Improving Racial Equity in Your Workplace? Start With Slack

| July 8 2020

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only thing disrupting business in the U.S. in 2020. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless other black Americans at the hands of the police have contributed to what the American Psychological Association has labeled a “racism pandemic.” “The impact of these repeated horrific incidents is inflicting trauma on the broader African American community,” leading to significant mental and physical health consequences, said Sandra L. Shullman, president of the APA.

Companies across the country are publicly committing to improve equity within their own ranks. And while the conversations they’re having are a valuable start, many are overlooking an important source of information about equity among their teams: conversations on collaboration tools like Slack. 


There Are Still Considerable Inequities in the Workplace

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, offers a blunt assessment: “Corporate America has failed black America.” Despite decades of giving lip service to diversity, companies still preferentially interview and hire white applicants, promote non-minorities to leadership roles, and encourage “code-switching” in the workplace. 

On a day-to-day basis, microaggressions by coworkers are one of the major contributors to workplace inequity. Microaggressions are

brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly the culturally marginalized or a racial minority.” 

How can you tell whether your organization is being rife with microaggressions? You can, of course, just ask your employees, as Gallup recommends. 

But you can also dig deeper by paying attention to your company’s internal communications to see—with your own eyes, without relying on self-reporting—what’s really happening among your teams. 


Internal Business Communications Are Increasingly on Slack

Collaboration platforms like Slack were already experiencing substantial, sustained growth—and that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit, sending millions of Americans out of their offices to work at home. Since then, Slack has taken off. Now that teams are dispersed across cities, states, and even globally, coworkers can’t just pop next door to ask a question, check in on a project’s status, or get an update on a colleague’s personal life. Those conversations haven’t stopped happening: they’ve just moved to Slack. 

What that means, as far as racial equity is concerned, is that these previously uncaptured conversations between managers, supervisors, and rank-and-file employees are now reduced to writing, saved within the company’s Slack channels and direct messages. 


Identifying Problematic Attitudes and Behaviors Starts With Slack

Author Stephanie Sarkis, a senior contributor at Forbes, recommends that business leaders “call out microaggressions when you see them. There is no room for microaggressions in the workplace—or anywhere for that matter.” To call them out, of course, you have to find them. Spend some time navigating through the channels in your organization’s Slack. How do your managers interact with employees? Do their words and overall tone change when they are addressing white versus minority employees? Are they more likely to attribute mistakes by white employees to “stress” while labeling those same mistakes as “carelessness” or “inattention” when they’re made by black employees?

When you know who’s saying what and how they’re saying it, you can identify targets for anti-racism training and, if necessary, for personnel decisions. Those targets may be individuals, departments, or even the entire organization. 

To get a complete picture, you need a robust search capability that allows you to investigate not only the public channels within Slack but also your users’ direct messages. You also need the ability to save messages to document your findings. 

Hanzo can help. Our purpose-built Slack application, Hanzo Hold, allows organizations to export, search, and preserve any relevant messages within Slack—wherever those messages can be found. Interested in learning more? We’re hosting a webinar this Thursday, July 9, at 10 a.m. Pacific, on conducting internal investigations using Slack. Registration is available here; if you missed the live event, we’ll have a video replay available on demand on our website

Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, believes that “achieving racial equity in the workplace will be one of the most important issues that companies will tackle in the coming decade.” Are you doing all you can to identify and eliminate inequities and microaggressions in your workplace?


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