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How to Look for Systemic Racism When Vetting Potential Employers

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

The current social climate has brought the discussion of social justice and racism to the forefront for many of us. Seeing the world zero in on police brutality and anti-blackness has made us think about how we’ve either been oppressed or have benefited off the backs of the oppressed. The current climate has also forced many companies to release statements on their stances about racism and black lives matter. It is fair, though, to question whether these companies are living up to the façade that they are painting with their statements of allyship.

If not ever before, now is the time for us to evaluate the workspaces we are entering and intentionally vet companies on how much they make anti-racism, diversity, and social justice a priority. I made a simple list of criteria to help evaluate a future employer on their social awareness and impact:

  1. Do they have any press releases or public statements on social issues or social justice initiatives? This is the bare minimum because a company could put out a statement but still be a space of racism and/or anti-blackness. However, when the opportunity to participate is so easy as it is right now any company that chooses not to speak up is a red flag.

  2. What types of community service do they participate in? Community involvement is a huge measurement of social awareness, especially since many corporations get tax breaks from doing service and making donations. You should look to see who they donate to and volunteer with and how often they do it. Also, are they supporting their local community and supporting disproportionately impacted individuals. Smaller businesses may not have the time or resources to commit to consistent community involvement but corporations should have an agenda for community service.

  3. How many people of color do they have in executive roles? This could entail a LinkedIn search as well as a check of their company website as most companies will name their executive staff. If you are looking at a specific department I would then dig further into LinkedIn. Also, look to see if the diversity that is shared on their website is truly representative of the employees that work there. Many companies will feature diversity in front of their pictures or intentionally place black bodies in company photos. I have worked for companies that put every person of color on their website but those individuals represented less than 5% of the company. That distribution was even smaller when looking at the number of black individuals working for the company.

  4. What political campaigns have their CEO donated to? This is a big one. So many people are shocked to hear that their CEOs personally support political campaigns that are rooted in anti-blackness and racism. The reality is they are free to donate to whomever they like. You, however, should be aware of your affiliation to said political campaign from your CEO. The work you do for your company funds the salary and profits that allow CEOs to make such donations.

  5. Read their glassdoor reviews. Yes, some glassdoor reviews are written by angry disgruntled former employees but the majority are from individuals who just want to offer honest and open feedback to the company and to future employees. I once worked for a company who upon doing a mass layoff fired every black leader in the company despite experience and seniority. I think if I had known that upon applying I may have reconsidered my application or at least researched the company further.

  6. If you make it to the interview stage, ask them directly “How has your company incorporated diversity, inclusion, and social justice into your operational practices?” This may seem like a risky thing to ask but if being in an inclusive safe space is a high priority for you then seeking this information is critical in vetting your future employer.

As I write this piece we are still in the thick of Covid-19 and many people have been laid off. Thus it's fair to say in a time like these beggars can’t be choosers. If, however, you can be selective in your search, do it, ask these questions, do thorough research. If you can’t be selective, pay attention to the work environment you’re in and make a list of the things you like and don’t like about your company’s social awareness and activity. Use that as your wish list for your next job or even better your dream job. If you work in predominantly black or POC environments it’s ok to vet those spaces as well. Systemic racism has infiltrated all spaces, not just predominantly white ones.

As a black woman, I spent much of my time trying to find a place in the working world that I never allowed myself to consider if that space was safe and supportive of my blackness. Now is the time to make ourselves and our safety a priority, now is the time to set expectations of anti-racism and anti-blackness, and now is the time to hold others accountable for their complicitness.

You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.

- James Baldwin

Zeinab Kahera M.Ed. is a native of Atlanta, GA and currently resides in Montreal, Quebec.

© Zeinab Kahera Career Specialist. The information contained in our website, blog, guest blogs, e-mails, videos, programs, services and/or products is for educational and informational purposes only, and is made available to you as self-help tools for your own use.

This post first published on Kahde Career Specialist website on June 9, 2020

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