6 ways to fight racism in the workplace

Racial discrimination in the workplace may occur regardless of intent. That makes it more important to make a concerted effort toward fighting racism in the workplace. Use these educational tips to help employees recognize racism, racist language, and racist behavior in the workplace and how to eliminate it.  How we use words matters – from

Racial discrimination in the workplace may occur regardless of intent. That makes it more important to make a concerted effort toward fighting racism in the workplace. Use these educational tips to help employees recognize racism, racist language, and racist behavior in the workplace and how to eliminate it. 

How we use words matters – from the words we speak to the words we write. They can be powerful tools, but they can also be harmful when used to marginalize others.

The importance of recognizing racism in the workplace

When seeking ways to eliminate racism at work, we first need to understand what an inclusive workplace looks like. It’s important to realize that microaggressions are a major source of harmful language and discrimination. Microaggressions can be indirect, unintentional, or subtle acts of harmful language and other discrimination that aim to marginalize a group of people. 

When fostering an anti-racist culture, it’s important to model the environment you hope to create. That includes using non-ableist and anti-racist language that enhances the lives of others and moving away from vocabulary and phrases that appropriate, exploit or shame people.

Intuit’s Content Systems Team and members from our Racial Equity Advancement Leadership (REAL) Team came together to document ways to eliminate racist language from our company as we continue our journey for an equal world. While we’re actively working to build a more inclusive workplace, we also want to share our learnings on how to handle racism in the workplace along the way. Those working at a corporate level or in human resource management are responsible for fighting racism in the workplace and maintaining an inclusive corporate environment for everyone. 

How to Spot and Remove Hurtful or Racist Language

1. Ensure people always come first

Content should never hurt someone. Even if it’s not intentional, it’s critical that we’re aware of the impact our words may have on others and can actively learn from our mistakes and use anti-racist language moving forward. 

The decision to lean into anti-racist language shouldn’t be purely intellectual. It should be done because it’s the right thing to do and because people matter.

2. Consider the experiences of people of color

When deciding to use or not use specific words, empathize with communities that have experienced harm. Often, racism at work comes from ignorance and not considering the implications of how your language may negatively affect others.

An unintentional racist incident may occur due to poor knowledge of how words may harm those around you. Try asking yourself if there are any groups of people whom your language could harm. Who and how so? Thinking about who is affected deepens your understanding of anti-racism.

If your company has employee resource groups (ERGs), this can be a great place to gain insight and information that can be instrumental in fighting racism in the workplace. These groups can lay the foundation for a culture of diversity and inclusion, share valuable feedback, and help break stereotypes – ultimately helping to build understanding, empathy, and capability for your employees and customers worldwide.

3. Understand if something’s harmful to one group, it’s harmful to all groups

Some people experience oppression in ways that others don’t. If any one group is harmed by a term or phrase, don’t use it.

Well-intentioned choices can still cause harm. It’s not up to us to judge if or how much a word harms, but to believe people who tell us it does. Choose the most inclusive and anti-racist language for positive impact.

If the language you’re using makes you uncomfortable in any way, even if you can’t quite articulate the reason, find an alternative way to share your thoughts.

4. Strive for clear, concise, and accurate content

Many harmful terms are rooted in racism and anti-Blackness. They also don’t clearly convey the intended meaning of the word or phrase.

Have you ever used the word ‘grandfathered’ when describing how an old rule continues to apply to an existing situation while a new rule will apply to future situations? Although your use of the term may be unintentional, it’s racist and unclear.

The phrase “grandfather clause” or being “grandfathered in” originally described policies that kept Black people from voting in the United States during the Jim Crow era. It’s an unclear term to begin with and even more confusing to non-native English speakers.

Instead, think about what a term actually means. Look for more straightforward words that are not only more inclusive but are also easier to understand. More accurate and concise alternatives could be legacy status, exemption, or exception.

5. Don’t use colors or light as metaphors

Language that puts a positive connotation on white/light and a negative or mysterious one on black/dark reinforces anti-Black and colorist stereotypes. Choose more direct terminology to get your point across.

Have you ever used the phrase ‘black box’ to represent something confusing? If so, you’ve unintentionally used racist language that reinforces that something ‘black’ is considered inferior. Instead, try using a more literal phrase like ‘unclear’ to emphasize your point.

While this list is constantly evolving and by no means exhaustive, here are terms with racist roots that we’re moving away from at Intuit:

  • Black hat (hacking)
  • Blacklist
  • Black box
  • Dark UX
  • Fieldworker
  • Grandfathered
  • Master
  • Master/slave
  • Redline
  • Redlining
  • White glove
  • White hat (hacking)
  • Whitelist

6. Be inclusive of all cultures

Don’t use language that is appropriated from groups that experience oppression. Use language that speaks to everyone without taking away from underrepresented cultures.

Racism in the workplace often occurs when leveraging phrases from Indigenous communities and not realizing that it’s appropriation. Examples include using ‘powwow’ to represent a meeting, ‘tribe’ to talk about a group of people, or even ‘spirit animal’ when sharing a representation of what someone aspires to be. Many words and phrases like these and others have an important meaning in Indigenous and other cultures and shouldn’t be used in casual conversation.

In addition to the above examples, instead of using phrases from African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Black English, find other ways to use anti-racist language. From leveraging storytelling to quotes and more, you can still paint a picture for your reader without using language taken from historically oppressed people and cultures.

Ending systemic racial discrimination in the workplace may but challenging, but it’s essential

At Intuit, fighting racism in the workplace isn’t just something we do — it’s part of who we are and is embedded into our company’s core values. We’re committed to creating a more inclusive world within our company and beyond, focusing on ending systemic racism.

Our goal is to create a rising tide that will lift all boats, making Intuit a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace for every employee — an environment where everyone is free to do the best work of their lives. This work goes beyond internally leveraging diversity and inclusion to benefit our team. We hope to inspire others so that we can collectively drive greater societal transformation.

There are no shortcuts to building an anti-racist culture. Engaging with anti-racist language often means using your own judgment, but it can be difficult to guide yourself through the decision-making process. While tools like this post can help, remember these are starting guidelines.

Racism In the workplace isn’t something that can be eliminated by simply trying to change a company’s culture to be more inclusive, but it is a good start. It’s up to all of us to challenge our thinking to make long-term changes and stop using anti-racist language. Together, we can make a difference in fighting for an equal world.