How to support women of colour in your workplace

Employers and leaders have a crucial role to play in creating more inclusive, equitable and balanced workplaces where women of colour are given an opportunity to thrive.
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Over the last few months, we’ve talked extensively about the experiences of women in the workplace, especially because they face unique challenges in times of crisis. Employers have a responsibility to address these challenges. The need for recognition and representation in the workplaces is further amplified by the recent protests against racial injustice. When actively working to include underrepresented people, we must remember that there is more than one way to be marginalized. 

The fact is that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) women experience the challenges of work and career differently from their white and male colleagues. They often need to work harder for the same roles. They often feel pressured to make fewer mistakes. They are often underpaid and undervalued for their contributions. Employers and leaders have a crucial role to play in creating more inclusive, equitable and balanced workplaces where women of colour are given an opportunity to thrive. Here are key practices to help you effectively put your commitment to gender and race equality into action.

Implement inclusive hiring practices

Being an inclusive workplace begins with inclusive hiring practices. A study from Queen’s University observes that racialized persons have a harder time accessing the labour market despite having equal or higher qualifications than their non-racialized counterparts. Not only does this mean that women of colour are less recognized for their employability, but it also means that Canadian employers are missing out on qualified talent.

As an employer, there are easy steps you can take to ensure you are hiring employees based on merit and also creating space for marginalized women. A blind recruitment process helps to prevent bias. Try removing the name of the candidate from the applications you receive. This can eliminate discrimination based on gender and ethnicity. You can also take it a step further and remove information pertaining to education. Often, we are unconsciously biased by the reputation of a school and fail to recognize foreign academic credentials in the same way we consider Canadian credentials. By removing potential biases, employers can work towards building more diverse workplaces. 

Focus on professional growth

It’s commonly accepted that men tend to apply for roles they are not fully qualified for, while women are tentative to take a chance unless they meet all the requirements. This is especially true for women of colour and even more acute for Black women. BIPOC women are often expected to have profiles that fully match the job description, or even exceed expectations, in order to be considered for a role. 

Mckinsey study shows that Black and POC women are more ambitious and more entrepreneurial than their white counterparts. Despite facing a steeper climb to executive roles, Black women are more likely to aim for the c-suite. This means that believing and investing in women of colour can be beneficial for your company in the long run. When hiring, focus on growth potential as well as current qualifications. Look for soft-skills like leadership, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. Many technical skills can be learned on the job, so assess potential that can’t be replicated.

Highlight meaningful contributions

Employees who receive positive feedback and recognition from their leaders are more likely to succeed. They are more productive, collaborative, and confident. Positive reinforcement also motivates workers to express their ideas more frequently. On the other hand, BIPOC women are more likely to have their contributions overlooked, inaccurately remembered, or appropriated by their peers. 

As employers, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the work of your employees. Call on your colleagues to become aware of their biases. Encourage your team members to support each other and reward collaboration. Actively validate the contributions of your Black female employees. Consider implementing a formal platform where employees can recognize, appreciate, and thank each other for their hard work. Keeping a record of each employee’s contribution can highlight the work of Black women, or help you notice a failure in highlighting their work. 

Invest in social events

Happy hours, team building activities, and summer barbecues give employees a chance to bond with their leaders personally and informally, which often leads to stronger professional relationships. In this, social events play a big part in career advancement for many workers. In the current context of the pandemic, it’s more difficult to hold such events.

Women of colour, and Black women in particular, report to have little or no contact with senior-level employees. Managers can facilitate professional relationship building by creating opportunities for employees to interact with leaders. Actively invite women of colour on your team. BIPOC women report feeling less included and more hesitant to participate in social events. A personal invitation from their manager can make a difference in their level of comfort and confidence in company events. 

Ask the important questions 

If you’re truly committed to gender and racial equality, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Black and POC women on your team have valuable first-hand insight into what needs to change to make your workplace inclusive. Dedicated one-on-one conversations are a perfect time to discuss their experiences.

These discussions can be sensitive, so be careful not to default to tokenism. Your Black female employees are not spokespeople for all women or all racialized persons. Make sure to communicate that you are invested in their personal and professional growth and that you truly value their input. Ask them about the effectiveness of your company’s diversity and inclusion policies and programs. Ask about your effectiveness as a leader to support your team. If they report incidents of racism or sexism, however minor it may seem to you, investigate them seriously and quickly.  

If you don’t feel comfortable having a face to face conversation, consider software solutions that allow your employees to confidentially give feedback and report their experiences with bias, microaggressions, and harassment. Provide clear actionable next steps to address these issues. 

Women of colour are ambitious, highly-motivated, and valuable members of our workforce. Their potential has been untapped for too long and, as we work to shape the future of work, their contribution is vital. Today, more than ever, employers are being evaluated on their commitment to equality and diversity. Investing in diverse talent is crucial if you don’t want to be left behind.

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