To support Black employees, business leaders must challenge biases and help employees be themselves. Leaders can demonstrate care for employees of color by supporting them across multiple layers of identity — from their racial identities to other specific individual needs. Centering and uplifting employees and communities of color can define our organizational footprints for generations to come. Doing so has always been important; it is now more urgent now than ever before.
Managers should place a special emphasis on connecting with Black employees to show that the employer is trying to understand the issues they may be facing and to reinforce that they are supported in the workplace. Engagement is not always easy, and some employees may push back and say, ‘You’ve never talked to me [before]. Why are you talking to me now?’ In those situations, leaders need to be willing to humble themselves, let the employee know that he or she is valued and appreciated, and affirm that the employee has a safe place to voice concerns.
Send out semi-regular reminders about the resources your organization offers. One of these communications may prove to be a lifeline for an employee who is struggling. If your company offers mental health services, anticipate workers’ questions. Detail the cost to the employee and give other pertinent details. Is there a website that lists suggested providers? Are there telehealth options? Depending on the needs of the company’s employees, small support groups may be able to play a role. These meetings should be a safe space where workers can talk about their experiences or just listen. If a manager or other organizational leader attends these meetings, they can also serve as a place for employees to ask questions and make suggestions.
By including this message on your organization’s website, it signals to current and potential employees that there’s awareness of the problem of systemic racism. Employers should be proactively trying to understand the experience of what it means to be Black in this country. It’s important that there’s a clear message from leaders in the organization for employees to refer to if they are ever subject to racial hostility or discrimination at work.
Long term organizations need to level the playing field for Black Americans. It is important to remember that the issue of racism will never pass for Black employees. It does not get old, it does not get stale, it does not stop impacting their lives. Here are some strategies for the long term.
Conduct diversity audits to learn where racial unfairness might hide. Ask HR if it can sort workers based on their job types and levels within the company, and try to uncover clues to discrimination or inequality within the organization by using HR data—employee demographics, exit interviews, employee engagement surveys. Look at promotions, pay and turnover. When conducting these audits, organizations need to focus on race and racism, be very intentional. These kinds of audits should not be a one-time occurrence. Much racism is structural and has been in place for decades.
Diversify your hiring and promotion tactics, and find new avenues for reaching a greater variety of prospective employees. If you’ve already conducted a diversity audit of the company, use what you’ve learned. Organizations should take time to devise their plan before there’s a pressing need to get a particular position filled. It’s important to realize that it’s too late to broaden your [hiring] networks when it’s time to post for a job. Organizations should purposefully look to hire and promote Black employees. Hire people from historically Black colleges and universities, and not just Black people from elite institutions. Institutions that are less prestigious can still have a lot of great talent.
They’re not the same, and managers should encourage organizations to have policies in place for both. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance once you’re there. Organizations can fulfill their diversity requirement by hiring a certain number of diverse employees, but often, that’s where they stop. Inclusion happens only after an employee has been brought on board and has been integrated within the organization. It’s critical that employees feel a sense of belonging and are comfortable enough to speak their true thoughts. Ask HR if employee engagement surveys and exit interviews show that all workers feel included. If a particular employee demographic regularly has high turnover, that can be a red flag that they don’t feel like they belong.
A key part of allyship is listening to underrepresented voices, and in this instance requires centering and prioritizing Black people’s specifically. It’s not enough for employers to think about equality—which means giving the same to everyone. This call to action requires courageous leadership rooted in empathy, compassion, and social consciousness. Now is the time to stress test the integrity of corporate values and actualize the mantra of “bring your whole selves to work.”