In tandem with the worldwide focus on the Black Lives Matter movement, leaders across the technology space have reevaluated how to invest in lasting corporate and community change. Since June, we’ve seen countless executives take a verbal stand against outrageous acts of racism and injustice — a necessary first step, but the work only starts there.
The question on many leaders’ minds right now is how they can best use their resources and voices to support and be an ally to Black and minority communities for the long-term. For those seeking answers on how to invest in lasting change, here are six places to start.
Encourage employees to create an employee resources group and make it structured
If you don’t have an employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to diversity and inclusion, encourage employees to formalize one. At Okta, we lead the People of Color ERG (POC@Okta), which celebrates Black, Asian, LatinX, Indian, Native American, and all other cultures represented at Okta. Our goal is to provide a framework to encourage more people to get involved with advocating for diversity and inclusion efforts.
To make an employee-led group a success, it must be backed by a strong leadership team and have executive sponsorship. POC@Okta has structured committees aligned with internal and external partners, including philanthropy, recruiting, learning and development, community outreach, and communications. It’s also backed by key stakeholders: Our President of Technology, VP of Social Impact, General Counsel, President of Worldwide Field Operations, and Senior Director of Recruiting are all involved to ensure corporate buy-in for new ERG initiatives.
Raise internal awareness to build allyship
Leaders need to keep communication lines open and give employees the chance to ask important and sometimes difficult questions. This can happen during an executive AMA, Q&A sessions with small groups, and at general all-hands meetings. For example, our CEO recently conducted a listening session in early June to help employees better understand Okta’s plans for addressing racial inequality. We allowed employees to anonymously share questions in advance or chime in using Zoom’s chat feature — a way to make them feel more comfortable speaking up in a big group.
During these company gatherings, focus on defining white privilege and systemic racism, offer specific actions employees can take to combat it, and explain why businesses have a responsibility to take a stand. Be prepared to point your team to the right resources after these sessions for continued learning.
Shift your attention to local politics
A quick glance at Twitter proves that many executives are comfortable talking about the upcoming election, but they’ll often skip discussing the importance of local politics. Remember, racial injustice problems are often hyperlocal.
Instead of putting all of your energy into the presidential race, speak up about the importance of intentional voting on local issues that impact Black and minority communities, like who is running for your local sheriff, judge, district attorney, school board, and city council. Becoming informed and speaking up about local elections will inspire your followers to do the same.
Reimagine recruiting for diversity
Minorities are sick of being seen as token diversity hires, so they’ll see right through disingenuous attempts to boost diversity numbers. Building a truly diverse workforce starts by creating a culture of inclusion which begins by establishing partnerships in the community, showing up at the right events, using employee volunteer time to help minority communities, and taking a public stand against racial injustice.
First, change up your internal and external strategies to meet minority communities where they are — instead of focusing on LinkedIn for recruiting, launch new partnerships to help bring in more diverse talent. Partnering with groups like 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, Blavity, Inc., and Nextplay, Inc. can drive community outreach and recruiting efforts. It’s also critical to provide training for hiring managers to identify their own implicit biases when sourcing and interviewing candidates. And remember, change takes time — ensure recruiters are given realistic deadlines for sourcing minority candidates.
Rethink retention efforts
Companies that are serious about retention must do more than the bare minimum. To make real progress, you must have a focused and intentional plan, beginning with onboarding. During onboarding, provide new hires with information on ERGs, mentor-mentee opportunities, learning and development resources, information on the company’s allyship with minority communities, etc. These resources should also be readily available to current employees.
Career mentorship also helps boost retention efforts, as well as robust training and development programs with ample communication and feedback. There must be a clear and safe path for sharing ideas, raising questions, and expressing concerns. Utilize your ERGs through their initiatives, committees and outreach to help ensure new and existing employees excel not only in their respective jobs but also as a broader contributing member to company culture. ERG initiatives should have a voice in and underpin established organizational strategies, diversity goals and retention policies, as well as provide cultural events and community involvement.
For example, our Recruiting Committee works with Corporate Recruiting to build a diverse workforce, Learning and Development focuses on the growth of high performing professionals and our Philanthropy Committee engages to give back to the community. Performance and innovation is heightened when employees can be authentic and connected.
Take the no-bandage approach
It’s time for tech leaders to peel back the onion and make lasting change a priority, which requires a “no bandage” approach to educating your organization and addressing issues. It’s important to understand where the bleeding is and provide the care and space for employees who need it, especially given the events of the past few months. But don’t just put a patch on problems that are bound to resurface — proactively and aggressively invest in long-term change. Don’t just talk about your commitment to diversity as a way to appease your employees, make a plan and execute it. For example: are you willing to hire recruiters dedicated solely to sourcing minority candidates and/or establish new diverse talent pipelines as recruiting resources, or will you continue to use the same methods and resources and complain how difficult it is to find diverse talent?
There is a lot of work to do, both at our own company and across the board in the tech industry. By working together and making equality a priority, we can create a radically inclusive culture that fosters equity and belonging.