CEO at Moz, sets the company strategy and drives execution through alignment, authentic company culture, and transparency.
If these last several months have taught us anything, it’s that we have a long, hard road ahead to address racism. You might consider this a time to “stay in your lane,” but by doing so, you are part of the problem. This is not a political issue. This is a human rights issue. As business leaders we must do better, ensuring our companies are part of the solution, versus continuing to propagate the problem.
My agency, Moz, is evolving into an anti-racist company. We’ve been working on this for years, and yet we still have a long way to go. We aspire to be the kind of workplace in which every person feels welcome and can do their best work. While our gender diversity has improved over the years, our racial diversity has not. The rising momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement made me realize it was time to take real action.
Being Not Racist Is Not Enough
It’s important for me to clarify that encouraging diversity and inclusion is not enough. Being “not racist” is not enough. We must become loudly and actively anti-racist.
As Ibram X. Kendi explains in his book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.'”
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As leaders, we cannot hold back in fear that we might offend people or be called hypocrites. Now is the time for courage. It won’t be easy, but if you’re afraid of the hard things, you’re in the wrong job.
Becoming an anti-racist company means bringing the conversation into the open. One step we’ve taken was inviting feedback on our words. We received tremendous help from employees, suggesting and offering guidance on which words to use and why some words might feel “less than” others. This led to an ongoing internal dialogue about the power of words and why using words with intention and care is critical in our anti-racism work.
Accountability Is Critical
Words alone are not enough. To avoid placing the burden on people of color, every employee should be expected to practice allyship. When possible, we encourage employees to speak with the person who engaged in the racist incident, thought, or action. We also ensure leaders across the company are accessible to discuss any incident in a safe, fully heard way. Employees know they can choose who they talk to — their manager, their manager’s manager, HR, or even me or our board of directors.
While we understand people make mistakes, and mistakes are part of the growth process, there are times we have intervened. We’ve provided feedback on language and actions and hold everyone accountable for learning and growing. We aspire to be a company that can have these fierce conversations in the moment and directly.
Transparency and accountability are integral. We should hold each other accountable and expect that when someone screws up, as we all do, that they will acknowledge the mistake, learn from it, apologize and take steps to repair the damage. Mistakes happen, but when we know better, we have to do better.
How You Can Work On Doing Better
We’ve revised our hiring process to help in addressing implicit bias in the recruitment, screening and interviewing process as well as ensuring we’re interviewing a diverse slate of candidates. We work with a variety of organizations to help us access a more diverse candidate pool, like Year Up, which connects young adults facing social and economic injustice to opportunities in tech. We proudly call some Year Up alumni colleagues. We also partner with amazing organizations, like Techbridge and HERE Seattle, doing the important work of addressing the root causes of systemic injustice. Seek to broaden your hiring channels and work to recognize and address implicit bias. Consider partnering with organizations that specialize in diverse candidate pools.
I recommend that you offer support internally and require all employees to attend trainings sessions on topics like implicit bias, microaggressions and allyship. Encourage your employees to speak up when they notice a gap or opportunity, have ideas for further training, volunteering or ways you can support and strengthen communities of color inside and outside of your agency.
A New Way To Lead
Business leaders should aspire for their companies to be places of diversity in all senses, where employees are given opportunities for growth. Everyone should be aligned and willing to do the work to create a more racially just workplace.
I ask my fellow leaders to join me in working to make our organizations loudly and actively anti-racist. We must rally our courage, our energy, our allyship to do the hard things that we know are the right things. We must take this work seriously while holding each other and our mistakes lightly and assuming best intentions. I encourage us to give each other grace during this journey because we will make mistakes. So, take a deep breath and get ready for the hard work. It’s time for you to transform your organization into an anti-racist company.
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Author: Sarah Bird, Forbes Councils Member