The state of Florida just passed a law that gives employees the right to legal challenges and lawsuits against their employers if they are subjected to workplace diversity trainings that make them uncomfortable. At least 13 states are considering similar legislation.
The new law does not allow corporations to offer training that encourages participants to be “woke at work” or that tells workers that “America has a history of racism.” The bill makes it unlawful for employers to subject employees to training and workplace activities that teach those concepts.
I say, “Stop the insanity.” Bias and bigotry are evil and dangerous to any society. It is a human cancer that can easily metastasize by using fear against others. Furthermore, research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations are more profitable, innovative, and likely to retain employees.
Words such as “wokeness” and “Critical Race Theory” are being stigmatized as an attack on anyone who is not a Person of Color. While legitimate when analyzing racism, these terms are often used as lightning rods against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) training because they are more sensational than a focus on critical topics such as bigotry, prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, bias, and equity that apply to all groups that are the targets of bigotry and discrimination. Focusing only on racism ignores all of the other dimensions of diversity. All organizations need to address this. Why wouldn’t an organization want all its employees to feel they belong? The military has excelled at focusing on these topics.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is defined as:
1. A group of concepts (such as the idea that race is a sociological rather than biological designation).
2. The belief that racism pervades society and is fostered and perpetuated by the legal system. It is used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and especially the United States.
Is race a social construct? Of course, it is. There are hundreds of “racial characteristics”— from skin color to hair, body types, and more. All you need to do is negatively stigmatize one of them and that would be “racist.” In reality, there is no such thing as race, but racism does exist. Racism is discriminating against a group or individual because of a stigmatized physical characteristic.
Discrimination against people because of other factors such as religion or ethnic differences is not racism. Light-skinned Latinos discriminate against dark-skinned Latinos. In Israel, light-skinned Jews discriminate against dark-skinned Jews. And in Africa, there is discrimination based on ethnicity and religion.
The proper term for what is commonly called racism is “colorism.” For historical reasons of exploitation and oppression, much of humanity tends to “see” lighter skin more positively than darker skin. Colorism exists within Communities of Color, as well. We are “racists” because we have been exposed to thousands of symbols that show preferences due to skin color.
People of Color who take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu) often are shocked when they learn they are biased against Blacks. Researchers found that Black children say White dolls are prettier and smarter than Black dolls. Read the “Autobiography of Malcom X” and imagine how he felt when he realized he had learned to hate his own blackness.
Historically, humanity has found thousands of ways to believe one group is superior to others. Terms such as bias, bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination help to explain the conflict between groups of people (Catholics vs. Protestants, Nigerian ethnic conflict between groups, and so much more).
As for the second part of CRT, does racism pervade society and has it been perpetuated by the legal system? Clearly, we’ve all heard the term, slavery, along with the 3/5ths amendment, redlining, Jim Crow, and other legally sanctioned forms of discrimination. If Germany can admit to the abomination of Nazism, and Black South Africans can hold truth and reconciliation forums where they reconcile with Whites who admit to practicing apartheid, why is it hard to accept the fact that U.S. laws have supported racism? As Billie Jean King noted, “It is hard to understand inclusion until you have been excluded.” This truism is universal.
A GLOBAL MINDSET
The question for corporate leaders is: Why should employees learn about bias and inclusion in the workplace? Because it makes the work environment a better place. Plus, research has proven that global companies that address bias and discrimination are more profitable and innovative, while producing higher employee retention rates (source).
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are not issues limited to the U.S. All global organizations are facing similar issues and are addressing them. Organizations today must have a global mindset and be open to learning about other cultures and appreciation of and respect for all differences.
Training and Development departments must play a critical and courageous role in helping to end all forms of bigotry and discrimination in their organizations and create a culture of inclusion. Leaders must be bold and fearless in defying those who promote fear between co-workers and fellow citizens.
Training in this field should be delivered by skilled facilitators with expertise in DE&I. There are many professional associations and consultants available to help.
We cannot do this alone!
If your team could benefit from learning more about diversity, equity, and inclusion, look into our online courses.
Amy S. Tolbert, Ph.D., and Certified Speaking Professional is the founder and principal of ECCO International (Energizing Cultural Change in Organizations). She specializes in creating inclusive cultures through online courses, keynote presentations, and facilitated workshops and training. She is the author of Reversing the Ostrich Approach to Diversity: Pulling Your Head Out of the Sand.