Turning Good Leadership into Good Policies

Leaders doing the personal work of educating and combating racism is the first step to leading an anti-racist business, but it only marks the beginning. Companies must address systemic issues through explicit, objective, and continual policy reform in order to move the needle to true workplace equity and fully embrace the DEI statements that they have created and shared amongst stakeholders. Like Natasha Lamb, managing partner of Arjuna Capital, says, “If you take an honest look at corporate America, outside their glossy diversity reports, structural bias for women and people of color remains as entrenched as ever.”

Tell-tale signs that your organization has some work to do is if there is a presence of wage gaps, all-white leadership, and recruitment and retention problems of employees who are black or other people of color. There is a plethora of policy reform to be done in the private sector, but at Canopy, we like to focus on four distinct parts of a good business: Leadership, Culture, Governance, and External Impact.

We acknowledge that when change happens, it can be pressured by the bottom (employees), but it must be accepted and championed by the top (leaders.) It is important to take your company’s informal practices and make it into written policy, this way it can be referenced and shared with your organization. Canopy Certified policy suggestions on company leadership include:

On a daily basis (but especially in times of high tension or extreme current events) leadership should be available and responsive to employees.

Why: Employees are turning to leaders for company direction, response, and support. That starts with having a presence that is accessible and timely. To build relationships of trust, be present year-round, not just in a stressful climate.

Examples: Working in an open office where people are physically accessible, an open-door policy, scheduling one-on-one meetings, company town-halls, meetings for feedback, electronic communication in a timely manner, and/or company wide messaging.

Practicing transparency through sharing information with all employees.

Why: In business, decisions are always being made. The first question your people will have is “why?” By being open and honest, employees will either understand, have the information for constructive conversation, or have the ability to hold the organization accountable.

Examples: Sharing company goals, issues, and progress on DEI, sharing vision and mission, explaining decisions and decision-making, practicing pay transparency, sharing project results, sharing strategic planning, and/or sharing company financial performance.

Soliciting employee input on company matters.

Why: As a company that embraces DEI, you will see better results by including a diverse range of opinion, making your employees feel included and empowered, and getting to the heart of equity that may be glazed over if the advocacy of others is not present.

Examples: taking employee input on benefits, business strategy and objectives, company goals and values, compensation incentive plans, hiring, new initiatives or strategies, business operations, social and environmental goals, and/or work environment

Incentivizing DEI by tying improvement to leadership performance reviews or compensation.

Why: Like all individuals, leadership can be motivated by success and recognition. Many business leaders are evaluated on the company’s financial performance, but if we are elevating DE&I, it makes sense to incentivize it, also.

Examples: Holding leadership accountable to DE&I progress on the company’s chosen metrics, EEO representation, employee engagement, employee retention, and/or social and environmental metrics (in this case, we highly suggest that community impact revolves or benefits black communities.)

Leaders are active participants involved in the community.

Why: Business leadership wields a lot of influence, both internally and externally. Consumers and community members prioritize integrity and trust. Being an active member of your community will help inform you on community issues, build community partnerships, and show your employees that you truly care.

Examples: Attend community events, leaders familiarize themselves with local black businesses and community members, participate in city council meetings, respond to local needs, serve on nonprofit boards, volunteer company space, and/or volunteer their time.

Developing direct reports and future leaders.

Why: As a leader, you have a lot of experience, skills, and gifts that you can pass along to help develop your employees and future leadership. Chances are that once upon a time, someone also invested into you. One of the most severe issues of racial injustice in the workplace is glass ceiling black professionals face when advancing their career. So when developing employees, ask yourself “Who am I investing into? Who do I advocate for when they are not in the room? Is it only people who look like me?

Examples: Advocacy, appraisal, bonding, individual development plan, introduction to professional network, mentorship, one-on-one meetings, recognition, shadowing, sponsorship*