How To Support Your Black Employees (and the employees who love them) During These Times of Uncertainty
By now, we all know that the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black men and women has left the nation angry and reeling. Protests have taken the world by storm, as people ignore a global pandemic to stand up against police brutality and racism.
The truth is, the feelings of anger and frustration we are all feeling is nothing new for the Black community. They’ve struggled with the inherited and institutionalized racism that allows for these unjust acts to continue occurring, and now more than ever, their pain is on display.
We at People Person want you to know that your employees are paying attention to how you handle current events. Employers and Managers have an important role in opening up their workplace to acknowledge what is happening, and to create a space for employees to feel as though they are heard and valued.
The first step is to educate yourself on the experiences of Black individuals and the Black community as a whole. Speak to your team about what is going on locally and around the world and how they are coping. Look for areas of improvement where you can make decisions for your team and company that are more inclusive. It may be difficult or uncomfortable to start, but it’s an important step in the right direction.
If you are not Black, you can’t know what it is like to walk in their shoes daily. With that said, there is nothing preventing you from learning. Don’t wait for the minorities in your life to tell you why they are frustrated and what their experience is. Look up resources online. Read books. There has already been so much work done by the Black community in this area to educate others on their frustrations and experiences, especially on how non-Blacks can become allies. Take it upon yourself to understand what the Black community has been going through and how the color of their skin affects their everyday life. They already have so much going on without also needing to educate their non-Black counterparts during this time.
Speak With Your Team
This is probably the smallest action you can take that will have a lasting impact. It’s important for employers and managers to acknowledge what is happening and be specific about the racism in our world. Most people feel uncomfortable talking about race in the workplace. Put an end to that. Bring up the protests and the racism and violence against the Black community that led to this. Be honest in your talks and what you’re feeling. You don’t have to know all the right words or how to make things better; just express yourself. Let your team know you’re open to having these conversations, but don’t expect them to open up right away or at all. We aren’t used to discussing race and racism at work. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us look inward. Recognize the difficulty of the subject matter and let your team know you’re there if they ever want to talk. By acknowledging what is happening and how this is affecting you, you open the door for others to express themselves, no matter what race they are.
During your one-on-ones with employees, ask them how they are really doing. Look past the “I’m okay” and the “Not bad” and dig deeper. You can let them know if you’re not okay, and open up that deeper channel of communication by expressing your vulnerability. But remember, your purpose is to help employees feel heard and supported.
Your Black employees are tired and scared and preoccupied about what is happening in their community, yet are likely still expected to leave that at the door for 40 hours a week in the name of “professionalism.” This is not sustainable for anyone. Offer individualized support, ask Black employees how you can help them during this time. Maybe that looks like providing some time off, or removing some tasks and temporarily shifting deadlines. Remember that your employees are humans first, and it would be wrong to think that they are unaffected by what is happening around them (and possibly to them).
Create An Intentionally Inclusive Team
African Americans are tragically underrepresented in the professional workforce. According to the Harvard Business Review, Black men and women make up less than 8% of white-collar jobs. It’s time for companies to make it a point to diversify their workplaces. According to Spark Mindset, companies with a diversified workforce have “employee turnover diminished by up to 20% and employee productivity increased by as much as 21%.”
We often hear clients say, “I want to hire a diverse team, but I don’t have enough minorities applying for the positions.” This may be true, but it also means that you may need to rethink your recruiting strategy. Encourage referrals from current minority employees. A strong employee referral program is a great way to recruit top talent. However, if your current employee demographic is mainly Caucasian, this won’t solve the problem. You will need to get creative in your recruiting efforts. Here are some suggestions:
- Reach out to The National Urban League – an organization with multiple locations across the U.S. that is dedicated to empowering those in underserved communities.
- Post the job on diversityworking.com – the largest diversity job board.
- Visit a local college campus in a predominately Black community, or visit the Black fraternities and chapters at your local university.
- Attend career fairs in diverse communities.
- Double check the job posting. Is it worded in a way that would encourage African Americans and other minorities to apply?
For your existing team, your company may want to invest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Training. Hiring an outside company could be especially helpful if your leadership and executive team is not racially diverse. It’s difficult to make changes when the viewpoint you are trying to include and attract is missing from the equation at the start. Please feel free to reach out to us at People Person, and we would be happy to connect with you with a Diversity & Inclusion specialist.
Individual Managers should also see how they can make changes within their own teams. Consider the decisions you make on a day to day basis. How do you choose to delegate work or make the decisions on who gets tasked with a certain project? Perhaps you can look for resources within your community that provide networking opportunities for Black employees, or host a support group at your place of business for dealing with racial trauma. Bring in outside resources that have the skills and experiences you lack to address the hurt within the Black community. You don’t have to do this alone, and if you aren’t Black, you probably shouldn’t.
Don’t expect your Black employees to speak up first and share their experiences. Don’t ask them to lead the conversation and contribute to creating a more inclusive, open environment. They didn’t create these issues and they shouldn’t be asked to fix them. It’s up to the managers and leaders in your workplace to put in the time and effort it’s going to take to create the change.
It’s not enough to “not be racist” anymore. We must be aggressively anti-racist. We must start with our businesses and our employees, and ensure that they know we are advocates for change and improvement. We at People Person are eternally grateful to be working with gracious and compassionate entrepreneurs who truly care about the well-being of their employees, and we hope that the information provided will assist you in your efforts.