With the recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement, black Americans are sharing their stories of racism in the workplace. Many white professionals who want to create inclusive and community-centered workspaces are becoming more awake to their peers’ and employees’ experiences and looking to explore better ways to support black colleagues.
Diversity in the workplace is the first step, but a company’s commitment to antiracism is crucial. As a leader or a member of the organization, that responsibility lies with each leader and member of the organization. What can you do?
First, acknowledge that there is a lot to learn. It is okay to feel uncomfortable or even guilt about a lack of accountability in the past, both personally and organizationally. But the opportunity is profound: you can accept accountability in the here and now during this important moment in history.
Second, take the time to read about diversity and racism in the workplace.
Third, be proactive in your approach to address systemic racism at work.
Learning more about racism in the workplace
By listening to what POC have experienced in their careers due to racism, bias, or microaggressions, you can begin to understand and gain additional perspective that can help you better support POC. Be sure to use resources online to educate yourself. Acknowledge that this is a part of your accountability as a leader and community member of your organization.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
- Working While Black: Stories from black corporate America
- The Microaggressions Towards Black Women You Might Be Complicit In At Work
- Black employees speak out on racism and discrimination in the workplace
- 42% of US employees have experienced or seen racism at work. It’s the latest example of how diversity efforts are falling short, especially in America
Evaluate the diversity in leadership in both your organization as well as your industry
Take a moment to assess the diversity at the leadership levels of your organization, as well as in your industry as a whole. Look around the room in your meetings. Look at the various leadership levels within your organization and assess how many black individuals are involved in key decision-making. By first being aware of a lack of diversity, you can then take steps to help others get access to spaces or people that are not otherwise available.
A 2018 Center of Talent and Innovation report “Being Black in Corporate America” found that black people only account for 3.2% of senior leadership roles at large corporations and hold 0.8% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. The study found that one of the reasons for the disparity is a lack of mentorship from and access to senior leaders (as reported by a 2020 Business Insider article).
- There are zero black women leading Fortune 500 companies right now. Here’s how company culture can be sculpted to change that.
- Workplace diversity is still a major problem although nearly 80% of HR professionals believe their company is diverse
- Racial Diversity: There’s More Work to be Done in the Workplace
Acknowledge the current climate and make your stance as an ally known
Share your own learning with your colleagues and ask them what support they need or if they would like to share any stories with you. By being open about your own learning as you educate yourself about black professionals’ experiences in the workplace, it allows others to feel comfortable to share. It is important to not assume that everyone will want to share their own experiences or educate you. It ultimately is up to you to educate yourself, but by opening up the door to a conversation, you are showing your support as an ally.
Be an ally
It’s not enough to be sympathetic.
When you observe racism, bias, or microaggressions, address them immediately. By showing support for a colleague in the moment, you are helping to change the culture and bring immediate attention to the injustice. When in doubt, question the comment. Ask the individual what led them to say that, or ask them for more information. This will not only help colleagues bring attention to their own biases, but it will start a positive shift in which individuals think critically about the outcomes of their contributions.
Join diversity initiative teams. If a working group on diversity does not include individuals from different backgrounds, the lack of support from non-black colleagues is a message in itself. If you are on a team that is involved in making decisions, gather feedback from underrepresented voices. Open up space for others to join a conversation.
- Guide to Allyship
- Black employees say ‘performative allyship’ is an unchecked problem in the office
- 10 Tips on How to Be an Ally in the Workplace
Help develop mentorship relationships
Lack of mentorship opportunities for black employees has been cited as a reason for lack of diversity at leadership levels. You can help create mentoring relationships no matter what level of leadership you are at. Ask your black colleagues questions about their professional development and about their career goals. Connect them with professional contacts who are doing work that aligns with their interests.
Make space for employees at all levels of leadership, no matter what your role is or what power you perceive yourself to have. By being a proactive member of your community, one who values each and every employees’ opinion and goals, you will not only help make a difference at an individual level, but at an organizational level.
See below for more resources on ways you can create action to make your organization a better space for your black colleagues:
For more ideas on how you can help make your company a better place to work for black employees, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you reflect on your individual impact and identify action steps to be an ally for others. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.