In 2020, organizations from the CIA (YouTube/CIA) to weapons corporation Raytheon (MSN) to Great Recession villain Wells Fargo (The Hill, Wells Fargo) all announced that they were anti-racist organizations. With the George Floyd Rebellion suppressed and economic stormclouds gathering, corporations see less profit to be had from capitalizing on racial justice, with diversity programs often the first to be cut. Holding our workplaces accountable to the minimum standard of opposing white supremacy is necessary, particularly if they made public statements to that effect in the past. But what does an anti-racist organization actually look like? What concrete policies set a truly anti-racist organization apart?
The first step to pushing our workplaces to be meaningfully anti-racist is understanding our own positionality. Do you benefit from racial privilege? Who are you closest to at your job? If you’re white, do you connect with your non-white coworkers? Perhaps you only connect with them to talk about race. Figuring out where you’re at and “soliciting honest feedback” from a colleague you trust is an important first step (The Muse).
• Share information on anti-racist business strategies and policies and consider: how do your organizations meet or fail to meet these standards?
• Identify ways that you can take anti-racist actions in your organization today.
Looking at your organization as a whole, you can consider “the demographic makeup of your entire staff, at all levels, and up and down the wage scale” (Time’s Up). In most organizations, upper management is significantly whiter and more male than their subordinates or the population as a whole. A thought experiment: imagine every employee of your company lined up based on their skin tone, from darkest to lightest. Now imagine every employee lined up based on their compensation, from lowest to highest. How similar or different would those two lines be? If they’d be virtually identical, there’s a real lack of effective anti-racism in hiring, promotion, and compensation.
Diversity in hiring across all levels of an organization is crucial, but it means nothing if new workers resign because of an unsafe work environment. Intentional mentorship, affinity groups to support employee organization, livable wages, and leadership and coworkers who confront microaggressions can all be crucial (The Muse). In addition, diversifying elite roles in a corporation isn’t enough if subordinate workers of color don’t see the benefits. Are the benefits offered to salaried workers at a retail chain’s corporate headquarters extended to entry-level workers at stores? Unfair scheduling policies, low compensation, and anti-union drives may not appear to be directly related to racial justice, but they disproportionately harm workers of color to benefit disproportionately white upper managers and investors.
And no internal policies can make a company anti-racist if its bottom line depends on harming people of color. There’s no amount of equitable hiring practices the CIA could institute that could make its international network of secret torture sites anti-racist (The Intercept). There’s no way that Raytheon could make anti-racist cruise missiles to be pointed at Black and Brown civilians around the world (Amnesty International). There are institutions whose very existence depends on the oppression and exploitation of people of color. The only way for these organizations to become anti-racist would be to abolish themselves.
An authentically anti-racist organization should have fair hiring practices at all levels and ensure everyone receives a sustainable living wage (MIT), including interns and subcontractors. A truly anti-racist organization does what is necessary to not only hire but retain and support workers of color. Finally, it should play a positive role in broader communities.
Some readers in management positions may be able to institute or advocate for these policies starting today. But all of us can decide how to show up for other people in our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. If your coworkers know you as someone willing to listen, learn, and fight for justice—instead of someone solely focused on their own advancement or performative allyship—you can play a role in pushing your organization towards real anti-racism.
• Many companies called themselves anti-racist in 2020.
• A true anti-racism organization should implement distinctive internal and external policies to support BIPOC.
• We should all push to create more equitable work environments, regardless of our job title.