The aftermath of recent police killings of Black men and women is lingering on our country’s conscience.
Societal pressures have urged companies to take action (“Thank you for your Black Lives Matter statement, can you show a picture of your Black employees in leadership?” one viral tweet reads), but real change is going to take time, accountability, and a dose of discomfort.
As a career coach who works predominantly with Black professionals, I can unequivocally say: Your Black employees are not okay. They are exhausted and overwhelmed with all the overnight attention and new expectations being placed on them to speak up about living as a Black person in America. For many Americans, the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor—and the protests, statements, and reports they spurred— have shone a spotlight on the structural systems that uphold white supremacy. For Black Americans, these are age-old conversations.
U.S. workplaces have long contributed to racial inequality. Black professionals are less likely to make it into the C-suite of organizations, and the wage gap between Black and white employees is vast. Not much has changed in 40 years.
Solving these injustices is not the responsibility of Black employees. This is going to take all hands on deck, primarily those in leadership.
Here are some concrete steps you can take right now as an executive, boss, and coworker.
Find the pain points
White allies: now is not the time for silence. Your coworkers, direct reports and employees are waiting for you to chime in and advocate on their behalf. Posting a statement on social media and donating money to social justice organizations is a great gesture, but if you’re not taking care of your Black employees internally, it’s an empty one.
Drilling into employee metrics can help determine what diversity efforts need to be implemented.
Analyze your recruiting sources and make sure the talent pool you’re drawing from is diverse. This often starts with the selection committee. Who is making hiring decisions? Where are they finding candidates? Maybe it’s time to expand your recruiting sources by tapping into professional associations tailored towards BIPOC, like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) for engineering roles, or National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) for accounting and finance roles.
Next, research how long your average employee tenure is, and if you can, break it down by race, salary, and position. Are all your non-white employees leaving after a year or two? Do they get promoted at the same rate as their white colleagues?
Lead with empathy
For many Black employees, keeping up with day-to-day work performance in the current news environment is a struggle. So give them grace and time.
Create space for employees to share their experiences, but don't expect them to speak up. They might worry that their words will be held against them in the future, or that no matter how passionately they express themselves, it won't lead to change. Encourage them to take time off to process, heal and rest — especially if you notice that morale is down.
Hire diversity & inclusion consultants to drive change
Now that companies know better, it is time to do better.
Hiring DEI Practitioners and Speakers is a great way to spark conversations on unconscious bias, allyship, and building cultural competency.
Your diversity training should be more than just a check in the box. There has to be actual buy in from leadership, protection for the marginalized, and measurable outcomes to see change in the long run. So if you champion these types of workshops, make sure you advocate for ongoing accountability and action-oriented data to back it up.
Do your own research
Don’t just “stand” in solidarity. Research and educate yourself on the history of racial injustices.
There are plenty of anti-racism guides, books, and documentaries (Netflix and Hulu have an entire section dedicated to Black History). Some companies are even starting book clubs to give employees an opportunity to share learning revelations and resources with each other.
A word to the wise: The last thing you want to do is ask a Black coworker to educate you. They’re going through a challenging time filled with racial trauma and social turmoil. Don’t put more emotional labor on their plate.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Movies and Documentaries:
13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2019)
When They See Us (Ava DuVernay, 2019)
Be more than an ally — be a mentor and advocate
If you’re in a leadership role, talk to your diverse staffers about their career goals and help them chart out a roadmap to get there. Studies show that Black women in particular do not receive the same amount of mentorship and sponsorship as other workers, that negatively impacts their advancement opportunities.
Support your BIPOC direct reports by increasing their visibility at the company and nurturing the skills and experiences that will help them grow.
There is no quick solve for systemic racism. At the company level, it may take months or even years to see any real change, and there may be moments of discomfort. And that’s okay: Progress doesn't come from sitting in comfort.