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  • Writer's pictureBobbi K Dominick

"Critical Race Theory" & Workplace Diversity

Does your workplace look like this?

Or does it look more like this?

Maybe you don't resonate with either picture. Perhaps your business is in the health sector, or manufacturing. In any case, regardless of the nature of the business, most organizations pay attention to how they are attracting diverse candidates, and how they are treating diverse employees in the workplace. Study after study has shown that focusing upon diversity, equity and inclusion makes good business sense. Consider this quote from a recent SHRM article:

Racial bias in the workplace is annually costing U.S. businesses $54.1 billion in increased absenteeism, $58.7 billion in lost productivity and $171.9 billion in turnover, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Black employees are most at risk for experiencing bias, followed by Latino and Asian-American employees. However, even employees who don't directly experience bias are negatively impacted by observing others being treated unfairly.

So you may have been asking yourself how the current movement to discredit training or education on "critical race theory" may impact these workforce diversity efforts.

The easy answer: It shouldn't.

The more difficult answer:

Employers should examine their efforts and diversity training to assure that the effort is effective. Employers should examine the curriculum of any training programs to assure that the messages are clear and consistent with diversity goals.

First, we must understand what "critical race theory" is and isn't. The phrase is being used in news reports, social media, and sadly, legislatures, to encompass a host of supposed bad intentions. Those who are focused upon "eliminating" critical race theory from our educational systems seek to define the term as an effort to separate out individuals into "superior" and "inferior" race categories, and they define the phrase to mean that training is intended to make one race feel responsible or guilty for the historical treatment of others. Some laws around critical race theory include not only race but also gender, religion, national origin, etc.

The legislative efforts this year seem to be centered around preventing the teaching of "critical race theory" in public schools (many argue that this obscure theory is not taught in schools, but that is another topic).

But last year, the federal government advanced an effort to prevent federal government agencies and contractors from including "critical race theory" in diversity education in the workplace. The executive order that was issued banned teaching concepts such as "white privilege." (note that the intent and effect of that executive order has been effectively reversed by the current administration.)

Despite the mislabeling of diversity education as "critical race theory," many studies have confirmed, and experts have agreed, that efforts that focus on training on unconscious bias, historical and current inequities, and bystander interventions are necessary first steps to advancing equity in the workplace.

Responsible employers should continue their efforts to assure that their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are effective, and making a difference in securing equal opportunity for all.

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