How to Achieve Leadership Accountability With a “Karen” or “Ken” on Your Team

You publicly committed to creating an organization that rejects racism and embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion. The problem is, however, not everyone is on board. There are leaders within your organization who are making it hard to achieve the results you hoped for. These leaders, often referred to as the “Karens” and “Kens” of the world, are imparting their biases and racist behaviors on People of Color in particular, and you’re ready to put an end to it.  

First, because racism impacts nearly every facet of our society, it will show up in your workplace over and over again. When you choose to combat it by implementing the following steps and procedures, over time its presence can be handled. Rather than anger and disillusionment, racist incidents and issues can be handled swiftly and confidently so their impact will no longer affect the culture and success of your company. 

Here is how you create consensus around dismantling racism in order to build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace. 

Clearly define your organization’s position.

When it comes to dismantling systems of racism within your organization, it is essential that team members and leaders at every level are made aware of the company’s position on racism and issues related. This requires that leaders clearly define the organization’s position on racism and their plan for combating it both inside and outside the workplace. 

Ask yourself, how are you promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace? How does this translate to the communities you serve? What impact is your organization committed to having in elevating People of Color and providing them with equitable opportunities to succeed?  

When your position and goals are clearly defined and understood by everyone within your company, it creates a safer space for People of Color to thrive, and allows for those in leadership positions, ie. Karen and Ken, to be held more accountable for actions that might counteract the progress you’re making. 

Create space for dialogue.

One of the most powerful tools people have in combating racism is their voice. Create a workplace that encourages people from different backgrounds to exchange stories and ideas. The more exposure people have to one another, the more empathy and understanding they develop, and the less their conscious and unconscious biases will show up in their actions. 

While encouraging your workforce to engage in healthy dialogue, it is equally if not more important to give people in your organization opportunities to speak out against aggressions they either experience themselves or witness amongst coworkers. 

As we mentioned before, racism is deeply rooted in our society and therefore it is inevitable that there will be situations in which people are treated unfairly because of their appearance or identities. When these situations occur, there must be a safe place people can go to report racist behavior, regardless of the perpetrator’s position in the company. 

Build a diverse team of effective leaders.

While some progress has been made in diversifying company leadership, People of Color still represent a small statistic of corporate leaders. Black professionals, for example, represent only 3.2 percent of all executive or senior leadership roles. A lack of representation in leadership does not have to be the case for your organization. In fact, if your company is serious about its commitment to dismantling systems of racism, then a lack of representation in leadership in your organization simply cannot be the case.

Leaders play a big role in upholding workplace culture, whether that culture is steeped in racism or proudly embracing diversity and equity. The more representative your leaders are of the people they work with and the communities they serve, the more successful your organization will be in upholding your company’s values. 

In the event that there is a racist leader making decisions that negatively impact the careers and lives of your employees, there must be other leaders in place holding them accountable and speaking out on behalf of your workforce. This is more likely to happen when the leaders themselves are representative of the employees they manage. 

Accountability can further be achieved by encouraging direct feedback between managers and employees, implementing anonymous feedback surveys that allow employees to express their concerns, and using Diversity Scoreboards to track diversity and equity in hiring, promotions, and pay raises across the organization. 

The more leaders you have that are committed to abolishing racist behaviors in the workplace, especially from other leaders, the more successful your organization will be in fostering an inclusive work environment. 

Develop a DEI council.  

Build a council of diverse leaders from various departments within your organization who are responsible for upholding diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace. These leaders can be responsible for weaving DEI into your company’s mission and vision, regularly reviewing results, and providing feedback and suggestions for supporting a more inclusive workplace. 

If your company is either under-resourced and therefore unable to build a DEI council, or you have a council in place and the problems still exist, you can bring in a DEI expert. A DEI expert will likely audit your workplace, discuss strengths and weaknesses when it comes to DEI, and provide constructive feedback with strategies for developing a culture of accountability. Bringing in an expert will also build trust with your employees by showing them how important dismantling racism is to you. 

Hold problematic leaders accountable. 

When leaders spend long periods of time in positions of power, they can become complacent and more resistant to change. Employees may feel that long-standing leaders are untouchable, and therefore may be reluctant to share information about racist encounters. Instead, they may feel more comfortable finding work elsewhere, which can ultimately hurt your ability to retain diverse talent

To mitigate the issue of racist leaders in the workplace, there must be steps in place to hold them accountable. Therefore, ensure that your organization has a whistleblower policy in place that protects employees who come forward to report racist behavior. More importantly, be sure that every person in your organization is aware that this policy exists, and how it protects them should they choose to speak up. 

How you address the “Karens” and “Kens” of your organization will determine the success of your commitment to combat racism in the workplace. If leaders are not held accountable and faced with strong consequences, you can expect that many people inside and outside of your organization will also take your commitment lightly. 

How are you increasing leadership accountability in your organization?

While you’ve taken the steps to build a more equitable workplace, it’s time to get your leaders on board.  Learn how our team can evaluate your company’s progress and help you build greater consensus around DEI. 

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