From Charity to Justice: How employees can help

It’s 2020 and the Black community is still waiting for equality of rights, as the recent events show us. We are now witnessing the unprecedented birth of a much needed nemesis-like movement against Racial injustice. 

Historic in its action and reach, movements like Black Lives Matter paved the path for a global action around DEI (diversity, Equity and Inclusion). 

One thing we can say for sure- the social movement for ensuring racial justice is much stronger today than ever. America stands at the fore-front of a global movement, and the world is watching.

Creating sustained progress: Small acts, big changes 

As awareness and participation around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion grows, more and more people are joining the cause and believe in the essence of what DEI stands for. But the dilemma that haunts many, is that what does it mean to be an advocator of Racial Equality? Or maybe the right question to ask is how do you, as an individual, can contribute in meaningful ways for the cause of Racial Justice? 

Many organisations support the cause of racial equality today. It’s almost as if we are seeing an awakening happening among Americans, who are finally facing the racial inequality that pervades life- like in health care, housing, and employment, etc.

For example, according to a Pew Social Trends Study, 48 percent of White people now say the bigger problem is people overlooking discrimination rather than seeing it where it doesn’t exist (52 percent). 

These numbers speak volumes about the kind of work that still needs doing for America as a country to see what’s so glaringly obvious to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color, and charity alone can not be the answer. 

Our engagement with the glitches of Racial Equality are an everyday affair, and need a plan of action that addresses it’s omnipotent existence. The momentum today is strong, but to realize the progress being promised, it needs to be sustained in the months and years ahead. It sounds harder than it is to do so. 

Small changes in the way we interact with our everyday environments can make huge differences. Small acts over a long time become behaviours, and shape the mood for coming decades. And starting now, we need to be on the right side of history by actively communicating and embodying values that promote racial equality. 

The need of the day is to touch the problem at its power house, and a good way to do that is to normalise DEI in spaces we spend most of our time in- workspaces.

Racial Equality and Workspaces 

The Society for Human Resource Management's recent report, The Journey to Equity and Inclusion, found a need for more awareness in the workplace about racial inequality:

Almost half of Black HR professionals (47%) said they do not feel safe voicing their opinions about racial justice issues in the workplace, while only 28% of white HR professionals say the same. Black and white workers generally agreed, however, that discussions about race can be uncomfortable.

Moreover the lack of inclusion and diversity is an ongoing challenge even at the leadership levels, even in the nonprofit sector.

The Diversity Gap in the Nonprofit Sector tells us that “87 percent of all executive directors or presidents were white, and that there was only minimal representation of African Americans (6 percent), Asian Americans (3 percent), and Hispanics (4 percent) in those positions.” 

To add perspective to that, in 2017 Fortune magazine indicated that White men account for 72 percent of corporate leadership at 16 Fortune 500 companies. Furthermore, according to Diversity Jobs, 68 percent of C-level positions are held by White men, 19 percent by White women, with men and women of color representing the balance. The numbers are even worse for the LGBTQ community.

It’s a strange realisation that both corporate and nonprofit leadership spaces are almost identical in their lack of Racial representation. It makes one wonder what is it then, that we need to break a trope as solid as this-? Probably a change from within. 

What employees can do to help 

The act of giving to charity, or being charitable, typically comes from “a good place”, but people must become more conscious of how charity, however well-intentioned and implemented, may not create transformative change.

Transforming charity into solidarity and justice is simpler than it seems. As an employee, there are many ways to help create environments that foster racial equality, without having to well, pick a tiff with a friend or get into situations you find uncomfortable. Slow and small changes in how you interact with your surroundings can create huge differences:

Building connection and community

People do their best when they feel a sense of belonging, and one of the easiest ways of doing that is to check in on your colleagues. Recent events like that of police brutality, or even a random, disturbing occuring that happened in someone's day can sometimes leave conversations about race-related topics notoriously anxiety-provoking. 

One of the ways in which employees may navigate these feelings, is by avoiding conversations about the protests and then missing out on ways to show support to their colleagues. This is further amplified by the fact that so many companies are now mostly, or entirely, remote due to the pandemic, making it harder to normalize conversations. 

Having conversations around Racial Equality with colleagues that you might not be close to can seem weird at first. But a simple check in about if they’re doing okay after a morning of, say, stressful news events, can go a long way in showing solidarity with the cause at large. 

Keep the conversation going 

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about race. There is no denial of the fact that some situations escalate quickly, and it seems like the safest thing to do is to not have some conversations at all. Somewhere, somehow, we’ve been conditioned not to mention someone’s race, which has also made the topic virtually taboo at work. 

However, talking about race can also work like a badge of honor. These are specific identities that people relate to, and encouraging people to talk about their differences in the positive light can go a long way.

Share stories

Apart from conversations, employees can show their solidarity and join the voice of the DEI movement by showing support on social media. Talk about your experiences and observations. Listen to people’s stories, share them with your circle and have healthy conversations around them. In an age like ours, information travels through the domino effect. A single shout out for a cause you care about is one step away from a thousand more people seeing it. 

Volunteer Virtually 

Doing good is easy when you care. Non-profits around the world are moving (and specially since COVID-19) their volunteering programs online. You can directly help a nonprofit working with a cause close to your heart from the comforts of your home. You can help them come back on their feet and create significant meaning in someone’s life by dedicating as little as a couple of hours a week volunteering virtually. 

Keeping the spirit of Racial Equality, virtual volunteering is a significant addition to the ways in which you can contribute to the DEI movement at large. 

The road from charity to justice, and inequality to equity is a long one. But the only way to reach the other side is to keep moving forward. We can’t allow the momentum to stop or even slow. Each of us have our small yet significant parts to play. As John Lewis says in Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America:


“We must accept one central truth and responsibility as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

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