As a member of the Retail Opportunity Network (RON), a community of workforce organizations focused on creating economic mobility for America’s frontline employees, Talent Rewire routinely participates in their convenings to share and learn best practices. In a recent RON convening, Mikaela Romero from National Fund for Workforce Solutions (NFWS) led a discussion centered on racial equity practices and shared her perspective and learnings from NFWS’s ongoing racial equity journey.
While the RON is made up of non-profit organizations, we recognize that many of the session takeaways are ones that employers can leverage as they engage on their own racial equity journey.
1. Transformational change is layered, complex, and not linear: NFWS approached their racial equity work through multiple layers working concurrently. A racial equity and inclusion assessment and external facilitators helped guide and facilitate group activities and conversations within NFWS. As a result, organizational policies, practices, resource flows, power dynamics, and relationships have shifted during various points of the journey (which is still ongoing).
For employers it is heartening to know that for organizations like NFWS who have been on their racial equity journey for a long time, change is hard and won’t happen overnight. Simply changing one or two policies will likely not achieve the results you want. Similar to NFWS’s first steps, it may be helpful to seek community partners or other external consultants that can bring a fresh perspective and serve as a facilitator as your organization navigates this complex process.
2. External work has the potential to shift internal work: NFWS works externally in relationship with local and national workforce development networks using their Job Design Framework (JDF). The JDF seeks to outline the various elements of a good job, weighing numerous factors including wages, supervision, benefits, and culture. Looking inward, NFWS applied JDF best practices to their internal work and integrated structures to improve communication and accountability.
For employers, ask yourself are your community engagement efforts and statements of support around racial equity consistent with your own talent practices and policies? If not, how can you advance racial equity internally at your company? Ask yourself what partnerships or initiatives does your organization lead or is a member of externally. Are there lessons from those forums that you can leverage internally to give voice to employees or undertake change management?
3. Create space to do racial equity work internally. Advancing racial equity isn’t just about publishing statements of support, it requires companies and individuals to take a hard look at themselves and question how they are perpetuating racial inequity. Racial inequity is a system-wide issue (read: a pervasive national problem) requiring systems change to address it. Systems change requires shifting the conditions that hold problems in place from the structural level (policies and practices) all the way down to the mental models that individuals hold. As employers, look at the demographics of your workforce – do they match your community? Who is being retained and promoted? How can you include frontline employees in the policy decision process to ensure their concerns are addressed?
Since racial equity work is deeply personal and requires colleagues to show up in vulnerable ways, employers should, when possible, shift work in the short-term to give employees the space to fully engage in and reflect on racial equity conversations. Doing so will help employees feel that the company is taking racial equity seriously and wants to include everyone’s voice in the process. Through advancing racial equity within your company it can also help set the business up for greater long-term success.
We understand that every company and individual is on its own learning journey when it comes to racial equity. The good news is you’re not alone. As evidenced from NFWS, it takes time and a commitment from everyone in the organization, and often external help to get to the root of the problem and begin making transformational change. Examining your internal policies and practices with the Opportunity Navigator is an easy first step and if your company is ready to dig deeper, learn how we engage with employers to help make your racial equity goals a reality.