WASHINGTON, D.C. — When racial justice protests swept across the country last year, hope sprang that the change pushed for on the streets might spill over into the workplace, too.
“Increasingly, the world is getting to be more diverse,” Sandra Timmons, executive director of The Steve Fund, said last year. “This is the future workforce; these are the future leaders.”
However, experts on diversity say that hasn't quite come to fruition at work.
“While we do believe that certainly there's been a lot of good that's been done on by ‘diversity first’ consultancies, that change has not been as sustainable as it should be,” said Lauren Tucker, founder of “Do What Matters,” a consulting firm that helps businesses navigate inclusion in the workplace.
A recent report on diversity in the workplace, from the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, surveyed more than 1,500 working women across the country—more than two-thirds of them were women of color.
It found that 97% of those surveyed feel their employers need to establish better ways to investigate and address discrimination at work.
Among the other findings: 57% of women of color say they hear damaging stereotypes, based on their backgrounds, while they are at work. In addition, 58% say there are no senior leaders of color in their workplace.
Tucker said that’s where so-called, “activist employees” might be able to make their mark.
“Activist employees, in particular, are those who are leaning forward articulating to management what the expectations are,” Tucker said, “and I think we need to understand that those expectations are not just about getting a paycheck.”
It’s also about creating an inclusive environment, where ideas can be freely shared by everyone. Tucker said that starts in company meetings, though, it doesn’t always happen that way as she saw for herself two weeks ago.
“I actually timed how much men talked versus women, and 90% of the talking that was done in that meeting was done by men,” she said.
So, how can all employees help to start a change? Some suggestions include sharing your workplace knowledge with informal networks at work and including a diverse array of co-workers.
As for formal networks, Tucker said employees should get involved in a company’s employee resource group that addresses inclusion. If a company doesn’t have one, she said, employees should consider starting one of their own.
“They have a choice to stay in and lean forward, and a lot of them have activated these groups on their own,” Tucker said. “I mean, it isn't necessarily the employer that's created these groups.”
It’s a focus on diversity that Tucker believes companies should expect to keep seeing.
“What we're seeing is the growth of activism period, both by employees and by consumers,” she said. “And I will say that company leaders who dismiss this activism, company leaders that do not take advantage of listening to these employees, they do so at their peril.”
It is a risk that includes paying a potentially high price to their bottom line.