How Can We Take Action Against Racism?
As an Affirmative Action employer, the SentryOne team works constantly to nurture and improve diversity in the workplace. And as an HR leader, I’ve worked hard to expand our pool of candidates for open positions and help managers hire the most qualified candidates without conscious bias.
But regardless of the effort I make to foster diversity in the workplace, as a white business leader, I will never know what it is like to experience and battle systemic racism over the course of a lifetime. Recognizing that is a big first step toward identifying how I can take more effective action to fight racism.
Social Justice for All
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery highlighted the need to acknowledge and address social injustice in our society. The response from the public to the continued killings of minorities has been both encouraging and worrisome as different viewpoints and arguments have emerged. I fear these horrific events did not draw the attention they deserved early on, but it continues to be heartening to see so many people from all races and cultures standing together to protest these horrific acts of violence.
I have come to recognize―through reflection and sometimes difficult conversations with others during the aftermath of the killings―that my life has been one of privilege. Privilege does not always refer to financial means. As a white business leader, I have lived in privilege because I have never faced racism. I have not gone through life wondering whether it is safe to pull over when police lights flash behind me or whether I am being profiled for searches at airports. As a mother, I have never been afraid that my children would face discrimination, profiling, or even death because of the color of their skin.
I chose HR as my profession so that I could ensure fair treatment in the workplace. I have a natural bend toward fighting injustice. It distresses me every time I read a news story about young black men being injured or killed by a “concerned” citizen or even a police officer. In the past, however, I’ve felt that I didn’t have many options to drive change beyond the actions I’ve taken to foster diversity in the workplace. After the murder of George Floyd, I realized that I need to do more.
Steps I Can Take to Help Fight Racism
We can all do more to fight racism. We need to act and not ignore or just accept social injustice. Working hard to ensure a diverse pool of job candidates and fair hiring practices is not enough.
Below are a few actions I plan to take in the coming months to help fight racism and bias, and I want to share them with my friends and fellow businesspeople who are considering what more they can do as well.
- Listen: Reach out and get to know people who are different from you. Don’t be afraid to respectfully ask questions, learn their stories, and hear more about how racism affects them. The more we learn, the more we can understand and help drive change. Make a conscious effort to listen and learn from people of other races.
- Take action: There is power in numbers, so having large groups of people protest racism matters. White people standing beside our Black friends and colleagues sends a message to our congressmen, governors, mayors, and police chiefs that we will not stand for racism. Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, conducted research showing that depending on various factors, protests that involve just 3.5% of a population very rarely fail.
- Speak up: We are often afraid or unsure about vocalizing injustices, but how will things change if we do not come together and say enough is enough? For example, I saw a video where someone asked good and “just” police officers to speak up against fellow police officers who demonstrated racist behavior. Speaking up when you witness racism is a type of reform that can make a difference, and it doesn’t require an act of Congress. It frustrates me to hear that people witness racist words or actions but don’t speak up. As an HR leader, I often wonder why any person is allowed to stay on the job if they exhibit racist behavior on the job. Real change will require us all pointing out when someone is racist in a workplace—zero tolerance on racism is zero tolerance. Enforcing a zero-tolerance policy starts with the leaders: If employees who witness injustice fear repercussions from management, they will never speak up. But if the company’s leaders clearly communicate and enforce a zero-tolerance policy, then the responsibility shifts to the individual who witnesses the racist act. It might mean you are seen as the “rat” or as being difficult for speaking up when you witness racism, but isn’t that worth it if the world could be changed by holding people accountable for unjust actions?
Take a Stand Against Social Injustice
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Well, this is my tiny ripple of hope that each of you will be inspired to take action in your way against racism and all forms of social injustice—inside and outside the workplace. Please feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for additional ways we can all help.
Jenn is the VP of Human Resources at SentryOne, with more than 20 years of experience as an HR professional. Jenn has had a strong focus on building great cultures, training leaders, and putting strong performance management systems in place in both large and small companies, including AT&T, ADP, CPI Security, and now SentryOne. Jenn has helped SentryOne grow into a global company, with recognition from Gallup two years in a row for being an Exceptional Place to Work.