top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaileen Hamto

Addressing Racism in the Workplace

What does it mean to be an antiracist organization? The racial reckoning that erupted from the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others brought renewed consciousness around the ugly truths behind systemic racism. In the workplace, addressing systemic racism requires embedding race consciousness in policy and practice, and nurturing the resolve to address racism where it occurs.

Focusing on antiracist principles is part of the long struggle for the dignity of Black lives. In the workplace, antiracism requires creating organizational cultures where people feel appreciated and valued, regardless of their identity. The human resource levers of recruitment, retention, and promotion are key indicators of diverse and inclusive human resource practices. However, anyone who has been at the helm of diversity, equity, and inclusion work knows that it’s not enough to hire for diversity. The real challenge is to keep top diverse talent engaged, productive, and eager to stay. A recent BetterUp report shows that workplace belonging leads to significant increases in job performance, reduction in turnover risk, and decreases in employee sick days.

How does racism show up in everyday workplace practices?

To answer this question, it’s helpful to become familiar with the work of Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, professor emerita and former President of the American Public Health Association. In 2000, she noted different manifestations of racism in the iconic article “Levels of Racism: A Theoretical Framework.” This framework has been adapted and taught in many settings, including the Racial and Social Justice Initiative in the City of Seattle.

Institutionalized Racism: Policies, processes, and procedures equate to employees having different access, power, and voice based on racial and ethnic background. How it manifests in the workplace: Many employees of color are entry-level employees. Few diverse individuals make it to management positions, regardless of tenure, educational attainment, and other experiences and credentials. Pay disparities exist along racial and gender lines. The company experiences a high turnover rate among diverse employees.

Interpersonal or Personally Mediated Racism: Racial bias, regardless of intention, results in race-based differential treatment.

How it manifests in the workplace: Employees from diverse backgrounds are held to a different standard by their colleagues and managers. Microaggressions – everyday and subtle behaviors and interactions that communicate racial, gender, and other biases – are rampant and often go unchallenged. Biases show up in formal and informal performance reviews.

Internalized racism: People of color embody racist messages and stereotypes about their race and culture, often denoting inferiority.

How it manifests in the workplace: Employees of color are wary of acting according to harmful scripts and withdraw from authentically engaging in the workplace. For example, a Black employee may self-censor out of concern of being seen as aggressive or threatening. The WTIA DEI Center of Excellence offers training and coaching for leaders who are committed to addressing systemic inequities in their organizations. Our partnership with Diversity Way-Maker consultancy highlights an effective leadership competency framework that integrates DEI values into business practices. To learn more about how our team can support you in your DEI journey, contact

This blog post was originally published by the Washington Technology Industry Association.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page