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Anti-Black racism, racist acts, and systemic injustice are not new in this country. But the movement catalyzed by the murders of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others is different.
Business leaders, community leaders, and residents must strive to create an equitable society where people of all racial backgrounds can thrive. Much of the current conversation is appropriately focused on the role of business organizations and CEO’s in addressing issues of systemic and subtle racism. But we all have a role and many individuals are also asking the question, “What can I do to support Black colleagues, team members, and friends?”
GBCC President and CEO, Jim Rooney, spoke with Dr. S. Atyia Martin, CEO and Founder of All Aces, Inc, to provide support and guidance for individuals who would like to be stronger advocates and allies.
How do I support my team or my colleagues during this time, especially if I am not Black?
Dr. S. Atyia Martin, All Aces: In this moment in our nation’s history, we all feel the urgency to do something now. We feel pressured to do something to support our teams or colleagues. However, doing something reactively can be more harmful than helpful and our employees and colleagues will see right through it.
We often convince ourselves that we have to have all the answers. However, no one person has all the answers. It’s important to have a conversation with yourself about what you know but more importantly what you don’t know.
We need to ask our teams what would be helpful to them, including our Black colleagues. The golden rule is to treat others how you would like to be treated. However, in most cases, it is better to use the platinum rule: Treat people how they want to be treated. This means we develop the kind of relationships with people that we can ask them what they need.
Jim Rooney, GBCC: I agree that it starts with introspection, listening, and learning. Many of us, especially those of us raised in the “colorblind” generation, did not learn much about the racist history of our country or get much practice talking about race. That needs to change for us to move forward. It is also important that we do not place the work of educating ourselves on our Black friends and colleagues. As you say, Atyia, not all people of color have PhDs in oppression. Instead, we can access resources such as White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, How to be an Antiracist, White Fragility, All Aces’s Intentionally Act, the implicit association test, and Rachel Cargel’s #DotheWork
In addition to listening to our Black friends, colleagues, team members, and scholars, we should actively watch for signs of burnout. Right now, many members of the Black community are experiencing unprecedented stress and trauma carrying the weight of disproportionate high rates of COVID-19, being called on to educate White friends and colleagues, dealing with the emotional toll of the recent killings of Black people, and trying to manage the daily juggle of work and life responsibilities. If you are able to do so, cancel that optional meeting, extend that deadline, offer mental health days, redistribute the work, or pitch in to support a Black colleague.
How do I influence my organization’s culture to be more inclusive and to align with our DEI values?
Dr. S. Atyia Martin, All Aces: The best place to start with advancing racial equity is to focus inside our circle of influence: Inside ourselves and inside our organizations. This requires building our individual and collective knowledge, skills, and tools.
The first skill is racial equity literacy, which includes (1) learning the historical context (how did we get here, especially for our respective industry and internal organizational challenges), (2) social context (the present day reality structured by history and how continuing to do what we have always done can unintentionally perpetuate inequities), and (3) how to identify and address the root causes of racial inequities in our organizations. Other skills that are helpful in the toolbox include: emotional intelligence, communication, conflict management, and critical thinking.
We can model equitable ways to do our work, treat our colleagues, and make decisions on programs, policies, and practices in alignment with the organizational mission, DEI values, and racial equity. identify: Where are you in the structure of the organization? What kind of access and influence do you have? What kind of skills do you have to support DEI work in your unit or on your team? Who else can you partner with to strategize and act?
We need to have the language and agency it takes to make meaningful change. Racial equity and DEI efforts can never be extracurricular activities. Ultimately, when we address racial inequities in our organizations, we are fixing structure, process, and culture problems that are disproportionately burdening employees of Color and are also problematic for everyone in the organization.
Jim Rooney, GBCC: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also starts with listening. I agree with you, Atyia, that everyone should start by examining their sphere of influence. Ask Black colleagues that you collaborate with often or those who report to you if you manage a team or department for feedback. Ask if you can meet with the company’s Black Employee Resource Group (ERG) to listen their concerns and comments.
Commit to taking action on the feedback you hear and to giving credit to those who gave you the ideas. Within your sphere of influence, are there more equitable ways to distribute work, develop advancement opportunities, make hiring decisions, set salary bands, or ensure that all voices are heard when decisions are made? Follow the input you receive, but do not add additional action steps onto your Black colleagues’ plates – studies show that Black employees are disproportionately asked to do diversity and inclusion work in addition to official job. While some Black employees may be willing or eager to dive into DEI work in the workplace, do not expect that every Black person will welcome additional diversity and inclusion tasks. If you are able to, make sure DEI work is considered promotable work at your organization or on your team.
Model the inclusive practices you would like to see adopted. Have courageous conversations about race often enough that it feels normal and others start joining in. A term I learned from you, Atyia, is “communicate with care” – simultaneously choose your words carefully and also listen actively enough that you hear the intention behind even imperfect words. When you make a mistake, publicly own it, apologize, and move forward.
In addition, think about the ways that you can influence how opportunities are distributed. This means being a mentor and sponsor to Black colleagues, intervening if the contributions made by Black colleagues are not heard, and interrupting characteristics of white supremacy culture that show up in your sphere of influence. This means putting your money where your words are by purchasing from and developing partnerships with businesses owned by people of Color. This also means being willing to step back from opportunities that may be offered to you as a White person, and instead suggesting a Black colleague for it. Recently, Alexis Ohanian, the founder and former CEO of Reddit, demonstrated great leadership and courage by stepping down from his position on the company’s board and calling on the company to fill his seat with a Black board member.
To make true, sustained change, we will need to both lift others up and learn to step back.
How do I speak up if someone with more power enacts a microaggression?
Jim Rooney, GBCC: There is strength in numbers. Start by talking to someone you trust. They may have perspective or advice that will make it a more fruitful conversation.
Avoid blaming the other person. You want them to understand the impact without getting defensive. Think about if they are a person who thinks in numbers or stories, and tailor your communication to them. Assuming the microaggression was unintentional, your colleague may be grateful that you pointed it out privately and may want your help figuring out next steps. If you find your colleague is not receptive, tell someone you trust.
Another powerful step you can take is to demonstrate your own receptiveness to feedback. Humans are social by nature – if your colleagues see that you are open to learning and to apologizing, they will likely be more receptive as well.
Dr. S. Atyia Martin, All Aces: Microaggressions are brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups. They are like death by a thousand paper cuts and happen every day. Responding to these moments is incredibly difficult, and the power dynamics of addressing them with people in positional power is particularly hard.
You have to calculate the risk (potential loss or gains) of speaking up in these situations – the reality is the situation can be reframed to make you the problem instead of the microaggression. Therefore, it is important to know what you are willing to sacrifice. It does not make you a bad person to need your job. If you decide to speak up, document the situation and the response.
At All Aces, our ethos is to help people on their racial equity journey in a developmental way. This means calling people in before calling people out.
For those of us who are called in, it is important to have humility to own our impact regardless of our intention. When we are in denial about our contributions to problems, we open the door to being justly called out.
The more tools we have in our racial equity toolbox, the more skills we have to draw from. There is no one way, easy fix, silver bullet, or shortcuts.
We will leave you with one easy to adopt tool; try to regularly practice micro-inclusion. Do something brief and simple that lets people, who may feel marginalized, know that you see them, that you want to be an ally. Just as acts of microaggression can be hurtful, acts of micro-inclusion can be uplifting. Give it a try – you just may feel good too.