Moving Racial Equity from Lip Service to Action

During Black History Month, many employers publicly assert their commitment to racial equity. And yet too many leaders are failing to shift mindsets and implement the policy and practice changes necessary to transform racist systems. Without action, corporate REI statements ring hollow and perpetuate continued inequities.

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, empty promises and performative measures are not enough. In the healthcare industry, frontline workers are understaffed, demoralized, and exhausted. This is particularly true for Black workers, who are disproportionately represented in low-wage patient-facing roles that put them at greater risk of COVID exposure, more likely to know someone who has died from the virus, and navigating the emotional turbulence of the fits and starts of a national racial reckoning. They also remain unemployed at twice the rate of white workers, with lower incomes and far less family wealth.

Policies to exclude Black workers from workforce development opportunities writ large, and medical careers specifically, was and is intentional; we must be just as deliberate and explicit in efforts to dismantle the racist practices embedded into our healthcare institutions. Systemic racism is a complicated web that takes determination and persistence to unweave. But it is also important to note that these systems do not actually benefit healthcare employers or their patients in the here and now.

For instance, unjust practices throughout the criminal justice system have disproportionately impacted Black and non-Black people of color for centuries. Subsequently, policies that limit education and career opportunities for people with arrest or conviction records disproportionately apply to people of color and are widespread throughout healthcare. Given the worker shortages crippling healthcare organizations, reexamining hiring practices to eliminate barriers for people with criminal records could advance racial equity and increase your ability to serve at-need communities.

For other ideas about how your company can meaningfully correct racial disparities in the workplace, see the Advancing Workforce Equity Reports. The reports draw upon disaggregated data and the transformative power of local leadership, design, and influence in five U.S. regions that are poised to put racial occupational segregation research into action. Here are a few recommendations from the Boston report – see the whole series for more:

  • Expand apprenticeship and secure public financing for social programs that support workers of color.
  • Encourage public policy solutions that result in more good jobs and expand investments in child care, housing, and transportation — all with racial equity at the center.
  • Transition to skills-based hiring.
  • Invest in robust data collection and reporting systems to uncover inequities, track progress, and drive change.

Melissa Kleder

-- Program Manager, National Fund for Workforce Solutions