More than a month has passed since George Floyd's death, and perhaps it's just me, but it seems like the energy behind supporting Black businesses and standing with Black people has waned a little. The company statements have been made and filed, the black squares have disappeared from Instagram, and the protests and those who support them seem to be out of the news cycle.
Particularly for those of us who continue to work in Corporate America, the environment can be especially difficult because after a few weeks of advocacy for change, it appears that everyone in the office has moved past "Black Lives Matter" and addressing inequality and discrimination in the workplace in favor of returning to "normal". Unfortunately, there is no returning to normal for us. So, what can we do to help keep the conversation going in a positive way to create the workplace transformation we desire to see?
Here are some ideas to help your organization keep that same energy:
Create conversations where they may not yet exist.
If you have staff or all-hands meetings, consider introducing diversity and inclusion topics into the agenda to facilitate open discussions. Many of our non-Black counterparts may be unaware of the privilege they possess in the workplace and the injustices that Black people face at work. They may not fully understand that racism is displayed not only overt action, but by covert behaviors and the microaggressions we experience. Pro Tip: Consider using interactive exercises to make concepts more concrete and relevant.
Leverage leadership connections.
Do you have a mentor, sponsor, or advocate who is also passionate about changing the racial landscape in your organization? How can you leverage their platform and/or influence to help engage other members of the leadership team? Share your perspective with your connections and get their feedback on methods to create impact and revise long-standing policies. When leaders show that this issue is not only important to them, but that they are willing to take the necessary steps to change, the employees throughout the company are much more likely to take it seriously.
Utilize employee resource groups (ERGs).
Typically these internal collectives are focused on diverse segments of the employee population that face discrimination, prejudice, or exclusion in some way, i.e. women, underrepresented minorities, and the LGBTQ community. Engaging these groups can be another avenue to penetrate the organization and bring additional attention to the issues facing Black employees. ERGs usually have executive or leadership sponsors/contacts who may be able to use their voices to keep these issues at the forefront to be addressed.
Advocate for a more diverse workforce.
Hear me out. Part of the reason why the response from many companies on Black Lives Matter was not as impactful or as long-lasting as we would have hoped is because the diversity of the employee population does not support the message. It's hard for people to believe you care about the equality of Black people and that you want to see them succeed when: 1) no one in a mid-level to senior-level management position is Black, 2) no one in the C-Suite is Black, and 3) none of the top-tier management roles have succession plans that include Black people. When you have no one to look up to in your company that looks like you, it truly feels like it's impossible for you to succeed.
Outside of leveraging connections and support groups you already have, this is an opportunity for you to bring this issue head-on to those making the hiring decisions. Whether it's a direct letter to your CEO and executive leadership team, a frank conversation with your human resources department on hiring practices, organizing 1:1 or intimate meetings with the VP or Director of your department and other Black employees, let your voice be heard clearly. A good friend of mine prepared a full PowerPoint presentation for his Vice President to share the rather sobering figures of the lack of Black employees in leadership in his department, which in turn sparked a deeper dive into hiring practices and job placement of Black employees once hired. While these conversations are uncomfortable, these can prove to be the catalyst required for change.
Believe me, I get it. Being Black in corporate workspaces, many times you feel undervalued and unseen, and even more so right now. But while racism is not our problem to fix, we can help drive the solutions. We cannot wait on others to do the work. We must be the change we want to see.
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