Embedding Racial Equity Into HR Practices

Fall 2020
Wilmon A. Christian III and Brandi Junious

During the COVID-19 pandemic, race has been a recurring if not dominant theme in the national discourse. Instances of anti-Asian racism and the racially disproportionate COVID-19 deaths of Black, Native American and Latinx people have occupied news headlines. In similar fashion, media outlets have rushed to cover racial uprisings occurring throughout the country in reaction to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. While organizations, businesses and institutions have been busy responding to a major health crisis, the nation once again has been confronted with a chronic case of racism. Within this context, postsecondary institutions are challenged with developing inventive ways to resume operations in the fall as they attempt to navigate a reality where social distancing and sustained demands for racial equity and justice have become increasingly normalized.

Indeed, this is a rare and opportune moment for America’s colleges and universities to take stock of their shortcomings in advancing racial equity on their campuses. Such appraisals can lead to campus entities being repositioned to play a more enhanced role in sustaining racial diversity. One way this can be achieved is to encourage campus HR departments to strategically infuse organizational practices with equity concepts, thus amplifying HR’s role in such endeavors. A framework that considers identifying and remediating institutional incongruence; developing tangible, achievable goals informed by on-campus racial realities; and employing bold, rigorous strategic thinking is a step in the right direction.

Institutional Incongruence

Institutional incongruence is when postsecondary institutions or departments promote diversity and inclusion values or statements that are not substantiated by evidence of their implementation on campus. Borrowed from Harper and Hurtado’s (2007) campus climate research, this phenomenon can inhibit racial equity strategy development by encouraging passivity. This occurs when there is a reluctance to go beyond institutionally derived diversity pronouncements to ensure equity within the organization. This is a problem because such statements, often lacking clear-cut outcomes, data and action steps, can be easy to hide behind, thus allowing inequities to persist.

Since incongruence can negatively affect the campus climate for equity and diversity, which in turn can engender inequities in the campus workforce (Greene, Stockard, Lewis, & Richmond, 2010; Maranto & Griffin, 2010; Vaccaro, 2010), HR professionals need to identify where such gaps and disconnects are evident in order to develop targeted strategies. Data on the racial makeup of administrators, staff, faculty and other employees on your campus is a helpful place to begin. HR pros should consider these questions:
Does my institution or department frequently communicate its commitment to diversity and equity, yet employ disproportionately fewer people of color in significant staff, administrator or faculty roles?

  • If asked, would I be able to identify long-term, rigorously executed efforts to recruit, hire and retain such employees?
  • Are there obvious inconsistencies between institutional or departmental rhetoric and on-campus racial realities?
  • Answering these questions is helpful in identifying where incongruence may be occuring, but they are only starting points. The next step is to use this kind of thinking to develop practices that result in more equity within your campus workforce.

Answering these questions is helpful in identifying where incongruence may be occuring, but they are only starting points. The next step is to use this kind of thinking to develop practices that result in more equity within your campus workforce.


How to Identify Institutional Incongruence

  • Does my institution or department frequently communicate its commitment to diversity and equity, yet employ disproportionately fewer people of color in significant staff, administrator or faculty roles?
  • If asked, would I be able to identify long-term, rigorously executed efforts to recruit, hire and retain such employees?
  • Are there obvious inconsistencies between institutional or departmental rhetoric and on-campus racial realities?

Recruitment, Hiring and Retention

As an HR professional, one way to close equity gaps on campus is by developing recruitment, hiring and retention strategies that support racially diverse talent in your campus workforce. These approaches should be multidimensional, providing more equitable opportunities while working to undo damage caused by structural racism and bias in the talent acquisition pipeline.

In evaluating current strategies, consider who is being prioritized, what qualifications are deemed ideal, and how ideologies around talent could perpetuate prejudices, disadvantaging prospective and current employees of color.

One example of how such biases manifest in the recruitment process is favoring a degree from an elite institution over the same degree from a lesser-known school, regardless of the candidate’s performance in their academic program. The preference given to the person with the “elite” education discounts the opportunity gap that students of color face in the college admissions process (Harper, Patton, & Wooden, 2009) and upholds the type of structural racism that is embedded in elitism as a criterion for employment.

