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STRICTLY Q&A

Watch: An expert panel offers advice on how to build antiracist companies

  • Heather Landy
By Heather Landy

Editor of Quartz at Work

How can companies invite Black employees into more discussions without tokenizing them? Can you develop an inclusive culture at a workplace that hasn’t prioritized it before? What can be done about fatigue on the part of employees who regularly play an activist role on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues?

From early-stage startups to large corporations, curiosity about how to build an antiracist company abounds. At a Quartz at Work (from home) workshop on the topic on June 11, the live audience had far more questions than our expert panel could answer in the hour allotted. So on Aug. 13, we brought our panel back. Access the complete video replay of the workshop by clicking on the large image above. (The recording of our earlier session on the topic can be found here.)

The panelists fielded a range of questions, from the philosophical to the tactical. Read on for a recap featuring some of their actionable advice.

The panelists

  • Lyndon Taylor, managing partner for the diversity and inclusion practice at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles;
  • Melissa Theiss, vice president of operations and executive sponsor of D&I at Quorum, a software firm that is sharing its playbook on diversity with other small companies through its Path for Progress initiative;
  • Nadia Owusu, an associate director of the racial economic justice organization Living Cities and a columnist who writes about the experiences of women of color in the workplace.

Tips for the start of your workplace’s DEI journey

Dave in our audience asked:

Through my research and conversations, one consistent in order to have DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] success is through diverse representation. If you’re a company today that isn’t diverse, you can’t just hire a bunch of people from diverse backgrounds overnight. How do you bridge that gap, which could take years [to fill]?

Taylor’s advice: “Have a plan.” Start by identifying the areas of greatest need for more diverse representation, he says. Then determine if “there [are] functions and roles where you can think about being intentional about building diversity into succession planning in those roles.”

And remember, Taylor says, “On day one, every organization can start by making sure they have a culture of inclusion … such that when we add diversity to the organization, we’ll be open to it and be able to retain that diverse talent.”

Further reading from Quartz:

Tactical advice about hiring

Camilla asked:

Do you recommend any low-hanging-fruit tips to enact in the hiring practices? Things like “blind resume reading” or similar tactical things that are easy to start implementing tomorrow?

Theiss’s advice: Draft a candidate profile for every job opening, documenting what you are hiring the person to accomplish and what competencies they need to possess. Having a strong understanding of those things “broadens your perspective on the diverse background of candidates who could successfully fill the position,” she says.

Her other recommendations:

  • Offer training in unconscious bias to anyone who will be tasked with interviewing candidates;
  • Have the interviewers ask all candidates the same questions;
  • Make sure the interview questions you are asking map back to the goals and competencies articulated in the candidate profile for the role;
  • Steer clear of culturally biased questions that require a particular cultural lens to be answered correctly.

Further reading from Quartz:

Other burning questions

How can workplaces include Black employees’ voices without tokenizing them? Owusu advises asking people what they want to talk about, and to give them room to do so in their own voices, rather than just requesting that they take part in conversations about things that other people want to talk about.

What’s the best way to handle microaggressions in the workplace? Theiss and Owusu both recommend establishing norms where people can openly, respectfully identify microaggressions when they encounter them, perhaps by saying “ouch” or responding to an instant message with a yellow flag, and have a system for how and when those moments can be circled back to and addressed, perhaps in the presence of a moderator.

What about the fatigue issue? It’s a real concern. “We anticipate that over time individuals and organizations could start to feel fatigue, and quite frankly there might be some backlash to that,” Taylor says. One strategy for offsetting this is to focus on creating safety for everyone involved. “As you’re thinking about the dialogue,” he says, “make sure it’s in a way that everyone can show up and everyone can share their thoughts and grow and develop in a way that’s not judgmental toward them.”

Further reading from Quartz:

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