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Dealing With Resistance to Racial Inclusion

Welcome to lesson 7 of How to Build Racial Inclusivity in Your Workplace. In this lesson, we'll explore how to deal with resistance to racial inclusion.

With the best will in the world, it's likely that an organisation will experience some resistance to racial inclusivity initiatives. For example, a retrospective by Rohini Anand and Mary Frances-Winters found that diversity training conducted at Fortune 500 companies during the 1990s in some instances actually increased animosity towards identity differences. And research by Carol Kulik and Sharon Parker found that diversity training programmes can meet resistance due to perceptions that equal opportunity programmes unfairly favour minority employees. Therefore it's crucial to think carefully about how best to present inclusivity initiatives to the entire employee population.

One option is to make diversity training voluntary rather than compulsory. According to Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, a research study by the University of Toronto found that when white participants felt pressured to agree with a brochure criticising prejudice towards black people, the brochure strengthened their bias against black people. However, when the participants felt they had a choice over whether or not to agree with it, the brochure reduced their bias against black people. Dobbin and Kalev also found that voluntary diversity training increased the proportion of black men in management positions from 9% to 13% over a five-year period.

The second option is to encourage middle managers to participate in inclusivity initiatives – for example, university recruitment programmes targeting ethnic minorities. Dobbin and Kalev found that the managers they interviewed willingly took part in these recruitment drives when they were invited. They also found that a university recruitment programme focused on minority recruitment – where white managers participate voluntarily – increases the proportion of black male managers by 8% and black female managers by 9%, five years later.

The third option is to encourage white managers to volunteer to mentor junior ethnic minority employees. By helping mentees develop the requisite skills for more senior positions, white managers will feel that those mentees genuinely deserve career progression opportunities and aren't being given an unfair advantage over their white co-workers. Not to mention that mentoring can be an intrinsically rewarding experience for mentors. Dobbin and Kalev found that mentoring programmes boosted the representation of black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women by 9% and Hispanic and Asian-American men by 24%.

The fourth option is to increase the level of contact between different identity groups where everyone has equal status. One example is to utilise self-managed teams – where employees from different teams work together on a project as equals. This has been found to break down stereotypes and diversify hiring and promotion. At organisations that create self-managed work teams, the share of white women, black men and women, and Asian-American women in management was found by Dobbin and Kalev to rise by 3% to 6% over five years.

The fifth option is to make managers socially accountable for their decisions. People are less likely to make biased decisions if they have to explain their choices to other people. According to a field study by Emilio Castilla from MIT's Sloan School of Management, a US firm found it consistently gave black employees smaller pay rises than it gave to white employees – even when they had identical job titles and performance ratings. Castilla suggested transparency in order to activate social accountability within the firm, who then posted each business unit's average performance rating and pay rise by race and gender. Once managers realised that employees, peers, and superiors would know which parts of the company favoured white people, the gap in pay rises all but disappeared. In the UK, there's a growing trend among large organisations to publish pay breakdowns by ethnicity, which we'll explore further in lesson 8.

To recap – to deal with resistance to racial inclusivity initiatives, there are five options. Make diversity training voluntary rather than compulsory. Encourage white managers to participate in initiatives such as targeted recruitment drives. Encourage white managers to mentor junior ethnic minority employees. Increase contact between white and ethnic minority employees where they work together as equals. And make managers socially accountable for their decisions.

In the next lesson, we'll explore how to measure progress on racial inclusivity. Thank you for listening, and I'll speak to you again in lesson 8.

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Written by

Andrew Sivanesan