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  • Writer's pictureMaileen Hamto

Racial Equity as a Strategic Imperative

Many organizations employ a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy without a specific focus on racial equity. In such organizations, the term diversity may be viewed as a catch-all for efforts involving communities from all marginalized backgrounds, including all women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, veterans, and others.

In addition to a lack of focus, another problem with this approach is that certain social identities or lived experiences are left unaddressed. From what I have observed and experienced, DEI efforts seldom focus primarily on race and ethnicity. There may be outward displays of support, but where it really matters is in measurable outcomes. For example, an organization may have an affinity group for Asian American and Black employees, but no real, measurable objectives toward retention or promotion.

Elements of Organizational Culture

Developing a race-conscious approach requires an incisive look at how current practices are keeping progress for people of color. If your organization has declared commitment to antiracism or a racial equity approach, the application of anti-racist policies and practices within an organization requires integration into a coherent DEI strategy. As illustrated in the graphic below, organizational culture consists of shared beliefs, values, goals, and aspirations that produce visible and “feelable” structures and processes. This framework was best exemplified by the works of Ed and Peter Schein, whose scholarly works and industry collaborations advanced a collective understanding of organizational leadership and design through the lens of organizational culture.

Implementing a racial equity lens to organizational systems and procedures requires a comprehensive audit of the company’s culture. Advancing a race-conscious DEI strategy must focus on dismantling racist recruitment, retention, and promotion systems while also identifying what behaviors are rewarded and how; how the organization speaks about its DEI intentions; how resources are allocated, among other key elements of a company’s culture.

Points to Ponder

Did your organization issue a statement in response to the racial reckoning that erupted from the unjust killings of Black individuals? If so, then your organization might have expressed a commitment to advancing racial equity. Read your organization’s DEI and racial equity statement, then review the questions below. Your responses may yield insights into challenges and opportunities to embody the best intentions.

  • How is your organization’s DEI or racial equity commitment embodied in practices and policies?

  • How does your organization’s pay and compensation practices reflect its values?

  • For your specific role, how does your supervisor set out expectations for abiding by the organization’s espoused DEI values?

  • What do you feel empowered to do to advance DEI as part of your role?

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