Now that it’s February and all the new year’s articles are out about updates to policy manuals, I am here to remind you that policies are pretty much worthless. They are worse than the mission statements on transparency and integrity that are projected on the lobby wall while people continue to hide things and lie.
There are also a lot of ‘old’ compliance issues that we still can’t seem to get right, even though some of them have been the law since 1964. All you have to do is read the news to see that racism, sexism, religious discrimination, and all the other isms are still alive and, in some places, positively thriving.
But policies don’t change anything. Especially when they sit in a notebook in the bottom drawer or 8 clicks into the employee portal. The only time employees look at this stuff is to figure out when they can take PTO. So, let’s get real.
Everything is on the record.
It used to be that companies would put the EEO posters in the break room and the statements in job ads, then continue to discriminate against anyone who didn’t look and sound like the hiring manager (who looked and sounded exactly like senior management). Few people complained because it was difficult and expensive to get the evidence and the risk was their job or career.
Today, that’s not true. Everything is on the record. I’m sure someone already has done the analysis of organizations based on LinkedIn or payroll data and can tell you exactly who does and does not get hired and where women and people of color are underrepresented. You can figure this out based on ATS data too.
Pay equity is even easier. As the incomparable Sarah Morgan says: “It’s math, people. This is not that hard.” Sure, you have to figure out if it’s actually the “same” work, but organizations have been able to do that for decades with job classifications and pay grades. So don’t tell me you can’t do this.
It has never been easier to find and prove discrimination. It’s right there in the data.
How to Stop Discriminating
HR and organizations simply can’t keep waiting around for someone who is being harassed, passed over for promotion, or eliminated from a candidate pool despite great qualifications to get brave enough to make a claim. This approach just creates an adversarial situation where the organization rises up to protect weasel managers because they are scared of liability.
The legal duty is not to avoid liability. The legal and ethical duty is to create and maintain a discrimination free workplace. So what does that look like?
A. Know where your problems are.Dig into your data. What employee populations or departments have the lowest engagement scores, the highest turnover, the most absences? Figure out where your problems are and then go find out what the hell is going on with that manager or location.
B. Learn how power and resources flow in your company.Discrimination and harassment are fundamentally about power and control. They are about preserving an ego illusion that the people in charge somehow deserve to be there despite enormous privilege and a system that has always discriminated against anyone who doesn’t look or sound like they do.
It’s like watching first class passengers at the airport. Even though someone else is often paying for their tickets, they think they did something to deserve special treatment and expect everyone else to admire their specialness. Give me a break.
But understanding where power lies and how resources are distributed will give you a lot of insight into where the problems are. Look at budgets. Look at what the organization measures and how it defines success. This will tell you what and who the company values.
Then start asking how it can be different. If X is truly important, where are the actual practices inconsistent with that? If engagement, inclusion, and diversity really matter, then companies have to start walking their talk. But the causes are usually systemic practices that nobody even realizes perpetuate the problem. Understanding how power and resources flow will illuminate that.
C. Get rid of the weasels. Really. Even if it’s the boss. Especially if it’s the boss. Okay, I know this is way harder than it sounds because bosses have power. But now you have the proof. See number 1.
D. Protect the victims. Why does the victim always get transferred? Why is the victim’s performance always at issue? If there are credible complaints, then act like they are true instead of finding all the reasons to protect the organization. The real way to handle complaints is to resolve them before they become litigation and get rid of the people and practices that are causing the problem in the first place. Silencing the victims is wrong and just enables the weasels.
Update your policies all you want. Better yet, change your practices and stop discriminating.