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Facing race in the diversified workforce

Partners for a Racism-Free Community's upcoming conference, “Identity and Bias: Impact on Individuals and Institutions,” will help West Michigan dig deeper into issues impacting racial equity in various spaces, particularly the workplace.
This article is written by Breannah Alexander, a Program Administrator at Partners for a Racism-Free Community, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that works to overcome structural racism in organizations and institutions.

The diversified workforce has often been a conversation point in many present day dialogues around race and the workplace. More specifically, there has been an uptick in activity aiming to truly target how employers engage people of color in recruiting, and for more progressive efforts, retention. Often these efforts are met with the creation of diversity and inclusion departments, officers or initiatives — all with the aim of increasing representation of people of color in those spaces. After all, the success of a business stems from a diversified workforce, according to Forbes Insights’ Global Diversity and Inclusion report highlighting diversity as a key driver of innovation.

However, even outside of the financial gains made by institutions meaningfully engaging a more robust representation of the world there is also the reality that business must adjust to the space in which it exists simply to survive. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, minorities presently make up about 37 percent of the U.S. population and that number is projected to grow to 57 percent by 2060.

Diversity is not a choice; it’s a reality.

This demographic shift means inclusion efforts must be intentional and fully informed. This also means that in the creation of the aforementioned departments, officers and initiatives around diversity and inclusion they must confront a reality embedded in this space: race matters.

In a climate in which we are confronted daily with the realities of racism (whether we choose to invoke a colorblind mindset or not) we must be more intentional with the ways in which work environments engage in acknowledging what is a damaging and, more often than not, traumatic space. The workplace can no longer be treated as an alternate reality within a reality – it is a reflection of our real-time experiences. The desire to erase difference in the workplace as a way of elevating a false sense of equality is problematic. People bring to their work their respective experiences, passion and insights. Difference is beautiful but difference must be acknowledged. Race matters.

At Partners for a Racism-Free Community we assist organizations, whether they are for-profit or non-profit, with creating those spaces for meaningful and sustainable acknowledgement and change. What we know from our work is this: equity is the only way of solving structural inequality. Through looking at workplace procedures we assist organizations in finding opportunities to create more welcoming workplaces in hopes of shaping a space that looks and feels like inclusion. But this work is ongoing — a process is not the ultimate solution.

In working to create inclusive spaces that embrace racial equity, individual education is needed. Human resource officers need tools that help them acknowledge their internal bias and name it. Leadership in the workplace should seek to create spaces where employees can heal from real-time events happening locally, nationally and globally — the experience of your employees should be valued. But creating those spaces are not easy, and it takes continuous education and work. At PRFC we recognize this growing need for resources and dialogue. Our recognition of this growing need is what has resulted in our shift in targeting issues around racial equity impacting businesses, primary and post-secondary education, healthcare, government and faith-based institutions. Addressing inequity should be a shared effort and creating communities where people can lean on a local network for support through this journey is vital. Additionally, providing a platform for local and national experts to discuss their work around addressing racial equity in various spaces is key to moving the conversation and action forward in greater Grand Rapids.

On April 21, PRFC’s 2016 FORUM conference, “Identity and Bias: Impact on Individuals and Institutions,” will help West Michigan dig deeper into issues impacting racial equity in various spaces — particularly the workplace. As we work to support the growth of West Michigan, we hope to elevate not just the economic drivers impacted by racial equity but the existential ones affecting the community’s ability to retain talent that is undoubtedly the source of cutting edge innovation in a global economy.

Join us for the 2016 FORUM at DeVos Place for more on this discussion. Registration for FORUM is open until April 15, 2016. You can find out more about the event, including information about tickets, by going here.
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