Designing solutions that dismantle bias and racism in any work environment is difficult. Of course design is more about unpacking problems than it is finding solutions. One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to making a cultural change in the workplace is when there is an awareness of problems but policies set in place cause a bystander effect.
Most of our policies around diversity equity and inclusion have been set in place as mandates and laws. Moreover, in order to take action in these situations, observers who want to make a change are not doing so as an agent but as a whistleblower. A reporter of behavior that is not aligned with the values that were adopted directly from the mandate or law.
Laws often exist because someone stood up and wanted to make a change. The way that law is intended to operate is to give other folks who want to make the same change protection. The way this is interpreted in our work environments is most likely reactive. If you see it, report it.
This is where the bystander effect comes into play where we rely on someone else to report. The bystander effect is a phenomenon where nobody in a group of people observing an event. Let’s think about why. We have set up an environment where reporting puts a majority of the labor, responsibility, and trauma on the reporter, and change is not guaranteed. So, if the outcome is not change and there is no labor and reputation back guarantee it is difficult to consider stopping a behavior given the status quo.
We can use design thinking to build ownership in how instances of racism in the workplace are addressed. This way folks who are impacted have buy in and affirmation and we create a more effective means of making real change. Every work environment can evolve to an inclusive and equitable space for innovation. What alternatives are there other than reporting? How might reporting be more equitable for the reporter?