For several years now, well-intentioned companies have been focusing (with limited success) on changing the ratio of the racial makeup of their companies. But even if a company manages to have more equal representation, people of color, and often specifically Black, Latinx, or Indigenous employees, still end up feeling like outsiders.
It’s the “Equity and Inclusion” part of DE&I where most companies falter, and as a result, they struggle to retain people of color and those from other underrepresented groups.
There are a lot of pieces that make up an equitable and inclusive workplace. Some of the biggest things that can make a workplace toxic for people of color are entrenched issues such as a cultural bias toward white supremacy and bias and assumptions around what’s “professional.”
So on this episode of The New Way We Work we talked to Mimi Fox Melton, the acting CEO of Code 2040, about what bias, white privilege, and tone policing look like at work.
As Fox Melton puts it, Code 2040’s purpose is to “identify and dismantle the structural barriers that prevent the full participation of Black and Latinx people in the innovation economy.” The work to do that falls squarely on those in power who have created the unwritten rules that favor whiteness at work.
White privilege is something that people of color understand and see play out from a very young age, but it can be hard for those who have always benefited from it to grasp. As Fox Melton explains, “If you’re white, then likely it’s brought to your attention through the lens of someone else experiencing discrimination.” “White folks,” she says, “often can see the downside of being Black or Latinx or Indigenous but don’t see the upside of being white.” It often boils down to being given the benefit of the doubt in any given situation.
One of the most obvious ways we see this play out in workplaces is tone policing. Who is allowed to get angry, who can express excitement or frustration, and what are “acceptable” forms of those emotions? What is a “professional” way to dress or speak? These are all set to standards of whiteness and make a workplace culture exclusionary to people who aren’t white or don’t conform.
Fox Melton breaks down how to go about dismantling these standards and assumptions and why white people need to stop asking for the unpaid emotional labor of Black and brown people to help them do it. She also recommends some books. including the summer’s best-seller White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin Diangelo, and So You Want To Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo.
Listen to the full episode here: