Global Diversity Awareness Month: Building an Equitable Workplace Culture For All

October 8, 2020

At a time when the world is focused on racial justice, compounded by a pandemic that has disproportionately upended Black, Latino, and underserved communities, it  is critical for companies -- as the engines of economic opportunity and prosperity -- to play a leading role in building a more equitable future for all. And as individuals, the importance of looking  inward, as well as at the world around you to ensure you’re demonstrating the change you want to see, is the marker for initiating equitable change.

The racial and social justice  movement has laid bare the prevalence of ongoing, systemic racism around the world and how far we have to go to dismantle historic barriers to equitable outcomes. Businesses have the power to enact real change to dissolve the many barriers Black professionals and other communities of color face to accessing economic opportunity. And it’s not enough to just say we need to do better, companies must put in the hard work to be accountable and create measurable plans to create impactful change. 

October is Global Diversity Awareness Month - a time to celebrate the positive impact diverse voices can have on a company, its community, and society at large. It’s also a time to reflect on the obstacles and barriers present in the workplace today and the steps we can take, as companies and as individuals, to overcome them. 

To help shine a light on the current experiences of Black professionals in the workforce, LinkedIn has released new data that takes a closer look at some of the top challenges professionals are facing at work -- and the resources companies can provide to create a more equitable workplace culture. 

Active Allyship in the Workplace:

To build change, we must put in the work as business leaders, as well as individuals, to examine and confront not only our personal biases, but systemic bias where they are supported by institutional power and dominance. From there, we can build actionable change. 

Women and underrepresented groups alone cannot solve diversity and inclusion problems. An ally is a person who stands up for others to proactively build inclusion in our workplace. And active allyship is a key driver to an inclusive culture, yet our research found that almost half of Black professionals (48%) do not know someone who they consider to be an ally at their place of work. This lack of allyship has consequences - over 1 in 4 (26%) Black professionals feel isolated at work, and 1 in 3 (33%) have experienced discrimination and/or microaggressions in their workplace. 

The leading reasons why Black employees report they don’t have an advocate at work is due to not feeling like they relate or have access to senior leadership. True allyship must start at the top, and leaders must be role models who operate with intention and conviction to continuously practice and learn the art, science, and skills of inclusive leadership. Take Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit for example, who resigned from his company’s board recently to make room for more diversity at the highest levels of business. 

Allyship must also be active and actionable, not performative or contrived. It’s a daily practice that must be sustained through regular education and action. As employees, connect with and lend support to your peers and explore where you can be creating opportunities, building professional bonds, and acting as a resource and advocate for others in your professional community. 

Companies can help employees by providing educational resources and training to dismantle biases in the workplace. For example, companies like PWC have helped encourage education by making  digital books on race and equity available to all employees for free. Others, like Walmart and Accenture have created mandatory anti-racism training courses for employees to grow their understanding on unconscious biases, inclusive leadership and being an ally. 

The Value of Mentorship & Sponsorship:

In order to improve the workplace experience for Black professionals, companies must increase career development and advancement opportunities. My first job and experience with someone who I regarded as a mentor was while working in my father’s medical practice. (Yes, it was the ultimate connection.) The role  was also without pay, had very high expectations, and provided a great opportunity to build skills in communication and customer service.

In our study, we found that 1 in 4 Black professionals feel they have been overlooked for career advancement opportunities because of their skin color and a third feel they have missed out on career advancement opportunities due to a lack of internal mentorship and sponsorship programs. This challenge is compounded by the fact that over half (51%) of professionals do not have access to an internal mentorship program to begin with and of those that do 33% of Black professionals report having a hard time finding a mentor they feel who truly understands them. 

Employees strongly believe in the importance of mentorship, especially as it relates to career growth and feeling supported at work. In today’s remote workforce, this is even more important as many are facing new challenges and have less visibility into the day-to-day of their peers. Our research found that 66% of Black professionals who currently have access to mentorship programs cite their mentor as being instrumental in helping them get a promotion or pay raise. Further, employees in mentorship programs feel more supported at work (69%) and feel a stronger sense of belonging at their companies (70%). 

By creating strong mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, companies can help strengthen bonds within the organization, foster more growth and help retain employees. Making this a formal, structured process within an organization helps employees see that  their growth and advancement is a priority, and puts structures in place to make an impact. For example, we’ve seen companies like Snap expand existing mentorship programs aimed at Women in Tech to other underrepresented groups, including underrepresented BIPOC.

Building an Equitable Workplace Rooted in Inclusivity and Belonging:

To build an equitable workplace, companies must build a culture rooted in belonging where everyone feels valued and heard. Belonging is the product of a shared commitment by all to create a space in which employees feel respected and safe to be themselves.

When people from diverse backgrounds and cultures work together, we all succeed. At LinkedIn, our vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce and we have a responsibility to intentionally address equity and inclusion both within our workforce and for our millions of members and customers. Our increased and renewed focus on diverse candidate slates and new investments in onboarding, mentorship, and sponsorship are key focus areas for us. We've rolled out a company-wide learning curriculum and accountability framework for our people managers because we know that managers have an outsized impact on hiring and promotion decisions, coaching and developing the people on their teams, and setting the tone for an inclusive culture. 

Recognizing that leading inclusively and mitigating bias will take sustained focus, we’re putting into place a strategy with three key pillars: Expectations, where we’ve rolled out a framework defining what inclusive leadership looks like for every manager at LinkedIn. Education, beginning with a foundational live-virtual learning course called Leading with Inclusion offered in every global region. And lastly, Accountability, where we’re developing processes to make inclusive leadership a requirement for success as a manager at LinkedIn.

A critical component of our inclusive leadership work is that it will be global from the start. The practices and principles will help build a culture of belonging for employees of many different historically marginalized backgrounds. We celebrate Global Diversity Awareness Month to celebrate our diverse community of professionals and focus on the work that must still be done to create an equitable workforce where all talent thrives.