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by Samantha Keefe | August 07, 2020


If your company isn’t thinking about how to increase its diversity and inclusion right now, it might be asking for trouble down the road. Less engaged employees, lower productivity, losing talent to competitors, and even litigation are all serious risks. Today’s cultural and political climate are forcing everyone to learn more and do better.

It's important to understand that having a more diverse workforce can not only be great for corporate culture but also for your company’s products, services, and bottom line. When you have people who differ from each other in many ways, innovation improves—different ideas and perspectives can increase what a company can offers its clients. Also, diversity of thought typically results in more critical thinking about the everyday processes a company uses, and that can also lead to improvements.

If your company is ready to rethink its corporate culture for racism and diversity pitfalls, here are three areas to reexamine ASAP.

1. Recruiting policies and procedures

Your firm’s recruiting policies and procedures may not seem racist, but sometimes it’s what’s missing that creates homogeneous non-inclusive workplaces. You might have a list of schools that you frequently recruit from, but does this list include HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)? Does it include schools with diverse student bodies?

Along similar lines, think about where your company is posting its job openings. If it’s not in places where people from many different walks of life go job searching, then your company is limiting its opportunities. Reevaluate where your company is posting jobs to see if openings can be more visible to a wider audience.

An additional way recruiting and hiring policies might be inadvertently racist is if they favor referrals too heavily. When your company only hires referrals, it’s only hiring workers who are coming from the social networks of current employees. Since many people don’t have particularly diverse professional or social networks, your company may wind up inadvertently hiring people who are all the same race, religion, and gender. The idea behind referrals is great, but unfortunately the effect of relying too heavily on referrals can ensure your workplace is never truly diverse.

2. Anti-nepotism policies

This might be the most obvious of all problematic employee policy areas. Like hiring referrals, hiring family members can result in faster buy-in. When somebody who clearly loves working a company refers a family member, the company will have a better read on who the candidate is and what they can and can't contribute. But, like referrals, nepotism limits opportunities for certain communities.

A good litmus test to see how you’re company is doing with diversity and inclusion is to look around your office (or, if you work remotely, to think about the faces of your coworkers on video calls). Is it a diverse crowd? Or pretty homogenous? If everyone is from a similar race, ethnicity, background, religion, etc., you know that you need to reexamine your policies. When your company hires family members, it’s probably hiring candidates who are less diverse. So, it’s important to think about whether your company needs stronger anti-nepotism policies in its employee handbook.

3. Grooming policies

It might be hard to believe in this day and age, but there are companies that still have policies surrounding grooming and appearance full of quietly racist ideas and language. Hair is commonly a problematic area. Companies might have language that essentially requires white hair: no dreadlocks, afros, or natural hair. If companies require employees with kinky or curly hair to put time every day into “taming” it into something that looks more like white hair, they’re discriminating against their employees (some cities and states have laws against this type of discrimination). Locs, afros, and natural hair are all perfectly professional and groomed. In fact, they may take even more time and care than “conventional, business appropriate hair.”

Another area to consider is clothing and jewelry. Some policies will explicitly or implicitly hold workers back from wearing clothing or jewelry that might have ethnic origins. While companies do want employees to meet certain standards of appearance, especially when client-facing, they also want to make sure they’re not favoring certain ethnicities and nationalities in the styles that they accept. 

A final note

Reexamining policies that limit diversity and inclusion pays off morally and economically. The most successful companies know that their most valuable assets are their people—and that enacting inclusive, tolerant policies is among the best things, ethically and financially, they can do. They know that a more inclusive workforce creates a culture that people want to be a part of—one in which employees will want to work harder and stay longer.

A version of this post previously appeared on MassPay, which offers HR and payroll services and has been in business for nearly two decades, serving thousands of companies across the U.S. Since 2014, it has won spots on the Inc 5000 list and the Boston Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies list.