Starting in the mid-1950s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activism set the stage for desegregation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but we still haven’t reached true equality in the United States, either in private or professional life.
For example, African-American workers still earn less and have higher unemployment rates than white workers. But you can help to change that. Here’s what you can plan to do at work, starting today, to honor Dr. King and further his legacy.
1. Fight against your own unconscious bias.
Whatever your own background and however good your intentions, you are a human being and therefore prey to unconscious bias. We all make small assumptions, based on beliefs we don’t even know we have, and these assumptions can undermine attempts at creating a fair and equitable work environment that doesn’t discriminate against workers based on race, religion, gender, and so on.
“Becoming hyperconscious of the language you use, who you choose to interact with and how during the day can cue you into how your language and behavior affects the people around you,” writes Jane Porter at Fast Company. “Small details can make a difference. At Google, for instance, a number of conference rooms, which have traditionally been named after scientists, were renamed after women scientists to balance out the gender representation.”
2. Push for name-blind resume review during the hiring process.
“Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback,” writes David R. Francis at the National Bureau of Economic Research, describing a field experiment by NBER.
You can combat the issue by asking HR to strip the names from applicants’ resumes. By engaging in name-blind resume review, you can prevent good candidates winding up on the “no” pile, based on reviewers’ unconscious bias.
3. Ask for a salary equity review.
While risky for junior members of the organization, asking for a salary equity review along race or gender lines is a responsible move for tenured employees with a little clout.
“It’s also worthwhile to point out that, especially for women and racial minorities, $0.77 and less on the dollar is a persistent, long-standing, nationwide problem, so in bringing it up you are not pointing out anything unique to your organization but a legitimate nationwide concern,” says Anne Krook, author of “Now What Do I Say?”: Practical Workplace Advice for Younger Women, speaking to PayScale for the recently released Salary Negotiation Guide.
“This is the huge advantage of the current conversation about unconscious bias – it’s not that anyone intentionally has racist/misogynist/anti-Muslim/homophobic/other awful attitudes, though of course they may, but that even well-intentioned people do,” Krook says. “When it’s a matter of human cognition, it’s possible to remove the element of blame.”
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