Obama Brings Topic of Race To the Forefront – Is Your Workplace Ready to Handle It?

Sen. Barack Obama’s speech on race yesterday opened up many discussions on this sensitive topic, and the workplace is not insulated from this dialogue. As a result of Obama’s speech, race relations may well be a topic at your water cooler as we speak.

For many reasons, now is a good time for all employers to audit their EEO practices. In addition to avoiding costly lawsuits, employers risk losing talented employees due to workplace bias. According to the 2007 Corporate Leavers Survey, over 2 million managers and professionals leave their jobs every year solely due to workplace bias.

To avoid these significant risks, ensure your workplace has the following basics covered:

1. Policies: do you have a written EEO policy? Does it include all the protected categories including those unique to your state? (In Delaware, marital status and genetic information are protected.)

2. Complaint Channels: do you provide clear complaint channels so that employees know where to go should they perceive they’re being harassed or discriminated against on the basis of their race?

3. Training: training has to be mandatory and should include training on discrimination or harassment based on any protected category. Most larger companies conduct training on sexual harassment, but not other types of discrimination. Your written policies are worthless if no one has read or understands them. Consider separate training on diversity.

4. Reporting Requirements: make sure you comply with any reporting requirements – for example, filing EEO-1 forms depending on the size and status of your company.

5. Commitment from the top: obviously, you can be successful at none of the above without a commitment from the highest level of leadership. We recommend that the President, Executive Director, or highest level executive available introduce any training to demonstrate the corporate commitment.

With these basics in place, hopefully Barack’s speech will generate only positive and constructive dialogue in your office!