This post is part two in our series on Juneteenth National Independence Day. We talk about what employers and employees can do to put a stop to racism at work and create a more equitable workplace. See part one, in which we focused on what employers need to know to be ready for the new holiday.

It’s great that as a nation, we unite to celebrate the emancipation of Black people from slavery in our newest holiday, but we can’t be feeling too comfortable about the state of equality and civil rights a few short weeks after a racially motivated hate crime in which the killer targeted Black people, gunning down 10 innocent shoppers in the outskirts of Buffalo, NY. And, sadly, June 17 marks the seventh anniversary of another heinous hate crime, when a white supremacist shot and killed nine churchgoers attending services in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In enacting Juneteenth as a new federal holiday last year, President Biden noted that “… the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning.” He referred to the “extraordinary capacity to heal, and to hope, and to emerge from the most painful moments and a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, but to make a better version of ourselves.” He said that while Juneteenth is a celebration, it is also a reminder of “the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society.”

In this post, we talk about the status of race in the workplace and offer suggestions for steps that both employers and employees can take to make a more equitable workplace.

The workplace numbers tell the story

“Today the median annual wage for Black workers is approximately 30 percent, or $10,000, lower than that of white workers—a figure with enormous implications for household economic security, consumption, and the ability to build wealth. Black workers make up 12.9 percent of the US labor force today but earn only 9.6 percent of total US wages,”

“Nearly half of Black workers are concentrated in healthcare, retail, and accommodation and food service. The vast majority of Black workers within those industries are in lower-paying service roles rather than professional or managerial roles. The type of pattern produces the wage gap. The median wage for all US workers is around $42,000 per year, but 43 percent of Black workers earn less than $30,000 per year.”

These are excerpts from Race in the workplace The Black experience in the US private sector – This McKinsey  February 2021 report is the result of comprehensive research. It explores Black workers in the private sector in three parts: first, their participation in the entire US private-sector economy; second, their representation, advancement, and experience in companies; and third, a path forward that includes the key challenges to address, actions companies can take, and additional actions for a wider set of stakeholders to accelerate progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). (You may need to register to download the full 71-page report)

  • $54 billion – Cost of absenteeism to U.S. businesses due to unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity in the past year
  • $58.7 billion – Cost of productivity loss to U.S. businesses due to unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity in the past year
  • $171.9 billion – Cost of turnover to U.S. businesses due to unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity in the last five years

The above are excerpts from the 2021 SHRM report: The Cost of Racial Injustice

What employers can do to end racism at work and build a more equitable workplace

  • Make diversity and inclusion a top-line executive priority. Establish annual goals.
  • Issue, post, and reinforce your organization’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies regularly. Here’s a guide for creating an anti-discrimination policy.
  • Mandate anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training annually for both managers and all employees. (Members of ESI EAP can access these trainings as part of the benefit package.)

In addition, here are more recommendations for things employers can do, excerpted from the McKinsey report cited above:

Companies can take a number of actions immediately to address their own workforce and culture. Our research, as well as findings by others, suggest the following no-regrets moves.

  • Define your company’s aspiration for addressing racial equity—including steps to address structural barriers
  • Understand your company’s current state of DE&I, taking into account industry and geographic contexts
  • Strategically prioritize interventions
  • Reinforce what works—and reimagine what doesn’t
  • Track progress to increase accountability—and share successes

Beyond actions by individual companies, a more concerted effort may be required. Companies should consider the following efforts to build broader momentum for effecting system-level change.

  • Share best practices on effective programs
  • Pursue collaborative efforts to galvanize collective action
  • Commit to continued investment and research

Additional Resources:


What individual employees can do to end racism at work and build a more equitable workplace

  • Learn what discrimination and harassment are. Your employer may have trainings you can take.
  • If you see something, say something. Report bullying or harassment that you experience or observe on the job to HR
  • Learn how to be an ally and how to intervene when appropriate. See the links below.

Additional Resources:

  • Understanding racism and how to spot it. The first step in stopping racism is understanding what it is. But that’s not always easy. If you’re not sure what racism is and what it looks like, that’s okay. put together this handy guide to help you.
  • How to support people from different cultural backgrounds – This resource from can help someone you know is experiencing racism; you want practical tips on how you can stand up to racism or support someone experiencing racism; and you want to know your options on helping someone cope with racism.
  • The dos and don’ts to make you an effective workplace ally – Great tips from CPA Canada.
  • The Guide to Allyship – This guide covers topics such as what an ally is, why allies are necessary, dos and don’ts of allyship, how to handle mistakes, and how to make apologies.
  • 10 Things Allies Can Do  (PDF) – an infographic from the YWCA.
  • A guide to bystander intervention on the campus -This guide from the SPLC is designed for college students, but is a great guide for the workplace, too! It covers such topics as why an ally should intervene, four steps from inaction to intervention, the five Ds of bystander intervention, and personal blocks that stand in the way of intervention.

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