Categories: HR & Employment Law | by Wilson Lee

Racial sensitivity, inclusion, and diversity aren’t just buzzwords that companies spout to make themselves seem more inviting. In light of the recent Starbucks incident, we can see what happens when racial sensitivity falls by the way side. The fallout can be disastrous for any business, especially for smaller organizations that lack the resources of a billion dollar company. Tech companies are even hiring for roles that relate to promoting diversity as a solution to sensitivity and inclusion issues. Whether it’s tech, e-commerce, or insurance; all industries are liable to answer to claims and accusations of racism and discrimination. This can negatively impact your bottom line, drain resources, and cost a hefty amount to remedy. Before you start panicking, read on to learn how to implement racial sensitivity training and promote an inclusive workplace culture.


Include Specific Language in Your Company Handbook.

Your company handbook is the lifeblood of your organization, it highlights the company’s values and mission but also contains the written documentation for every policy that a workplace should have…or at least it should. This is where you can dedicate an entire section to talk about the importance of diversity and your organization’s zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. It’s also illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex in accordance with EEOC guidelines. Having it be a part of your handbook will be helpful for referencing if an incident does occur where an employee states “they didn’t know” and help defend your company against a potential claim.


Offer Sensitivity Training

While the actions of one lone Starbucks has caused a firestorm, the response to the situation was perfect. Having sensitivity training available as a resource for your employees has many benefits including expert insight and consideration. First it shows that you, as a business, care enough about inclusion and diversity that you’re willing to invest in it. This can increase employee morale and help you start off on good terms with new and existing employees. Second, you as an HR professional can only do so much and unless you’re an expert at diversity, it’s best to bring in someone who is. This person has the advantage of coming into a new environment without any implicit biases and can talk about subjects that we normally feel uncomfortable discussing. Finally, your employees can learn skills applicable outside of just interacting with each other. Especially in more customer-facing roles, certain tactics can be applied to a handful of situations such as getting a sale or de-escalating a situation.


Hire a Chief Diversity Officer or Create a Diversity Committee

Make it someone’s job or create a committee to promote diversity in the workplace. Some of their responsibilities can be as simple as making sure the holidays of every culture are recognized or hosting in-office events that promote inclusion and diversity. But they can also be more institutional-based like creating strategies for hiring or offering recommendations on how to improve training. A role that’s entirely diversity focused has the benefit of being broad enough that whoever is in that position has the potential to make a big impact and reinvigorate a stale culture. It takes more than one person to promote diversity and inclusion, but having strong leaders at the helm of diversity with employees following suit is a great way to ensure that a culture that celebrates diversity is consistent and not just a one-off event.


Listen to Your Employees

Imagine running around the office hanging up posters, introducing new policies, and holding unsolicited meetings and your employees’ reaction is “we didn’t ask for any of this”. There isn’t a one size fit all solution to addressing diversity in the office. Knowing your audience and being able to pivot your strategies is the key.  Ensure all concerns are brought to either HR, a diversity officer or other member of management. It should be made clear that such concerns will be taken seriously and kept as confidential as possible. Are there particular groups that feel like they’re outsiders? Is there anything else you can do to make everyone feel included? You’ll be surprised at what you can learn when you allow your employees to be candid. Communication is important in any relationship, but when someone is spending 40+ hours in one place during the week; that positive communication is even more important.


Addressing diversity, inclusion, and racial sensitivity in the workplace doesn’t have it be difficult, it can be a collaborative experience across teams. And if you still need help, contact the experts.