Race In The Workplace: Healing The Divide

Race In The Workplace

These are truly unprecedented times. 

It’s a phrase that we’ve heard often throughout 2020, and will continue to hear. So today, I want to focus specifically on the topic of race in the workplace, and how we can grow and learn as leaders from current and recent events.  

The death of George Floyd has reminded us all that there is still very much a deep wound of racism in this country, that’s an undeniable fact. As we all step back and take a hard look at what’s going on, it becomes clear that there’s a large chasm to overcome, both in and outside of the workplace. 

I may not have all of the answers, but I do have some thoughts on how to be both constructive and honest when it comes to having racial conversations in our places of work. 

Race in the workplace: How to have the hard conversations

If you’re reading this as an African American leader in your workplace, you may have already had white coworkers reach out to you offering condolences and apologies, yet unsure what to say past that. And while all conversations may look slightly different, I would challenge you to follow-up statements such as…

“While I appreciate the sentiment and the current outreach, there are many times across the organization, as an African American person, that I feel left out, or that I don’t have a voice.”

And if you’re not sure if that’s true or not, considering asking yourself, “Am I able to be my authentic self in this organization?”

How To Increase Diversity In The Workplace

Why am I encouraging you to ask the hard questions surrounding race?

Although we may have seen many press releases, and statements across social media from various companies, announcing their plans and the current work they do with the Black Community, we need to see and do more.

What people of color really want you to do is to have the conversation. Have the boldness as a leader to ask the question, “Has there ever been a time within this organization that you felt disconnected, or excluded? If so, tell me about it.

If we start having these conversations on a daily or weekly basis, then the pop-up conversations that we are seeing right now will start to feel much less disingenuous.

Race & Leadership In The Workplace

My challenge for leaders is to start doing the hard work.

My challenge specifically for multicultural and African American leaders is to have those conversations that you may be holding back on.

Let coworkers and leadership know where you think the company can do better, and make potential changes. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, it’s necessary. And once you start to do it, you may just find that this authenticity begins to translate across the entire workplace.

Have the hard conversations.

This might require that you stop, pause, and examine your own thinking. Challenge what you think you know about others, and what you think you already know about race and racism. Think about certain beliefs or notions you may have been holding on to; why are you holding on to them, and should they be reframed?

As I mention in another video, the power of acknowledgement is a great starting point.

Race In The Workplace: How To Move Forward

Last but most importantly, now is the time to go back and apologize. If you find yourself thinking back to a conversation that you just didn’t handle well… or maybe avoided all together, now is the time to address it.

“I apologize… did I offend you when I _______?”

This is how we should be leading in 2020. This is how we can come together, not just as coworkers but as a healthy, diverse workplace. Because in the midst of such division, and unrest, now is a more important time to strive for unity than ever before.

If you’re looking for even more resources on how we can create opportunities in the workplace during these challenging times, I would encourage you to check out a recent speaking engagement I participated in with WBENC entitled Brand Me: Creating Opportunities In Unprecedented Times.

We can get through this, and we can make positive changes. It just has to start now.

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