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SHRM Blue Ribbon Commission Issues Report, Strategies to End Workplace Racism

New research and a DE&I Action-to-Change Toolbox can help employers make tangible differences

A black and white photo of a man in a hat.

​Workplaces are struggling to stay solvent, safe and inclusive as they face the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points out in a new report issued today by its Blue Ribbon Commission on Racial Equity (BRC).

The 13-member commission is part of Together Forward @Work, an initiative SHRM launched in 2020 to increase learning and collaboration on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and social justice. 

Today, SHRM is making available new resources that its members can use to help their employers spur real, lasting change in DE&I.

"It is our hope," the BRC wrote, "that the actions outlined in this report will promote crucial conversations in all workplaces—large, medium and small; rural and urban; and fully remote, onsite or hybrid. Most importantly, these conversations must lead to action.

"While we do not believe we have all the answers," the BRC added, "this report presents solutions that can be duplicated in different workplaces under varied circumstances."

SHRM leadership and the BRC will continue to work on these issues. The report includes a manifesto in which the BRC pledges to:

  • Define a 21st century approach to address bias in organizational culture.
  • Outline a robust set of actions to drive a long-range agenda on inclusion and bias.
  • Develop metrics aimed at ensuring accountability at all levels of an organization.
  • Charge HR professionals to be change agents and leaders on behalf of inclusive, equitable workplaces.

"SHRM has consistently challenged leaders in the workplace to have open and honest conversations with their peers and teams about bias, discrimination and racial inequity, and then turn those conversations into concrete action," said SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP. "The path to equity is shared, and it will take the collective efforts of HR professionals, C-suite executives, people managers and employees to create workplaces where inclusivity, empathy and respect are the cornerstone of culture." 

The Cost of Racial Injustice 

The BRC cited new SHRM research, The Cost of Racial Injustice, to show the prevalence of racism and the toll it exacts on the workplace.

Fourteen percent of U.S. workers said they have been treated unfairly due to their race or ethnicity in the past year; 19 percent reported having experienced such treatment during the past five years.

Black Americans are two to four times more likely than others to experience unfair treatment based on their race or ethnicity. Forty-two percent of Black Americans said they thought they were treated unfairly in the workplace based on their race or ethnicity.

Findings are from a survey conducted Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, 2020, with 1,313 U.S. workers, including an oversample of Black, Hispanic/Latino and Asian respondents.

Other demographic groups also are affected: 26 percent of Asian employees, 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino employees, and 12 percent of Caucasian employees said they experienced unfair treatment in the workplace due to their race or ethnicity in the past five years.

U.S. Workers Claim Unfair Treatment Due to Race or Ethnicity

​Among U.S. workers claiming to have been treated unfairly in the past five years because of their race or ethnicity:

  • 57 percent reportedly were mistreated by a supervisor, manager or leader other than their direct supervisor.
  • 54 percent said they were mistreated by a co-worker.
  • 45 percent said they were mistreated by a direct supervisor or manager.
  • 36 percent said they were mistreated by a client or customer.
  • 23 percent said they were mistreated by HR.

Source: The Cost of Racial Injustice, SHRM.

The fallout from racial inequity extends beyond employer-employee relations, the commission reported. Absenteeism, productivity loss and turnover due to racial inequity threaten organizational success as well.

According to The Cost of Racial Injustice, of the respondents who felt they were treated unfairly at work based on their race or ethnicity:

  • 45 percent said they were less productive, including 35 percent who said they purposely took longer to complete their work.
  • 28 percent spent more time on nonwork activities.
  • 25 percent took extra or longer breaks.
  • 21 percent arrived late or left work early without approval.
  • 7 percent took employer property without approval or wasted work materials.

Over the past five years, employee turnover as a result of racial inequity in the workplace may have cost U.S. organizations up to $171.9 billion.

SHRM also conducted research into how empathy changes the workplace. In research released today, a majority of nearly 2,500 U.S. workers said organizations that score low in empathy struggle with turnover. 

Leading by Example 

Also released today, SHRM's Champions for Change video series spotlights global business leaders who have taken decisive action toward social justice.

"The reality is each of us—no matter what our role is, no matter what our title is, no matter how many direct reports, or not, we have—we see situations that need addressing," said BRC member Marc A. Howze, who is featured in the series. He is group president, lifecycle solutions, and chief administrative officer at Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Co., where he also has served as vice president of global HR.

"There is no social justice without economic justice," Howze pointed out, noting employers must ask themselves, "What are we uniquely positioned to do to drive more equity in the environment in which [we] work?"

Through the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Deere provided internships for Black law students. Interns will work at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, an organization of Black farmers in 17 states, to help Black residents get clear title to land that they have owned for generations but lack standardized legal paperwork stating ownership. Deere also is working with the National Black Growers Council, Howze said. 

How to Take Action

SHRM is refreshing its Together Forward @Work website with new resources and, based on the BRC's recommendations, a DE&I Action-to-Change Toolbox to help SHRM members tackle racial inequity in the workplace. The toolbox features the following:


  • Inclusion Playbook. A downloadable step-by-step guide to building diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace cultures.

  • Conversation Starter Cards. Conversation prompts can help workers listen well and ask thoughtful questions to gain insights into current problems.

  • HR Inclusion Code of Conduct. A customizable template for communicating expected standards of behavior aligned to an organization's values to help employees feel respected and empowered.

  • Lexicon of Common Inclusion Terms. Language matters when having race-related conversations in the workplace. HR professionals and managers should review the words they use when they talk about inclusion and adopt terms that are appropriate and respectful.

  • Resource Guide. A collection of SHRM resource hub pages, toolkits, guides, presentations, research and related material to help implement changes.

6 Ways Your Organization Can Start Combating Racism

​The Society for Human Resource Management's Blue Ribbon Commission on Racial Equity offers six actions any organization can take now to combat racism with purpose and intention: 

1. Redefine your culture and values.

Most organizations have guiding principles, but how many truly live them? Workplace leaders need to change their organizational values to include real, measurable diversity and inclusion across all activities, and then calculate the impact.

2. Practice inclusive hiring and promotion like you believe in it.

Don't espouse inclusive culture but offer only limited opportunities to disadvantaged groups. Organizations that hire and promote inclusively—all the way to the top, including boards—show that they are truly diverse.

3. Have open dialogues about taboo topics.

Many employees already talk with colleagues about taboo topics such as racism. It makes sense for organizations to offer protocols that can guide discussions—not debates—to foster a safe space in which to conduct these conversations.

4. Invest capital in social impact funds and corporate social responsibility programs. 

Investing in social impact funds is one of the best ways to drive change. While it is admirable to donate money to organizations, most are not incentivized to achieve change quickly. An investment of venture capital in social impact funds, however, provides the incentive needed to propel real momentum.

5. Market to those who have been ignored. 

Social injustice includes a failure to market directly to audiences devoid of opportunity. In the case of HR, organizations must diversify the makeup of their generalists and specialist corps so that they may elevate the entire profession and ensure a workforce that looks like the U.S.

6. Rebuild your enterprise to be a force for good. 

Organizations truly interested in replacing inertia with action should consider rebuilding themselves as a force for good in matters of social justice. This may entail changing revenue streams or adding another business line. Match serious intent with serious investment.


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