Racism’s Impact on Economic Inequality
There are multiple dimensions to the inequities faced by a wide range of working people, but structural racism has often been at their heart—with particularly devastating consequences for workers of color. Black workers were excluded from ambitious college-to-career programs like the original G.I. Bill. Racist narratives about work and poverty jettisoned training from anti-poverty policies, to be replaced by punitive work requirements. Today, Black and brown workers are disproportionately enrolled in our nation’s least resourced workforce development programs that provide the most modest skills training services – a reflection of structural racism.
These injustices have contributed to the racial income and wealth gaps in our country today. We know that inclusive skills policies will not eliminate structural racism in our labor market. But we believe that more inclusive skills policies can be part of the solution, helping to address the disparities that preclude too many Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native, and certain Asian American workers from a chance at pursuing economic security, and can be an integral part of efforts to improve the quality of jobs in our labor market.
Calling out the racism that has infected our nation’s workforce, higher education, and safety net and supportive service policies can also reveal other barriers that impact the training and advancement options for a broader range of working people, including those without college degrees, those living in certain urban or rural zip codes, and those who work in undervalued but essential jobs.
Externally, we convene our member stakeholders to develop and advocate for policies that combat structural racism within our nation’s skills training policies. Internally, National Skills Coalition is engaged in an ongoing journey to embed racial equity in our organization’s policies, practices, and culture.
Our Efforts to Date
- We seek to ensure that our staff and board represent diverse experiences and viewpoints. Currently, our staff is comprised of 40% people of color and our board 33% people of color.
- Documented an organizational theory of change that commits to applying a racial equity and inclusion (REI) lens.
- Established written organizational values of equity, inclusion, trust, integrity, collaboration and partnership, and transparency with a staff-identified list of actions and practices that support those values.
- Using an REI lens, developed and implemented organizational career pathways that bring transparency to competencies, pay, and promotions and establish a framework and culture of goal-setting and coaching to support career advancement.
- Built racial equity and inclusion into the core competencies upon which supervisors and staff are evaluated. All staff have set specific goals to build this competency as part of their annual goal setting.
- Retained REI consultants for ongoing trainings for the organization to bring a racial equity lens to supervisory culture and expectations, and to build staff capacity to have impactful conversations about race, equity, and inclusion.
- Applied a racial equity lens to an organizational salary analysis and made salary banding transparent internally and in job announcements.
- Established a recruitment and hiring strategy that utilizes REI practices.
- Implemented training to support shared staff understanding of how structural racism has shaped labor market policies, including skills policies.
- Fully incorporated REI training into new staff orientation and onboarding process.
- Implemented a quarterly staff survey to assess engagement and inclusion.
Engaging the Field and Policy
- In 2018, established a Racial Equity National Advisory Panel representing our national network’s stakeholders (business, labor, public sector, community organizations, community colleges, and advocates).
- In 2019, released The Roadmap for Racial Equity: An Imperative for Workforce Development Advocates, a foundation for our efforts to bring a racial equity lens to our policy work, and the basis for multiple presentations by NSC staff to allies around the country.
- In 2020, with our Board of Directors, put forward Skills for an Inclusive Economic Recovery: A Call for Action, Equity and Accountability, a framework that currently guides our efforts to combat structural racism in skills policies.
- Developed a Racial Equity Guidebook for Policy Analysis and Development that supports NSC staff by providing context and guidance for applying a racial equity lens to work across the organization. Established a goal that 100% of NSC projects will be scoped using the guidebook.
- Convened a Racial Equity Learning Group with 5 Skills State Policy Advocacy Network (SkillSPAN) coalitions and 5 Business Leaders United (BLU) state affiliate leads committed to advancing state specific policy frameworks using a racial equity lens.
- Provide ongoing support to our 20 state SkillSPAN coalitions and BLU affiliates with tools and processes that help them apply a racial equity lens to their organizing and policy development.
- Issued Creating an Equitable, Resilient Workforce: New Ideas for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, based on listening sessions with over 160 coalition partners.
Holding Ourselves and Our Policies Accountable
This is an ongoing journey as we continue to bring a more intentional racial equity lens to our organizing and advocacy efforts. We will redouble efforts to build racially inclusive networks to shape the policies proposed by our coalition. And we will hold ourselves accountable for the policies we promote, creating analyses that will tell us if our agenda is improving economic outcomes for workers by race, gender, age, and income.
We still have a lot of work to do on racial equity and inclusion—both in our efforts working toward systemic change through public policy and through the practices of our own organization—and we are still learning how to do it right. But we will continue the work.
I am so grateful to you, our partners, for what you are doing as well in your communities every day to build an inclusive workforce. We look forward to learning from and collaborating with you.
Andy Van Kleunen, CEO