Combatting racism in the workplace - positively.

What tips and strategies can I share on how employers can cultivate a workplace that combats racism and inspires diversity and inclusion?  I'm glad you asked.

I approach these issues from a behavioral perspective – assuming MOST people are good.

The key to getting the workplace culture you want – is to ACTIVELY reward the behavior you want and redirect the behavior you don’t want – to the behavior you do want and then – positively reward the good behavior.

Most people respond really well to this. Most people want a workplace culture to change. Whether the problem is racism, sexism or just plain old fashioned bullying – most people want to work in a supportive work environment.

Managers and leaders – need to set up systems where positive supportive behavior is noticed and encouraged and rewarded. For example: in meetings, maybe – people who give space for other people to talk – can be acknowledged and thanked for helping to make sure everyone is included ad heard.  Rewards don’t have to be monetary,  often it is enough – to just thank the person for being a good person.

What should you do if you are in a meeting and someone says something inappropriate?  Delta, redirect, positively reinforce.  Issue a delta – which is just – stopping and resetting what is going on.  No judgement – just – let’s reset. Redirect means – the reset is a restatement of cultural expectations that everyone is included and treated with dignity within the organization. Disagreements are to be professional, not personal. Then let the person who misstepped – correct themselves. Then immediately thank them and give them props for a successful and professional reset.

This should work with MOST employees as most employees mean well – but may have biases and habits that are not appropriate anymore and have to be relearned. But this doesn’t mean it will work with everyone.  The reality is – some people – are white supremacists and will not change. Those people – once they surface – have to be fired. There is not way to create a professional workplace where everyone is included when one of your employees (or more) is actively working to counter that ideal.

How will you know?  It will be hard at first. Whenever you create cultural change or behavioral change in a group, people will resist it. But if you keep positively reinforcing it and don’t ever allow the “old ways” that were – honestly – rather racist AND sexist – from working – eventually – most people will get on board and start responding positively to the positive reinforcement of the new norms.

Expect some resistance. Change is hard. But here is the key to finding and eliminating people who are actively racist/sexist. Consistency. Most people resist, and then change and embrace what they are positively reinforced for doing. Racists/sexist – will resist, then resist more, then resist more – and eventually will be super overt in their anger and resistance when racism and sexism stops working for them and they are no longer able to control group dynamics by excluding certain people.  Those are the people you need to fire. 

A lot of times, this is where companies fail. They think the racist/sexist is too important to the success of the organization to let go – and so – they allow it to continue. Racists/sexists are harming your productivity and your organization will be WAY more effective if you eliminate the people preventing your other employees from contributing.

So – positively reward the behavior you want. Delta, redirect then positively reinforce stumbles. Fire anyone who refuses to change.

I do have training on a lot of these topics – from a behavioral perspective.


  1. Jennifer I have been a subscriber for many years and I can't think of anything you have said that I disagree with. So again today I felt myself nodding in agreement. "... racism, sexism or just plain old fashioned bullying – most people want to work in a supportive work environment." Check! "Delta, redirect, positively reinforce" Check!"most employees mean well – but may have biases and habits that are not appropriate anymore" Check!
    But then you let your lefty bias take over by singling out white supremacists. Why just them? And no, before you take the knee-jerk reaction of dismissing me as one of them, I'm not. I'm a libertarian. My objection is to the arrogance of the assumption that any atheist should also automatically subscribe to a left-wing view on everything.

    1. Thanks. I'm not sure why you took issue with the statement, "the reality is – some people – are white supremacists." That is a factually true statement. Some people - are white supremacists. In an essay about racism in the workplace - it makes sense to address that reality and offer advice on how to identify and deal with that reality in the workplace. I was clear - most people are NOT white supremacists and can relearn biases. But it's silly to pretend that white supremacy doesn't exist and that they don't negatively impact their workplaces. Because - they do. (and yes - negatively impact is a moral judgement and my morality is explicitly - Humanist).

      2nd. This is an explicitly Humanist blog. I am quite aware that not all atheists are Humanists. And that's perfectly fine. I am fine with people being who they want to be and am aware most libertarians disagree with some elements of Humanism. And that's fine too. But - THIS is a Humanist blog and the opinions are going to be openly and unapologetically - Humanist. It's silly to complain that a Humanist blog posts Humanist ideas and not exclusively - atheist ideas or your preference for libertarian ideas. I am NOT a libertarian. I am a Humanist. It's totally ok that you - as a libertarian don't agree with everything I write as a Humanist.

      3) Racial superiority ideologies are anti-human and therefore anti Humanism. Of course I am opposed to supremacy ideas. And will speak out about them as a Humanist. And this is absolutely relevant to a conversation on racism in the workplace.

      Again - thanks for writing.

  2. PS - Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life - per the AHA definition. Not all atheists are progressive - but Humanists - are progressive. And hence - what you perceive to be "left wing bias." I am curious how you would deal with an open white supremacist in your workplace?

    1. I would deal with open racism of any flavour much as you suggested in your excellent blog.
      I knew that leftists were trying muscle in on the AHA but I didn't realise that they had won. I left them many years ago for this very reason. But I'll concede defeat gracefully. What a pity that in such an arena narrow-mindedness has prevailed.

    2. - John - read this - it was the first Humanist Manifesto from 1933 I believe. It's openly socialist. AHA has become LESS socialist over time and more capitalist over time. Leftists' didn't muscle in - they were the founders of the movement. The movement has mellowed over the years and become - more centrist if that makes sense. But it's still apologetically - progressive. It's just - no longer socialist. Read Humanist Manifesto III -

  3. I suppose I no longer really belong here so I have no right to attack progressivism if that is a cornerstone of your philosophy.

  4. I have no problem with you attacking progressivism. Totally ok. What I was responding to is that you didn't think it was ok for a Humanist to be
    a Humanist. Progress is an integral part of Humanism and it surprised me that you didn't think it belongs on a Humanist blog. Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life and always has been. When the first groups were formed in the 1930s - their manifesto - was about progress. It's not a NEW thing. The AHA wasn't infiltrated by "leftists." It's literally the DNA the Humanist philosophy. You might want to go back and read the Humanist Manfestos. If you are atheist - but not Humanist or only partially humanistic - that's all fine. There is no one right way to be. Just - don't ask a Humanist - to not be a Humanist because - you don't like certain aspects of the philosophy.

  5. The 2nd part of my response was you accused me of being arrogant for assuming any atheist should hold left wing views. And I've literally never said anything of the sort because I don't think all atheists should be anything. I believe in freedom of thought and belief. Anyone can believe or value whatever it is they want. It's no business of mine. I am fully aware that there are atheists who are not Humanists. Atheists are like any other group of people - there is a wide variety of thought. You - are a libertarian and that's totally ok with me. Just - don't ask me to - be a libertarian too. Because - I'm not. I'm for liberty. But I'm fundamentally - a Humanist.

  6. OK I read the Humanist Manifestos. You're right. My bad. I wish you well and will continue reading your blogs for their fundamental good sense:)

    1. Yay! FYI - I love having discussions and feeling around the edges of those things - so don't hesitate to call me out if you think I need it. No way to correct myself if I don't get corrected.


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