Evaluating the language in your job postings and removing these types of requirements is one strategy to ensure applicants are not being marginalized or discounted. Using tools like PRISM, the racial equity hiring platform developed by the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, can also help your institution better identify highly qualified candidates of color and diversify your applicant pool. Merging these strategies with implicit-bias training for your search committees and hiring managers can help eliminate disparities in the hiring process, which reinforce damaging perceptions about people of color that often lead to them being discounted as qualified applicants.

The preference given to the person with the “elite” education discounts the opportunity gap students of color face in the college admissions process and upholds the type of structural racism that is embedded in elitism as a criterion for employment.

The Invisible Workload

This equity-minded approach must also go beyond diversity recruitment and become infused into the way your institution values racially diverse employees. As you are making hiring or promotional decisions, compensation discussions should account for the invisible workload with which many employees of color are tasked as a result of being one of the only persons of their identity in the workplace. For example, consider a Black professor who is the only person of color in their department. They may be asked more frequently to sit on multiple committees as departments seek to convene increasingly diverse groups. They may also mentor more students of color, thereby carrying a greater service load than some of their counterparts (Griffin, 2012). A full appraisal of their workload should inform their salary and serve to guard against pay equity gaps that result from the all-too-common undervaluing of employees of color.
Retention strategies should also be developed through an equity lens and include evaluating feelings of mattering among your employees, creating identity-based groups that allow underrepresented employees to feel supported, and collecting data — disaggregated by race — on pay and career advancement. All of these strategies should be formally implemented at an institutional level and monitored to ensure they are effectively supporting a diverse workforce. Furthermore, as you execute these strategies, establishing ways to assess your results will help ensure your intentions are supported with effort.

As you are making hiring or promotional decisions, compensation discussions should account for the invisible workload with which many employees of color are tasked as a result of being one of the only persons of their identity in the workplace.

Define How Success Is Measured — The SMART Way

One accountability measure that can be used to ensure your plans are adequately implemented and to monitor progress toward change is to set concrete goals around each strategy. Setting equity-minded SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals will ensure you are making real progress and that institutional rhetoric around diversity is being propelled by action. Incorporating each of these elements puts mechanisms in place to identify when success has been achieved and when more resources or support are needed. For instance, a goal to simply hire more faculty of color may not yield the desired outcome because it does not define how success is measured. For this particular undertaking, it would be most helpful to:

  1. make explicit the specific program in which these faculty should be hired (STEM, for example);
  2. include a measurable percentage or number by which STEM faculty of color should be increased;
  3. indicate actions the hiring committee will take to find and recruit them;
  4. articulate the relevance of increasing STEM faculty of color and how you expect this to impact students in a positive way; and
  5. denote how much time it should take to achieve this outcome.

Establishing goals in this manner creates a quantifiable set of benchmarks that provide accountability to your commitments.

Modeled in these examples are approaches that can be used by HR departments to advance campus diversity goals. Comprehensive racial-equity strategies such as these will help HR professionals, leaders and departments move beyond basic required diversity training, empowering them to implement pragmatic plans yielding more equitable campuses. Such practices can position campus HR departments to play stronger roles in sustaining a positive campus racial climate, an advantage for institutions looking to attract and retain racially diverse talent.


CUPA-HR Resources for Racial Equity

21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Suited for individuals or small groups, the
challenge helps HR pros develop effective social justice habits.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Maturity Index

The index measures your institution’s progress on five areas of workforce DEI efforts: Communication and Education, Assessment, Culture, Investment and Infrastructure, and Compensation, Recruitment and Retention.

Black and White Higher Education Workforce Interactive Graphic

The interactive graphic explores the representation and pay
of Black employees across the higher education workforce.


About the author: Wilmon A. Christian III is director of PRISM and the National Equity Network, and Brandi Junious is finance and operations manager, at the University of Southern California.

 

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The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.