Recent surveys show that American workers increasingly value DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) in the workplace. Inclusion expert and authenticity advocate Ritu Bhasin recently spoke with TriplePundit about the importance of uncovering bias and promoting authenticity in order to achieve an equitable work environment.
Ninety-two percent of people surveyed by Just Capital in 2022 agreed that it was important for businesses to foster racial equity. That’s up from 79 percent just a year prior, with Republicans making up most of that change — 87 percent concurred with the idea that racial equity is a corporate responsibility in 2022, compared with only 62 percent in 2021.
Despite this trend, not everyone agreed on whether or not there is still work to do. Thirty-two percent of all respondents reported that they felt large companies had done enough to meet their responsibilities on DEI already, down 4 percent from the year before. Broken down by race, these responses are telling. Whereas 87 percent of Blacks and 77 percent of Latinos said more work is needed, only 62 percent of whites saw room for improvement on the DEI front — suggesting that much of that work includes uncovering implicit privilege.
As a first step, Bhasin encourages corporate leaders to “dig deep into bias deconstruction work.” She recommends using online tools to measure where one is at in regard to unconscious biases, including the Harvard Implicit Association Test. “Leaders must go first,” she explained, encouraging them to share their journey with employees and “be very vocal about why they think authenticity is important.”
After biases are recognized and held in check, the second step Bhasin recommends is cultural competence on DEI challenges. She pointed to better understanding and less judgment as a result of learning about other cultures and groups. As an example, she discussed how it used to be normal to openly discriminate against transgender people in the workplace, but society in general now realizes it is no longer acceptable to do so.
“DEI is all about creating an environment where everyone feels connected,” she explained. “Where they feel like they can develop their skills and bring their best.”
By that measure, corporate efforts are lagging. Across the board, respondents to Just Capital's survey largely agreed that workers of color continue to face a number of obstacles in large companies, including less pay than white workers for the same job (90 percent agreed overall), harassment (89 percent), as well as getting skipped over for employment (91 percent) or promotion (92 percent). And yet, as Bhasin put it, “Belonging is everything.”
“The No. 1 issue that prevents building this environment [of belonging] is bias,” she said. “People feel like they can’t be authentic.” She went on to describe how this pressure to hide their authentic selves results in workers feeling like they cannot share their thoughts, voices or ideas. She encourages leaders to show their full selves, including celebrating their differences, as this will encourage others to be authentic as well.
Likewise, equity strategist Tara Jaye Frank recently explained to TriplePundit how Black women especially feel like they are under a microscope at work, which in turn makes many feel as if they can’t make a mistake and therefore limits their creativity and recognition in the office.
Bhasin advises corporate leaders to build an environment where everyone feels comfortable being authentic by taking into account workers’ responses to the question, “To what extent do I feel seen?”
Of course, for any of this to mean much, wages have to be equitable. “Not having a living wage affects everything,” she said, listing the way poverty impacts someone’s ability to access transportation and education, as well as its effects on physical and mental health. “A living wage is critical.”
Additionally, it’s important to make a point of being inclusive when it comes to people with disabilities who are too often left out of the DEI conversation. Bhasin described how this has to begin with recruitment and continue through every phase — and that each phase should be viewed through a lens that is conscious of implicit bias. She reiterated how important it is to champion people’s differences and accommodate them accordingly.
“Cultivate an agile work environment,” she advised. One way to do this is by allowing workers to connect virtually instead of coming into an office. Similarly, remote work has offered many workers — again, especially Black women — a reprieve from microaggressions and even blatant racism, allowing them to feel safer and more authentic in their jobs.
“I prefer to call them micro-inequities,” Bhasin expounded. “Micro-inequities are how our biases show through in our behavior.” And they could help explain some of the results from another survey in which 64 percent of respondents claimed they had never witnessed discrimination or harassment in their place of employment. “People who come from communities who have experienced it, they see it. But when people come from the dominant cultures,” she said it’s easier for them to say, “I don’t notice.”
But that’s not an attitude that benefits business. Rather, Bhasin wants to remind everyone to deconstruct their biases, saying, “It’s really important to do the work because we recognize how meaningful it is and how it improves our interactions with others.”
Image credit: RODNAE Productions via Pexels
Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.