Torres: Corporate Anti-Bias Training is Superficial


Madelyn Foulger

(Design by Madelyn Foulger | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Gaby Torres, Opinion Writer


In the past 20 years, movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as fights for rights like same-sex marriage and trans-inclusivity, have stirred people to demand social change. In doing so, they have sparked their own transformations within corporate spheres. With professional occupations making up around 59.8% of the United States workforce, it has become pertinent to make workplaces more inclusive for marginalized groups. Instead of instituting meaningful changes, however, corporations have opted to remain stubborn against such transformations.

Companies superficially incorporate anti-bias training, hiring quotas, human resources memos and advertising campaigns to feign “wokeness” — thereby satiating conscious consumers and mobs of Twitter activists. But when corporations have historically benefitted from the worst forms of oppression, their half-baked attempts at advocacy feel like a slap in the face to marginalized communities. Corporate work culture fails to deconstruct systemic inequalities due to inadequate anti-bias training, faulty standards of professionalism and untrustworthy HR departments.

Drilling Down on Inadequate Anti-Bias Training

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned workplace discrimination in the U.S., at least on paper. Yet, an intentional focus on diversity in corporate America has only recently become an action item in board meeting agendas.

Companies incorporate mandatory diversity and anti-bias training as a standard onboarding procedure only to ensure they don’t fall victim to lawsuits. Every year, companies teach their employees how to give politically correct responses, but research shows that they don’t internalize it. The training employees receive is not enough to transform their implicit biases.

More effective anti-bias trainings exist — like the 12-week program designed by psychologist Patricia Devine — but companies aren’t willing to shell the cost. They would rather maintain their performative practices. Corporations should not claim to be “focused on diversity” just because their employees are forced to click through online modules about how to respect preferred pronouns. Such claims are ultimately lip service when evidence shows no concrete change.

In reality, companies close cases reporting discrimination before ever verifying whether that discrimination has or hasn’t occurred. No Chief Diversity Officer should prioritize statistics for their end-of-year reports over the safety and well-being of their employees. Corporations exemplify the very systems of oppression they claim to be against.

Unpacking Problematic Professionalism

A key component of workplace culture is its standard of professionalism. Each company decides how strictly they want to enforce their standards, usually by defining each item in their employee handbooks. An item they neglect to disclose, though, is how these expectations get weaponized against employees. Specifically, against employees of color.

Dress code standards force a hegemonic standard on how employees should present themselves at work. By disregarding cultural variation in what is considered formal, workplaces reinforce white supremacist ideals one pair of khakis at a time. Only recently has legislation like the CROWN act emerged to protect discrimination against natural hairstyles, although its implementation isn’t widespread. The dialectical standards for professional tone also force Black employees to adopt a “white voice” at work, despite African American Vernacular English being its own independent dialect.

Marginalized communities have spoken out against these discriminatory standards for years. The message is clear — corporate work culture upholds standards of white supremacy by strictly upholding standards of professionalism.

Moving the Needle on Human Resources

In professional workplaces, the human resource department handles any discrimination outlined as a violation of company standards. Yet employees don’t trust their HR departments, and for good reason. Employees don’t feel safe reporting harassment because HR does little to prevent retaliation for reporting. When employees do submit reports and requests, HR departments, such as Amazon‘s, are too backed up to address the issues in a timely manner. As a result, employees are left with no choice but to sue. Amazon just recently handled their own lawsuits for mishandling gender-based and racial discrimination.

HR doesn’t exist for the employee. It exists so that companies don’t get sued. By filling out the right report, a company can skirt legal repercussions for its negligence. No company can uphold its so-called “emphasis on diversity and inclusion” while no one trusts the department responsible for preventing discrimination and inequality in the first place.

Corporate practices not only maintain inequality but actively perpetuate it. Corporations, as a function of late-stage capitalism, will always be unable to fully separate the oppression from the system. However, this doesn’t mean that we should abandon our efforts. Legislation has worked in the past to improve working conditions, and as the times change so do the needs of workers. With the rise of unions and worker’s cooperatives, we can demand the provisions of goods and services that don’t rely on mistreating employees.

Companies need to circle back to their diversity and inclusion initiatives and give 110% to the bottom line — when we value profits over people, employees get discouraged and undervalued. Workplaces must ensure that they abandon the discriminatory practices of their predecessors.


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