The problems of discrimination and oppression have recently risen to the surface of the American psyche as a result of the horrific acts of violence committed against Black and Brown people recorded and shown unfiltered to the public. The videos have caused protests to erupt across the nation. Regardless of where an individual resides on the political spectrum, the unrest is concerning.
The workplace is not immune to events happening in the country.
Despite the expectation for employees to leave their feelings at
home, people can’t unsee what they have seen and become uncaring
robots. An organization acknowledging that bias and discrimination
continue to be a problem in the nation, and therefore in the
workplace, is the first step in addressing the concerns of its
in the Workplace
Healthcare organizations may believe policies and procedures prohibiting discrimination across several conditions address the issues adequately, and nothing else needs to be done. However, just because there is a rule or law in place does not prevent biased or discriminatory acts from occurring.
and bias occur regularly, simply because they are a part of human
nature. Everyone has biases or preferences. From food to cars to
who they choose or not choose to associate with, people act on
preconceived thoughts to direct their actions. Unfortunately,
preconceived thoughts and beliefs about people form biases and often
lead to discrimination. Implicit bias (people acting on the basis of
prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so) is a problem in
the workplace because it affects employees’ careers, retards
innovation, and contributes to an unhealthy workplace environment.
An organization should seek to learn what are the minority employees’ perceptions of the workplace. The question is, how does an organization begin to understand the feelings of employees, specifically minority employees, regarding workplace bias and discrimination?
Listening sessions, frequently dubbed as “Safe Spaces,” can be
held. These are virtual environments where employees can voice their
concerns anonymously and can be a tension-releasing activity for
Companies have found “Safe Space” sessions are usually
overwhelmingly well-received. They create an outlet for
minority team members to 1) recognize they are not alone and 2) learn
how to support each other. At my organization, the need for
this conversation was affirmed by the large number of team members
that participated and that multiple sessions were necessary. The
overarching sentiment of the participants was that the conversation
was a long time coming (being able to talk about race openly).
“Safe Spaces” can be utilized by an organization to begin to talk
about minority employees’ emotional and psychological trauma caused
by repeated exposure to videos capturing violence and aggression
against minority and marginalized people. It is an indispensable
During the discussion, it is critical people are given “permission”
to seek care by naming and describing the psychological effects of
emotional trauma such as:
Shock or denial
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Sense of hopelessness or sadness
Anxiety and fear
A trained counselor or employee assistance program representative
should be made available during and after each session to share
contact information if needed by team members. Having a safe and open forum for employees to express their thoughts and feelings helps
in reducing stress levels.
These sessions can be set up through videoconferencing using software
programs like Webex, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams.
Communication urging attendance needs to be frequent and widespread
throughout all levels of the organization. Regardless of where a
minority sits on the corporate ladder, from the frontline to the
boardroom, it is highly likely they have been in some way affected
(sometimes unconsciously) by recent and ongoing racial events, and
therefore could benefit from participating.
Structured slides and targeted questions are a great way to begin and
maintain the discussion. Participants can engage in the chat
function, and more often than not, they will participate
respectfully. Let the conversation happen organically.
Many people join and participate from a place of learning. There are
two main “categories” of participants, those who just wanted to
know they are not alone and share their thoughts and pain, and those
who want to understand the pain and learn how to provide support.
However, the discussion should be monitored in case it needs to be
These sessions cannot be a “one and done” without follow-up. If the “Safe Space” is not followed up with tangible action, employees may perceive the event as an insincere performative act. The next step is formalizing a committee to put forth diversity and inclusion initiatives.
My hospital has created a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Executive
Council to develop educational modules and videos to help employees
and leaders learn about issues caused by implicit bias and
discrimination. Most organizations have policies and procedures
prohibiting discrimination, but few, if any, discuss bias. Forming a
committee and empowering it to put forth initiatives and programs to
help employees, especially leaders, to acknowledge and begin to
address implicit bias and discrimination is a good place to start.
Racial conversations are difficult and challenging. Passions run deep as well as behavior. Yet still, it is only through acknowledgment and discussion of racial and discriminatory issues can an organization begin to understand the perceptions of its minority employees. Talking about these issues is the first step in the right direction.
America’s strength lies in the diversity of its population.
Prejudice, bias, and discrimination are a part of the human
condition, and it is not surprising they occur within the workplace.
Healthcare organizations should develop strategies to begin the
discussion regarding implicit bias and discrimination happening
around the nation and within the organization. It is a tough
conversation, but a necessary one.