Negotiating for Equity in the Workplace

Negotiating for Equity in the Workplace

Program Types

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is not a buzz phrase that companies adopt simply to look good. In its truest sense, it is a culture, a workplace way of life where people — regardless of race, gender orientation, ethnicity, religion, age and abilities — enjoy fair access to resources and opportunities for hiring, promotion, engagement and recognition.

But while diversity initiatives in the workplace, such as training or communication, are becoming prevalent, representation of marginalized backgrounds hasn’t improved much in the organization and in leadership roles.

What needs to change to create and support racially inclusive workplaces? How do we get leadership buy-in to make these changes?

The recent civil unrest triggered by racial injustice in the US, which has inspired worldwide protests, turned race into an even more pressing yet difficult topic for conversation. Suddenly, there’s a swelling pressure for companies to no longer remain silent, to finally strike these conversations and make a stand.

This article seeks to:

What Needs to Change?

Review the hiring, development and promotion process

There’s no doubt that ample diversity training and communication efforts are in place within companies that aim to boost equitable hiring, development and promotion processes for all candidates and employees. It’s a tangible means to attract talents to the company.

But the level of implicit bias on these processes also determines the level of employees’ engagement and how effective the companies’ retention program is. When implicit bias is found to be a roadblock towards creating inclusive workplaces, then it’s time for companies to address them through more strategic measures, such as the following:

Conduct Pay Equity Audits

Pay audits enable employers to determine whether pay disparities exist and if there’s a need to improve equity. So what are these circumstances, unintended or not, that result in discrepancies in pay? Here are some scenarios.

  1. A company might offer a new hire a better compensation package than existing employees in comparable positions due to a tight labor market. This instantly results in a pay disparity.
  2. A male hiring executive might dictate a higher pay for a male candidate than his female counterpart for the same position.


There are discrepancies, such as in the case of the first scenario, that can have acceptable justifications. But there are discrepancies, such as in the second scenario, that are clearly discriminatory in nature subject to the provisions of the Equal Pay Act.

In case of negative findings, pay equity audits can protect employers from future litigation through the attorney-client privilege, which can limit the risk of intended or unintended disclosure of such findings. Most state laws have now expanded the fair-pay requirements of the Equal Pay Act to cover not just gender but also race and other characteristics in pay considerations.

Lastly, a pay audit helps determine the concentration of pay disparities if they exist — whether they are limited to a specific portion or portions of the employee population, such as a business office or branch, department, or pay band.

Cultivate a safe space for feedback and difficult conversations

Creating healthier work environments means providing employees with a safe space for challenging conversations and feedback exchange. Inclusive workspaces are defined by how much employees feel valued, supported and encouraged to speak up about things that matter, no matter how difficult they are, without fear of retaliation.

The topics of race and racism are examples of a difficult conversation. They often trigger strong beliefs and emotions about equity and inclusion. Here is where good negotiation and conflict resolution skills play an important role. But if respectful relationships are well established in the workplace, difficult conversations can turn into collaborative conversations.

Trainings like How To Have Difficult Conversations are available in the American Negotiation Institute and have benefitted thousands of professionals. Its unique approach blends high-level negotiation and conflict resolution techniques with an understanding of civil rights, and it was featured in CNBC, Forbes, and USA Today within a two-week span.

Act swiftly with fairness and consistency

Equity in the workplace is further underlined by how fairly and consistently the company enforces its rules. Practising bias over certain cases sends confusing messages, chips off on employees’ morale and erodes the culture you’ve been trying to build.

Always implement the same sanction for every mistake regardless of the violator’s background or position in the company. Decide on matters swiftly and firmly but judiciously. It’s one way to keep the culture of equity, inclusion and speaking up in its healthy state.

Get leaders on board

All these solutions proposed for equity and inclusion will remain an idea or will fall short in its impact if we don’t get the leaders fully on board. It takes more than just a one-time corporate bulletin or a good intention to get these changes up and running. It takes pure commitment and accountability from everyone by living it out all the time and talking about it in every available opportunity until it’s embedded in the culture.

As these changes involve difficult conversations about race and bias, it takes good negotiation skills to get leadership support not only the proposed changes but also the intricate details of how they will be implemented, what the metrics for success are, and the timelines.

For a great reference, here’s ANI Founder Kwame Christian sharing his insights on how to have difficult conversations about race in an interview with Spartan Up.

How to Negotiate with Leaders for Equity in the Workplace

So how do we indeed get leaders fully on board to implement these changes? Some helpful tips that Kwame shared in this Forbes feature, may be applicable in helping negotiate with leaders for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

  • Assume good intent. “It’s important that we assume good intent, or we’ll never get further than where we are.”
  • Clarify approach for when things get heated. But make sure it doesn’t escalate to a point of complete dysfunction.
  • Assign a moderator. This should be a neutral person or an experienced outsider or trusted leader known for creating emotional safety in their discussions, such as the services that Kwame and his team provide.
  • Allow for authentic dialogue. Make sure it’s a safe place especially for Black people to express themselves freely.
  • Set up the dialogue to happen in phases. The frequency and number of these dialogues are going to vary depending on each workplace dynamic.
  • Prioritize self-care. Avoid burnout. Taking time to recharge enables you to get clear on actions to take.
  • Identify the mutual goal of the conversation. One conversation may have the goal for venting and sharing. Another can have the goal to get clarity and to ask questions.
  • Identify the needs of the other person and collective group. This helps to set you up to move beyond where you are.
  • Acknowledge and validate emotions.
  • Express curiosity, not judgment.
  • Ensure tone authentically expresses compassion.
  • Use positive, persistent pressure. Sans shaming, this strategy can truly inspire commitment.
  • Commit to one next thing. This aims to not let the overwhelming scope of racism keep you from taking action.
  • Understand that white people need to take the lead. People of color have been fighting racism their whole lives and thus are exhausted. As a leader, help your white team members get the information from the multitude of resources so that the burden is not on those on the receiving end of racism.

A successful culture of diversity, equity and inclusion is a shared responsibility of everyone in the company regardless of background or position. But leadership takes a very critical role. Take time to build respectful and collaborative relationships with everyone no matter their color, views or opinions.

Leverage on the momentum created by the recent protests on racial injustice to engage in difficult conversations, and learn from each other with compassionate curiosity. This is the kind of culture that makes a workplace a fertile ground for synergistic collaborations and high performance.