We are Cook Ross

It’s 2021. Employees expect companies to be equitable, inclusive, and diverse. We have expertise in helping organizations do just that.

Get to Know Us

As a full-service consulting firm, we have spent 30+ years partnering with organizations to co-create solutions that help them advance Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility within their teams.

Our end-to-end solutions draw on an increased awareness of the hidden factors driving human behavior in people and organizations. We directly apply cutting-edge research from the fields of social cognition theory, social psychology, behavioral economics, and visual cognition to practical business and community environments around the world.

Our team is comprised of brilliant thought leaders, courageous artists, trailblazing vanguards, passionate activists, and unique perspectives. Not only do we love the work we do, but we live it also. Join us in our mission to make the world more inclusive for all.

Years of Experience

Organizations Served

Team Members

Virtual Meetings Since March 2020

Not only are we world-class consultants, but we are also well-respected researchers and decorated academics. We plan to publish a six piece study on advancing race equity in 2021. You will find the first installment below.

What do individual contributors expect from their leaders when it comes to advancing race equity in organizations?

 

By Dr. Adriana Rojas (she/her) and Dr. Falon Thacker (she/her)

Listen to and empathize with employees of color

Shortly after Derek Chauvin, a White police officer, murdered George Floyd, a Black, unarmed man, diversity and inclusion (D&I) consultants around the United States (U.S.) received an influx of outreach from organizational leaders sharing similar stories, over and over. The stories often led with leaders discussing their use of an organization-wide meeting as a platform to speak out for racial justice. From their pandemic-driven, makeshift home offices, employees joined video calls to hear how their organizations responded to police violence and racial inequities. Leaders made public statements denouncing police brutality, affirming their support of Black Lives Matter, and committing to race equity. While some Black employees applauded from their work-from-home offices, others wondered why ‘this always has to be about race’; or felt the statement was performative rather than rooted in tangible solidarity. 

During these attempts to demonstrate support for race equity, one specific story that Cook Ross heard involved a Black employee who revealed he had experienced anti-Blackness within the organization. 

The employee explained how senior leaders once denied him a well-deserved promotion because of his race. The chat became emotionally charged and unwieldy as people reaffirmed or denied his claims. Several of his colleagues unmuted their microphones to name that leadership is predominantly white and male. Others acknowledged the lack of transparency and nepotism as well as racial bias in hiring, development, and promotion practices. 

The call from Black employees was clear: to examine the organization’s systems and address race equity internally. Dissenters, however, emphasized the need for equality and argued promotions should be colorblind, merit-based, and not about race. By this time, things were heated. Leadership shut the chat down and noted the meeting had gone over its scheduled time. Before ending the call, leaders swiftly reassured their workforce of their commitment to race equity; however, the seeds of a hostile work environment had already been planted for employees. 

Another story from a leader involved a manufacturing plant where a worker hung an “All Lives Matter” sign on a forklift.

A heated, contentious debate took place among employees. Some white employees disregarded the experiences of employees of color while others, both White and employees of color, remained silent, fearing backlash. Soon, employees were using racial epithets against each other, and any chance of productive dialogue ceased. News of the sign, a symbol showing blatant disregard for the race equity statement made by leaders earlier in the week, began to circulate through various departments, breaking down collegial relationships.

The organization immediately transitioned into high conflict; although individuals began perceiving each other as threats, they had no choice but to continue working together. Moreover, this was not the first time Black employees experienced anti-Black racism at this particular organization. Employees of color had already considered leaving the organization prior to this incident and began actively seeking employment at organizations with a more concrete diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. 

What Cook Ross learned through hearing these stories from leaders was their inability or unwillingness to understand, listen and empathize with employees’ experiences with racial inequities. While the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst to discuss how Black people were treated by police, political leaders, and systems of oppression, organizational leaders had not fully considered how racism permeated throughout their own organization’s infrastructure and culture. Leaders scheduled emergency meetings to discuss the varied responses to their stances on racial justice and the need for a greater understanding of race equity. 

Leaders and individual contributors responded in various ways.

 Instead of being empathetic, some became reactive and defensive, reducing their Black employees’ experiences to a singular, isolated event. Regarding the Black employee who was denied a promotion, according to his White supervisors, he was “immature,” “not ready,” or “not leadership material.”

Leaders at this organization were unaware of how the language used to justify promotion practices is the same language those in power use to infantilize Black people and relegate them to service positions. Leaders quickly returned to their original, virtue-signaling messages and ignored the concerns of their workforce. 

