates. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

If we don’t hold our organizations accountable, we can expect that employees, shareholders and the public will. If a company isn’t living up to their values, it’s up to all of us to make that known. Maybe employees and candidates are already holding you to account in their Glassdoor reviews, or by not applying to your jobs, or by leaving your company, or by not buying your products or doing business with you. Today, many candidates evaluate employers for their social good. I hope one day we might also look at an employer’s racial good.

Today, many candidates evaluate employers for their social good. I hope one day we might also look at an employer’s racial good.

Of course as a practitioner, you may not have complete control over some of the areas discussed in this blog. However, you can play your part by partnering closely with your internal teams in recruiting, HR and communications, to educate and influence what the company is saying and doing moving forward.

While this powerful movement started from a place of real tragedy, hurt and sorrow, and while this is a very tough time for me and my community, I’m also feeling hopeful. There are real conversations happening now across so many spaces that I think can result in actual change finally. And I’m counting on all of you in this community to help make it happen!

Thanks for your time and attention, Rally community, and please feel free to connect with me and reach out on LinkedIn if you have any questions or feedback, or if you’d like to share your perspectives and experiences.

7 Actions Employers Must Take Now for Racial Equality
4.8 (96.47%) 17 votes

About the Author

Profile photo of Shavonne Thomas

Shavonne Thomas

Shavonne Thomas is the Employment Brand Manager at Exelon where she delivers brand and marketing solutions to tell authentic employee stories that influence quality hires. Shavonne previously served as the North America Employer Brand & Recruitment Marketing Partner for AstraZeneca, and has held recruitment marketing roles at Accenture and Booz Allen where she learned the impact of telling authentic employee stories to influence quality hires. Shavonne has been in talent acquisition for more than 15 years, with roles in recruiting, employment training and diversity programs before finding her passion in recruitment marketing 6 years ago.

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