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Worker Holds Up Sign For Help As Toxic Colleagues Surround Her

Making a case for anti-racism

Countering toxic corporate culture with anti-racism

A company’s failure to engage in meaningful DEI strategies is a surefire way to develop a negative reputation for having a toxic work environment.

Toxic corporate culture is the top predictor of employee attrition at a rate ten times greater than pay equality when it comes to predicting turnover. Lack of DEI promotion and programming as well as feeling disrespected are hallmarks of toxic cultures and key elements contributing to high employee turnover and low productivity.

So how can an organization correct course and effectively defuse a toxic corporate culture in favor of a more equitable and inclusive workplace?

Considering a growing demand for social justice among Gen Z employees, businesses should take action to implement anti-racist policies that protect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within their organizations. Change takes time, however, there are many anti-racist policies that companies can swiftly implement to show good faith toward the long-term changes to come.

James D. White, executive, board member and CEO advisor penned Anti Racist Leadership, alongside his daughter, to answer the call to action to combat systemic racism in the workplace and dismantle the practices that keep it afloat.

How to Achieve Transformative Organizational Change

Armed with a deep understanding of how to initiate and implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) agendas from the top, White offers a compelling How-To guide with accessible actionable steps for achieving transformative change. By taking proactive steps to implement anti-racist policies companies can create a more equitable and toxicity-free workplace where all employees can thrive.

Step one: Organize a listening tour

The goal here is to engage with your team with an open mind and open heart. Give your staff a wide berth to give voice to concerns, goals, and expectations. Be certain to express your intentions to commit (or re-commit) to DEI as a core value. Do not only welcome but insist upon their perspectives to help inform the journey.  No matter the format (discussion series, town hall, guest panel, etc.) the objective is to invite engagement from staff and compel active listening from leadership.

Step Two: Organize the upper ranks

Armed with newfound knowledge from the listening tour, it is time to get senior management and the board up to date. Buy-in at the top is critical to the success of a new or renewed DEI commitment. DEI policies must be an integral part of the work culture to truly become synonymous with how you conduct business. Incentivize those who carry out the plan and communicate consequences for those who do not. Strive to diversify the C-suite and the board, as diverse upper ranks are more inclined to embrace an anti-racist work culture. Spectra Diversity Coaches have worked with hundreds of leaders and, if needed, can help your leaders navigate this journey with empathy and understanding.

Step Three: Organize an Audit

An audit yields fixed data. Everything from policy, promotions, pay equity, and people are susceptible to disparities and inconsistencies as it relates to DEI. Revisit nondiscrimination and anti-racism policies and identify the weak spots in the language and how these policies play out. Audits may identify patterns in who is or is not getting promotions. Pay equity audits can highlight disparities in earnings along racial and ethnic lines. Diversity may be well represented in an organization’s lower ranks but not in upper management. Pulse, employee engagement surveys, and/or workplace experience surveys can capture this information.

Data-Driven DEI
Data-Driven DEI begins with assessing your existing DEI programs to see what’s working and what needs work. Assessments, like the Spectra Diversity and Inclusion Assessment, will measure employee attitudes and beliefs and where the organization stands (management, policies, practices, procedures). Facilitators, like Spectra Diversity’s Change Partners, can help with the audit process and data collection to assess how your firm is doing relative to your industry as a whole.

Step Four: Document current practices

This step requires documentation without judgment to gain perspective on how DEI policies play out within your organization. Data points may include: How many people of color are in management? How many LGBTQ+ people? Is the pool of candidates for hire typically diverse? If you have a list of high potentials, how much diversity is on it?

Step Five: Benchmarks and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Step Five is an opportunity to compare your organization’s current practice against industry standards and trends amongst competitors and organizations the world over. These comparisons can help spark questions like: What do you want the company’s demographics to look like? By when? What hiring practices will you instill? How many women and people of color do you want in senior management and on the board, and by when? How do you want people to experience your company?

