Survey: Companies want to talk about diversity, but some employees do not

According to a new survey, 68% of Black HR professionals, compared to 35% of white HR professionals, said their workplace is not doing enough to provide opportunities for Black people. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Prostock-Studio)

Many companies are forging ahead with diversity initiatives, but there is a roadblock that many human resource departments may be overlooking — and many people don’t want to talk about it.

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Virginia, found that 37% each of Black and white employees are uncomfortable with the idea of conversing about race at work. In addition, 43% of U.S. workers believe having these conversations at work to be inappropriate altogether.

“The reality is, if you’re a day over 35, your parents told you don’t talk about religion, race and politics at work, so you’ve been socialized and taught not to have those very uncomfortable and awkward conversations,” said Society for Human Resource Management president and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

“It’s about avoiding conflict, and we’re now talking about managing conflict,” Taylor said.

SHRM said the survey findings on the reluctance by some employees to discuss racial issues are no excuse for companies not to find ways to have those conversations.

“Black workers are 13 times more likely than white workers to report unfair treatment at work — 13 times, not one or two,” Taylor said. “Black workers are five times more likely to say racism exists at work.”

Despite the employee survey results, SHRM reports 70% of HR professionals say such discussions are appropriate at work, and 80% of organizations are making or plan to make statements on racial justice right now. But 67% have not gathered the thoughts of their workforce on racial injustice.

Also according to the survey, 68% of Black HR professionals, compared to 35% of white HR professionals, said their workplace is not doing enough to provide opportunities for Black people.

SHRM recently announced a new Blue Ribbon Commission on Racial Equality with HR and business leaders to drive actions and find solutions. It is part of its Together Forward @Work initiative, which includes new research and resources online for HR managers formulating company diversity initiatives.

“The website is critical for everyone. Not just HR people, in fact especially not just HR people. We’ve got to teach people how to have these conversations,” Taylor said.

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