In the manufacturing organization, leadership authoritatively demanded the sign be taken down and asked human resources to deal with ‘the problem,’ but never checked in with Black employees to listen or empathize; nor was there any education for White employees to learn about the impact of witnessing police disproportionately kill unarmed Black and Brown people.

Cook Ross has heard different narratives throughout the past year that always yield similar outcomes. Workforces are left either confused or angry, and most individual contributors feel ignored by people leaders and believe they are not doing enough to advance race equity.

 According to Coqual (2017) (formerly, CTI), Black employees (78%), Asians (52%), and Hispanics (50%) have experienced racial discrimination or bias in the workplace or are fearful that they or their loved ones will experience bias, discrimination, and violence.

  • Black Employees
  • Asian Employees
  • Hispanic Employees

While the murder of George Floyd was a catalyst to discuss how Black people are treated by police, political leaders, and systems of oppression, organizational leaders had not fully considered how racism permeated throughout their own company’s infrastructure and culture.

Center Employees of Color

Studies show our workplaces are more diverse than ever, and we will continue to see demographic shifts in the years to come. According to several analyses of the 2010 census, partial results from the 2020 census, and current demographic projections, around the year 2040, the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation; meaning, a little over 50% of the population will identify as racial or ethnic minorities (Frey, 2014; Frey 2020).

As the nation becomes more diverse, so does an organization’s personnel.

Therefore, centering Employees of color is key to leading a growing workforce and understanding how IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) connects to an organization’s business initiatives. To add to the sense of urgency, organizations must turn to existing data that speaks more generally to race equity in the workplace. For example, according to Coqual (2017) (formerly, CTI), Black employees (78%), Asians (52%), and Hispanics (50%) have experienced racial discrimination or bias in the workplace or are fearful that they or their loved ones will experience bias, discrimination, and violence. 

As the news cycle centers stories of racial injustice among minoritized communities in the U.S. (Black or African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latin, Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander), the diverse experiences of racialization and racial violence overwhelm leaders.

Within this year alone, waves of Asian hate and violence, a mass killing of Sikh workers, a border crisis created by U.S. foreign policy, and the over-policing of new immigrant communities have been largely invisible; and now leadership is tasked with also addressing these experiences, beyond the Black and White binary.

Individual contributors are asking leaders to know and understand how white supremacy has infiltrated their organizations. We have already seen firsthand the impact anti-Blackness can have within organizations: inequitable practices, experiences, and outcomes, hostile work environments, possible legal issues, and a leaky talent pipeline. Hidden grief, racial gaslighting, polarized socio-political discussions, and overt displays of exclusion at work leave employees of color feeling unseen, raw, and disconnected from the organization. 

Throughout Cook Ross’s 30+ years in the D&I space, we continue to hear variations of these stories.

 Leading during times of civil unrest calls for racial equity, and changing workforce demographics pose new challenges and opportunities. Our current state requires an in-depth understanding of systemic barriers as experienced by individual contributors. Cook Ross has partnered with clients to address the most troubling issues in the workplace and how to do the difficult but rewarding work of equity and inclusion.

Advancing race equity requires the cooperation of each person at an organization, and leadership is responsible for modeling inclusive behaviors and moving strategic efforts forward. Cook Ross has helped leaders engage individual contributors and move into more productive and compassionate working relationships.

Our workforce may hold different perspectives on issues. Still, when leaders listen to individual contributors and learn about their experiences in the workplace, we can begin to see opportunities for advancing race equity within our organizations and can better articulate clear, consistent communications, researched strategies, and measurable outcomes.  

According to several analyses of the 2010 census, partial results from the 2020 census, and current demographic projections, around the year 2040 the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation; meaning, a little over 50% of the population will identify as racial or ethnic minorities (Frey, 2014; Frey 2020)

%

Projected number of people that will identify as racial or ethnic minorities in 2040

On a psychosocial level, communities of color experience life outside of the workplace differently than White communities.

Understand That Racism Is a System: There Are No Quick Fixes 

Racism is a system. Community social conditions affect experiences inside the workplace. These same dynamics also provide insight into how inequities may appear in organizational systems. Racial threat theory “suggests that punitive social control policies and practices will be implemented in places where there are a larger percentage of [B]lacks and Latinos/as to manage what is perceived to be a growing threat to [the] racial and economic dominance of [W]hites” (Welch and Payne, 2018).

In such an example, race, majority-minority demographics, and the location of where an individual resides and goes to school impact how White people think about and act towards an individual of a racial minority. Such research also demonstrates how school personnel tend to criminalize Black and Latin students more severely and often than White students (Welch and Payne, 2018; Skiba et al. 2000).

