The #BlackLivesMatter movement may have you wondering how to address your employees, how to start conversations and how to ensure that Black employees feel psychologically safe within remote and physical workplaces. We’ve seen social media initiatives such as #BlackOutTuesday operate to elevate black voices, provide educational resources on systemic racism, and to take time to reflect on the effect of racism on society. We’ve seen both peaceful protests and extremist rioting, all of which is likely weighing heavily on your workforce in some way.
Going about “business as usual” is not the best way to address the issues at hand. While these issues are not new, they are more visible than ever. If you are in a leadership role, you may not know how to show support for your employees during this time. There are actionable steps you can take as a leader of a company to make meaningful change and ensure all voices are heard. A way to support black employees is by addressing the current events and to show with action, that your organizations commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion goes beyond just words. Paradigm, who offers customized tools to help companies build inclusive workforces, offers up tips to help navigate this.
1. Send a company-wide message. If you haven’t already, send a company-wide message to employees thoughtfully, deliberately, and genuinely acknowledging what’s happening in our society. Recognize that these are unprecedented times and offer your support, especially to your Black employees. Let them know it’s okay to take time away from work to care for their mental health, or to ask their managers for additional support if they need it, and then work with the managers to make it a reality. Share books, articles, podcasts and documentary titles about racism so that others can check out those resources to educate themselves as well. If the company has donated, share which organization(s) have been supported, and even share specific steps that the company is taking to improve internal diversity, equity, and inclusion gaps. This may be new for you, and you can be honest that you are still learning, but leading with empathy and embracing vulnerability, along with being sincere will open up a safe space.
2. Check in. Check in with Black leaders and managers to help them navigate their own need to step away and care for their mental health. Offer additional support to your Black Employee Resource Group if you have one, or support the creation of one.
3. Facilitate Discussions. Consider working with an external facilitator (unless you have a trained team of facilitators who are equipped with the skills to do this responsibly) to facilitate discussions that bring people together to listen, reflect, and make space for each other’s emotions and lived experiences. These discussions should prioritize the voices and experiences of Black employees. There may also be a need to facilitate discussions with non-Black allies who don’t know how to process this information but are looking for a space to navigate their thoughts and feelings.
4. Equip your managers with the tools to support their teams. Managers should understand that it’s part of their job to be aware of how current events are shaping the experience of their Black employees. Non-Black managers need to be equipped with the tools to support their employees, even if initially that means only being ready and able to show compassion, acknowledge what is happening, and offer to help with or delegate work, give space or provide resources to talk and process what they are experiencing. One important suggestion that’s come up often is to not make it the responsibility of your Black ERG or your Black employees to educate non-Black employees and leaders on the topics of systemic racism.
5. Up-skill Allies. Being an ally means being willing to act with and for others in pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality. Employees who want to be allies but do not know how to practice ally-ship or who need tactical, immediately-applicable steps that outline what they can do right now, what to say and when, who to talk to, and why they should be doing these things, would benefit from ally-ship training. According to Paradigm, “It’s an opportunity for non-Black allies and aspiring allies to support their Black employees in a setting where they can make mistakes with a professional facilitator who is trained (and paid) to do the work of up-skilling and onboarding allies.” You can also compile a resource list for allies, having recommendations that come directly from you to share with employees who wish to educate themselves and be allies can be powerful.
6. Examine your culture and processes with equity and inclusion in mind. Even if you aren’t hearing any negative feedback from your employees analyze your compensation, performance, promotion, attrition, and hiring data by race (controlling for things like level, function, and location) and take steps to fill your gaps. Some general good practices include building structured interviews, defining criteria for promotion, and openly sharing your salary negotiation policy so that you even the playing field as much as possible.