What is racial diversity in the workplace?

Last updated:
November 9, 2022
November 22, 2022
min read
Gem Siocon
racial diversity in the workplace
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Many studies sing praise about the advantages of a diverse workforce. But the reality is that plenty of organizations worldwide still struggle with racial discrimination. 

A Gallup survey found that one in four Black (24%) and Hispanic employees (24%) in the U.S. report being discriminated against at work. And racial discrimination has its price. EEOC  receives an average of $112.7 million annually from employers for racial discrimination violations. 

To reap the benefits and avoid penalties, employers must get serious with their racial diversity initiatives. This article will discuss racial diversity, its importance, and how to advocate it in your workplace.

What is racial diversity?

Racial Equity Tools Glossary defines racial diversity as

“the acknowledgment and celebration of differences between racial groups. Diversity recognizes and values differences within as well as between racial identities, noting the intersectionality of many groups, including "ethnicity, gender...age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. It also involves different ideas, perspectives, and values". 

Racial diversity in the workplace is the acceptance and inclusion of employees from all racial identities and racial groups. It means providing equal rights and opportunities for all workers, including those from minorities and underrepresented groups.

Why is it important to have racial diversity?

Knowing some DEI statistics will provide you with insights into why having a racially diverse workforce is beneficial for your company: 

So clearly, racial diversity provides racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace and improves a company’s bottomline. 

How do you advocate racial diversity at work?

Get leaders on board

It's crucial for management to be the top advocates of racial diversity because they’re authorized to make decisions that impact the whole organization. 

To get executive buy-in about racial diversity, talk to your managers personally. Ask them if they have any experiences with inequality or inequity because this gives them a sense of personal perspective and investment in your advocacy. And once they’ve warmed up to this cause, create opportunities for them to promote diversity.

For example:

For example, ask them to be a spokesperson for overcoming racial discrimination or become a mentor to various racial groups in your organization. The more these managers ingrain DEI principles and foster a culture of belonging; the more these values are reinforced. 

Show top executives how investment in racial diversity positively impacts overall business goals. Ensure that you sell or promote the benefits of having a diverse workforce, like higher productivity levels, improved employee engagement, and enhanced creativity. 

Or, using a different approach, highlight the potential repercussions of not investing in having a racially diverse workforce, like discrimination in the workplace. When people feel discriminated against, they’re less engaged and have poorer mental well-being. As a result, they’re inclined to find another employer.

Once you’ve made your case clear, recommend the next steps to take immediately. Take advantage that the ideas are still fresh in their minds to suggest the resources necessary to carry out this strategy.

Be vocal about race in the workplace

In her book Its Time to Talk about Race at Work: Every Leader’s Guide to Making Progress on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Kelly McDonald said that talking about race is a big, complex, layered uncomfortable topic which is why people are reluctant or afraid to discuss it. 

She said that to start a productive, professional conversation about race at work, you have to start small. She suggested six ways to talk about race in helpful ways:

  1. Acknowledge the awkwardness - an excellent way to start a difficult conversation is to admit its difficulty. Acknowledgment validates others’ feelings and removes any awkwardness and discomfort. 
  2. Find common ground - if you only look for it, there is always a common ground. It could be shared values like freedom or the pursuit of happiness. When people agree on shared values, it builds trust. And when you trust someone, you’ll find you can work with these people. 
  3. Express sincere interest - to be genuinely interested, you should be open to hearing and learning from other people’s opinions, experiences, and ideas for improvement. Your intentions should focus on creating a better workplace environment for everybody.
  4. Talk less. Listen more - give your full attention. Ask questions for clarification. Refrain from judging their feelings. Being a compassionate listener makes others feel safe in sharing their true thoughts, feelings, and experiences about race-related issues. 
  5. Respect boundaries - Just as you encourage transparent conversations, don't press anyone to share if they haven’t volunteered to do so. Don’t force people if they feel uncomfortable with the questions or where the discussion is heading. 
  6. Focus on moving forward and solving a collective problem - acknowledge our need to do better collectively and your commitment to doing better personally. As an individual, acknowledge your genuine desire and responsibility in society to do better. Society, as a whole, must admit that inequity exists but what we can do is focus on creating strategies to help change that it and level the playing field. 

