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Adapting HR Attitudes in the Wake of the BLM Movement

The Black Lives Matter movement, or BLM movement, recently attracted major attention. People in the United States and elsewhere ramped up their protests against white supremacy and the discrimination faced by African-Americans. They also brought awareness to the violence that too-frequently occurs when people of color encounter police.

As more people notice these issues raised by activists, human resources (HR) professionals must not stay silent on the sidelines. Changes are happening — and now is not the time to appear tone-deaf.

Large Segments of Workers Expect Companies to Show Support

Human resources executives can demonstrate the expected attitude toward the cause by showing public support. A recent survey asked people about the anticipated responses from their employers — if any — regarding the BLM movement. The results showed 89% of HR workers expect their companies to publicly speak up for the cause.

This is the highest percentage for any sector studied, indicating HR teams are especially unlikely to accept their employers staying quiet. 

Also notable: More than half of those polled expected companies to have a say on the matter across all industries. Only 47% said they expected such action from their employers in the law sector — a minority, but still a sizable percentage. In all other job categories, at least 57% of respondents thought their employers should take a public stand for the cause.

These findings reveal how crucial it is for HR professionals to facilitate early, authentic and empathetic responses at the corporate level. Social media profiles and the company’s website are excellent places to post the statement to get plenty of notice.

The BLM Movement Spotlights Wage Discrimination

When George Floyd died in handcuffs after a police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes, activists quickly energized. They immediately sought to draw attention to the often-unnoticed hardships that many Black people face. It’s easy to agree that preventing someone from breathing was an unjustified action. Still, many didn’t realize how deep the unfair treatment goes.

Wage discrimination is a strong example. Although Black workers comprise 13% of all jobs in the United States’ economy, they fill approximately 19% of essential roles that pay an hourly rate of less than $16.54. That amount accommodates the basic needs of a four-person family.

Dissatisfaction with earnings spans to other job types, too. According to a survey of in-house counsel, 41% of respondents believed their compensation was below what peers earned. The prevalence of wage discrimination makes it easy for people to understand the topic. It also helps connect inequality to what Black people too often experience.

HR representatives should aim to start meaningful discussions about addressing and ending wage discrimination. However, they cannot stop at powerful phrases that sound promising. People have heard them for years and feel wearied by a lack of action. Taking this issue seriously means understanding how to make progress happen — even if improvements occur slowly.

Figuring out attractive salaries to offer candidates is one crucial responsibility handled by HR teams. However, they must also take the steps necessary for giving fair, appealing wages to everyone in the company’s workforce. Doing so makes a business a standout option for people seeking work. It also increases employees’ likelihood of remaining loyal to their workplace.

Running an Anti-Racist Organization Requires a Thorough Effort

Showing genuine support for Black lives means halting the actions that perpetuate discrimination. Organizations can do that by committing to operate with anti-racist ideals. Some companies responded by firing people who spoke racist slurs or engaged in similar actions. That’s a start, but it barely scratches the surface of what having an anti-racist company means.

Laura Morgan Roberts, a professor, speaker and author, explains, “To be anti-racist is to acknowledge the permanence of racism through organizations, industries and communities, and to recognize that racism is a system of disproportionate opportunity and penalties based on skin color.” Thus, anything from workplace procedures to unspoken norms could have racist undertones that initially go unnoticed by many.

Making meaningful changes starts when leaders acknowledge what aspects of their companies sustain inequality. Next, people in power must commit to promoting equal opportunities in problematic areas and within the organization as a whole. Admitting there is room for improvement is often difficult, but it’s necessary. Knowing where issues exist sets the framework for strengthening the company and doing away with racism.

Differences in perceptions may cause some HR teams and people from other departments to disagree on whether there are problems to tackle, however. A study showed that while 49% of Black HR professionals agreed racial and ethnic discrimination exists in their workplaces, only 13% of white people in HR roles did.

Those statistics emphasize why it’s so important to get feedback and guidance from the people who experience such treatment firsthand. That may mean bringing in a consultant to find the root causes of the biggest issues. Or asking team members of color for anonymous feedback about effective ways to facilitate equal treatment for all.

BLM Movement: The Spark of an Ongoing Aim

Even the most well-intentioned HR professionals cannot do all the right things to support the BLM movement. However, attitudinal shifts can go a long way in sparking permanent, positive change. People in this line of work must also remember that they’re human. They’ll make some occasional mistakes, but owning up to those errors and getting back on track is crucial to success.

Additionally, HR teams should not view ending racial injustices as a realistic goal to achieve. While they can indeed facilitate the shifts that make these issues less common, reaching higher equality levels is a long-term aspiration.

Even after making tremendous strides, company representatives will likely regularly spot areas that still need work.

And that is okay. Because the most important thing is a willingness to show consistent dedication.