The overuse of punitive measures results in replicating the ‘separate, but equal’ legal doctrine, perpetuates discrimination as well as the school-to-prison pipeline—a specific example of systemic racism’s targeting of people of color (Togut, 2011). 

Additionally, educational outcomes and generational wealth are determinants of what type of college one attends, potential jobs one may aspire to, and what industries that individual has access to in the future. Painter and Qian (2016) demonstrate that Black, Asian, and Latin immigrants with access to wealth can overcome barriers and accumulate more wealth than immigrants of a lower socioeconomic status.

Higher education allows individuals to earn credentials, provides access to job networks, internships, mentoring programs, career advising, and better career advancement opportunities. Wealth is directly tied to the accessibility of educational experiences and those degrees and training are tied to employment outcomes.

On a psychosocial level, communities of color experience life outside of the workplace differently than White communities. 

 Communities of color often express racial battle fatigue, psychophysiological symptoms resulting from living in extreme racist environments, mental, emotional, physical, and even lethal draining due to the accumulation of historically White spaces, which often go untreated, unnoticed, or misdiagnosed.  (Smith, W.A, Yosso, T. & Solórzano, D. (2011). Thus, work does not end for many racial and ethnic minorities at five o’clock or at the end of a shift.

Black parents often express having to talk with their children about physical safety during a police encounter. Immigrant communities and families with mixed statuses fear deportation and people of color, in general, are less likely to speak up when they experience violence and injustice due to pushback they have received in the past. Employees cannot psychologically isolate these fears, experiences, and realities from the workplace.

When racism and racial inequities manifest in the workplace and are seen and named by individual contributors, leaders must be able to work alongside these individuals to address racial inequities within their organizational systems. A race equity lens can help leaders understand disparities, disproportionality, as well as social determinants.

Leaders must recognize the psychosocial and sociopolitical factors, such as areas of privilege and oppression, and how access to wealth and opportunity creates barriers to race equity in the workforce. 

 When we experience certain privileges, such as access to wealth and advancement opportunities, it may be difficult for leaders to notice or understand those who do not enjoy access to these same privileges, and therefore these individuals are often missing from their organizations altogether.

 These experiences may appear to be invisible in the workplace, but leaders must make the individual contributor’s experiences more visible. Doing so can help leaders begin to properly address and solve these issues.

 

This verdict was only a small step in the fight for racial justice.

Educate Yourself and be Ready for What is Next

We will take readers on a journey through this six-part series to gain a holistic understanding of how employees of color experience organizational culture and infrastructure.

Cook Ross believes it is critical to lead by example by being thoughtful and inquisitive about race equity in the workplace. It is imperative that we all learn from the aforementioned stories from individual contributors and leaders, dig deeper into their essence, and translate our findings into tangible, everyday best practices.

Through this series, we seek to answer the question, “What do individual contributors expect from their leaders when it comes to advancing race equity in organizations?” 

Our next article will offer a look into what industry, research, and best practices say about race equity. A thorough review of the existing race equity literature will address gaps in the research and provide an in-depth foundation for the above research question. Subsequent articles will feature our methodologies for collecting data on individual contributors and what they expect from leaders regarding equitable practices in organizations.

In addition to collecting new data, Cook Ross will also share findings from the existing data we have collected from our Current State Assessments conducted across various industries. These methodologies include our IDEA Engagement Survey, programmatic reviews of policies/procedures, interviews, and focus groups.

Our existing data will assist us in illustrating what Cook Ross already knows about race equity in the workplace. We will close out this six-part series by offering our findings, recommendations, current and new solutions for addressing and striving for racial equity, advancing employees of color, and what it truly takes to support employees of color through the overall talent life cycle. Cook Ross will examine our findings and recommendations through the lens of the Cook Ross Maturity Model. 

The goal of this series is to understand what individual contributors are experiencing and expect from leaders regarding race equity while addressing the barriers and enablers to help organizations (re) frame strategies and achieve their goals in the workplace. 

Cook Ross will share data and give readers the opportunity to learn directly from individual contributors whose evolving experiences and real-world stories will help shape the future of IDEA. Particularly, Cook Ross wants to understand an individual contributor’s lens on expectations from leaders and race equity. The IDEA journey requires time, learning, and empathy.

While we received the verdict for George Floyd’s murder and Derek Chauvin has been held accountable, leaders must not stop here, as this verdict was only a small step in the fight for racial justice. Join us on this research journey as Cook Ross seeks to listen to and learn from individual contributors in order to offer our best solutions for helping leaders transform their organizations to be safe, inclusive, and equitable for all employees. 

  

 

Building an inclusive world for all.