Review the hiring process to identify any possible bias

HR teams should also check their recruitment processes to see how they can hire more racially diverse candidates. Recruiters should consider looking at: 

  • The racial diversity in the candidate pool - receiving applications from black, Hispanic, and racial groups 
  • The racial diversity of the hiring panel - get interviewers from different racial groups in your organization to make job seekers feel at ease because they see common ground with the interviewers. It also prevents unconscious bias from happening during job interviews. 
  • The racial diversity of candidates hired - the number of applicants from black, Hispanic, Asian, and other racial backgrounds 

Here are recruitment best practices to have a more racially-diverse workforce:

  • Write bias-free job descriptions - racial bias can unconsciously creep into your recruitment process when you only focus on your staffing requirements. Hence, refrain from using derogatory words and phrases associated with race, ethnicity, and immigrants. And instead of using ‘English native speaker, replace it with fluent in English’ or ‘proficient in English.’ 
  • Use blind resume screening software - Applicant information like name, race, and photo can accidentally influence hiring decisions. Use software to anonymize résumés, so hiring teams assess candidates exclusively on their experience and skills.
  • Diversify members of your interviewing team - even if you have a structured set of interview questions, create a panel of employees from different races and ethnicities. Doing this minimizes biases and helps you assess applicants and their responses from various perspectives.
  • Join diversity-focused job boards and job fairs  - diversity job boards are tailored to candidates from minority communities.

Examples of diversity job boards:

Examples of diversity job boards:

Black Career Network and Black Tech Jobs for African American job seekers, Hispanic/Latino Professionals Association (HLPA), and iHispano for Latinx/Latino applicants. 

These job boards also conduct career fairs. So you can have face-to-face interaction with a larger number of applicants from different racial backgrounds. 

Promote and create training programs for your employees

Upskilling and reskilling can help advance racial equity in the workplace. 

DEI practitioner and anti-racism activist Dr. Nika White noted that racial equity upskilling requires a different approach to providing learning and development needed to address systemic racism.  

She said that it's wrong to assume that everybody has the ability and willingness to start conversations about race and racism. Organizations must create strong environments to foster peer relationships and honest conversations about racial inequities. Build opportunities to hear others’ stories and experiences.  

It's imperative to invest in educating people, especially leaders, because they shape the culture, create policies, and enforce procedures. There should be at least a basic understanding of the issue and skills training to address structural changes that lead to racial inequities. 


Learn more about upskilling your workforce, including the benefits and 5 essential steps.

Read more here

To upskill for racial equity on an individual level, start by practicing active listening. Employees must ask themselves questions about their beliefs and opinions about race and racial equity: governing themselves about anti-racism, challenging systems and processes that cause inequalities, understanding sources of privilege and power and how to use them to become a more effective ally, knowledge of the history of racial inequities and handling racism conversations. 

On an organizational level, here are questions to consider to prepare for upskilling on racial equity

  • Do people of color have decision-making control in my workplace?
  • Does our work culture allow for calling in behaviors that perpetuate inequities?
  • Do we have an organizational anti-racism policy by which we govern our company?
  • Does our DEI training specifically solve for upskilling for racial equity?
  • Is my workplace perpetuating whiteness as part of the culture? How can I respectfully challenge that?
  • Do we have practices that routinely lead to a strong pipeline of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) candidates?
  • Do we acknowledge the inherent power dynamic as a critical construct to understanding racism?
  • Do we have an established shared definition of racial equity?
  • Does our culture allow for practices that help normalize the race and racism conversation?

In addition, Chief DEI officers and specialists need to learn new skills to be promoted to higher roles that allow them to report to CEO and those responsible for organizational changes. 

Dr. Tolu M. Wuraola, the Principal Researcher and Consultant of Magnitude and Consulting, said that HR leaders need additional training to guarantee that their work aligns with racial equity principles.  She told HR leaders must gain competencies in equity literacy, DEI indicators, and facilitation and trust building to develop racial equity skills: 

  • Equity Literacy - gain awareness and understanding of racial equity concepts and how biases and inequities happen
  • DEI Indicators - able to collect, analyze, report, and track intersectional data and use them to create strategies and resource allocation for groups 
  • Facilitation and trust-building - able to hold space for marginalized groups with compassion and intervene when racist conflicts and incidents occur 

Create anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy

Racial discrimination happens in the in the workplace when a policy or rule established by the management places people from a particular racial identity or racial group at a disadvantage. Racial harassment rule or policy set by an employer places people from certain racial, ethnic or national groups at a disadvantage. 

Creating anti-discrimination and anti-harasment policies firmly establishes that discrimination and harassment are not tolerated in the company. It sets the expectations and standards for behavior in the workplace. You should be able to explicitly behaviors that are prohibilited.

Examples could be making remarks, jokes or innuendos related to a person’s race. Or posting or circulating offensive materials that are offensive to a particular racial group. 

In your policy, include complaint procedures that explains how violations will be handled.  Make it easy for employees to lodge their complaints and their concerns should be handled with utmost confidentiality. Conduct a through investigation and settle the issue that is fair and just for both parties.

Doing this helps not only in compliance from employees but also show a greater commitment to uphold diversity and inclusion in the organization. 


A growing number of organizations have come to understand the importance of employing a racially-diverse workforce.

More than meeting minimum legal compliance requirements, these employees play an essential role in higher profits, increased innovation and creativity, and more engaged employees likely to stay longer with the company. 

To have a successful DEI strategy that accepts all racial groups and backgrounds, companies need to apply best practices in creating a workplace that promotes and celebrates racial diversity. 

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