The answers to the questions of course become your actionable goals.

Step Six: Build an action-learning team

An action learning team, DEI task force, or workgroup is a small group that works on specifically identified problems, acts and comes together as a team to advocate for a more inclusive workplace. Ideally, the group is an extension of and supported by leadership with teamwork aiding in the development of creative, flexible solutions. While directives must come from the top, the range of actively engaging voices will build the future of real-time DEI in the organization.

Don’t fall into the trap of performative DEI, your team doesn’t just need a space to vent, they need to see they are contributing to positive change and real action.

Step Seven: The action plan

This final step draws on the data collection from the steps that precede it to arrive at the design of a blueprint for change.

Set goals for each quarter of the coming year with quarterly plans tailored to the needs of your organization. Specific goals may call for a community engagement initiative, increased diversity among your suppliers, or communication strategies to keep employees in the know about DEI efforts in play.

Creating inclusive workplaces requires more than just rhetoric; it demands tangible actions. This encompasses providing avenues for employee feedback, investing in continuous learning and development, promoting work-life balance, fostering transparency and trust, implementing fair recognition and reward systems, and ensuring that all policies and practices are inclusive and equitable.

The initial steps to Anti-Racist Leadership can be implemented immediately. However, the changes these steps hope to inspire take several years and considerable buy-in at every level of an organization to shift the company culture.

An analysis by Sull Sull and Zweig suggests several short-term actions to boost employee morale and combat resignations associated with toxic work cultures.

These include the offering of:

  • Lateral career moves: Offering an employee a change of pace or something new without necessarily climbing the corporate ladder was 12 and 2.5x more predictive of retention than promotions and compensation, respectively.
  • Remote work options: Being able to work from home has a modest impact on retaining employees. At 1.5 more predictive of retention than compensation alone, employers may need to offer several easily actionable options to persuade dissatisfied employees to stay on. Remote work options are also inclusive of employees with neurodivergence and disabilities, showing your commitment to a truly diverse workforce.
  • Company-sponsored events: Corporate social events like happy hours, team-building getaways, and activities outside of the workplace are key ingredients to a healthy work culture. It strengthens personal connections amongst co-workers and is a low-cost way to boost employee morale and retention rates.
  • Predictable schedules: Predictable schedules are six times more predictive of retention than on-call or “just-in-time” scheduling. When front-line workers experience a predictable schedule, they are less likely to resign. Flexible schedules, when work can be done asynchronously, can be attractive to remote workers.

Aiming to introduce comprehensive training initiatives and maintain expert support along the DEI journey are additional ways to ensure the action plan is rooted firmly in the foundations of the organization has room to evolve and change as the company culture demands. Proactively share your action plan with your employees including freelancers, vendors and contractors. Be forthright with new expectations and consequences for noncompliance.

Long-term Commitment to Anti-Racist Leadership

In cultivating workplaces that prioritize employee satisfaction and retention, corporate culture emerges as a pivotal factor, eclipsing even burnout and compensation in its predictive power. Toxic cultures stand out as the primary driver of high turnover rates, highlighting the urgency for systemic change. While short-term remedies like lateral career moves or flexible schedules offer temporary relief, they fall short in addressing the root cause of toxicity.

A steadfast commitment to anti-racist leadership emerges as a cornerstone for lasting transformation. By actively promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, organizations not only mitigate the adverse effects of toxic cultures but also foster environments where every employee feels valued and respected. Anti-racist leadership isn’t merely an aspirational goal; it’s a necessity for cultivating workplaces where all voices are heard, valued, and empowered.

Crucially, organizations must consistently monitor and evaluate their progress, using metrics and feedback mechanisms to refine strategies and drive meaningful change. By centering anti-racist leadership in their efforts to shape corporate culture, organizations can not only improve employee satisfaction and retention but also pave the way for a more just and inclusive future.


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