One year later, the national unrest has quieted, but the racial justice movement ignited by the death of George Floyd is coursing through cubicles, conference rooms and corner offices in corporate America, with U.S. workers demanding that companies confront systemic racism in the nation and inside their own organizations.
Two-thirds of Americans said they want their companies to speak out publicly against racial injustice, according to a survey out Thursday from diversity, equity and inclusion strategy firm Paradigm and the Harris Poll.
A majority of the 2,035 adults surveyed said they would hold their employers accountable if they failed to do so, particularly workers 45 or younger.
What’s more, 54% said they would consider quitting if their employer did not take a stand.
“I think we’re increasingly seeing employees expect more from their companies on a range of social impact themes,” Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, told USA TODAY. “People are recognizing the role that organizations have on the communities and world around them, and a lot of people want to work for a company that is using that influence to drive positive impact.”
From George Floyd to Breonna Taylor, racial injustice is a problem, workers say
Calls for racial justice following the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others have made American workers more aware of racism and more eager to support those harmed by it, according to the Paradigm survey.
The majority of respondents – 69% – said they believe racial injustice is a problem in the U.S., with 60% saying it’s a bigger problem than they thought a year ago.
Perspectives varied by race and ethnicity and age. People between the ages of 35-44 were most likely to think racism is a problem in the United States (78%), and people between the ages of 55-64 were the least likely (60%).
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Black, Hispanic, Asian and Indigenous people were more likely (75%) than white people (65%) to think racism is a problem in the United States.
“A lot of people spent the past year paying more attention to racial injustice and learning more about it. I think this led people to consider how the same themes that they were seeing culminate in violence and murder might also be showing up in different forms within their own organizations,” Emerson said. “People started to consider how might racism be showing up within our four walls, and many leaders who were also educating themselves on these same topics were more receptive to those questions than they might have been in the past.”
The Paradigm survey found that 61% of American workers want to be an ally to marginalized groups, with people of color (68%) more likely to feel that way than white people (56%).
Two-thirds expect their employers to make an equal commitment. “People aren’t just motivated to take individual action, a majority of people want to see organizations do the same,” the survey found.
Taking a public stand isn’t enough to satisfy workers.
Nearly three-quarters of the Americans surveyed – 72% – want their employers to create an inclusive workplace. A majority – 68% – also said they should also be able to discuss racial justice issues at work.
Organizations have work to do. Nearly half of Americans – 49% – witnessed or experienced racial bias or discrimination at work during the past 12 months, according to the survey.
- 14% said they experienced bias or discrimination related to their race/ethnicity;
- 20% experienced microaggressions;
- 20% witnessed bias or discrimination against others based on race/ethnicity;
- 17% witnessed microaggressions against a colleague.
Some 15% of those surveyed said they felt unable to speak out about bias or discrimination they experienced or witnessed.
Employee activism for racial justice grows
“Change inside companies cannot only come from the hope that executives will have a momentary change of heart,” said Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest public policy manager who accused the social media company of racial discrimination.
Employee activism is sweeping corporate America. Nowhere is that more evident than in the technology industry where employees at Google, Amazon and other companies who used to keep their opinions to themselves are speaking out on diversity and equity issues from pay discrimination to sexual harassment.
Ozoma is pushing legislation in California known as the “Silenced No More Act” that would protect workers from nondisclosure agreements in situations where they face discrimination or racism.
“As more companies are called out on a year of next to no action, after spending money on marketing campaigns pretending that they care about Black lives and Black employees, I’d expect to see more workers eager to use an inside and outside approach,” Ozoma said.
Paradigm’s recommendations to employers:
- Communicate diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and policies to employees and spell out what actions the organization is taking.
- Give employees skills and tools to help create a more inclusive workplace and address discrimination.
- Create dedicated spaces for people to talk about racial injustice at work.
- Respond to the call to publicly state your organization’s stance on racial injustice and give regular updates on how you are following through on your commitments.