How leaders can better support black employees
Lead by example. There is no better way for a CEO to underscore commitment than through personal action
As our cities and towns become quieter and the protests seem to be dwindling, it’s easy to think that America has moved on from the social and racial justice movement of a few weeks ago, and shifted its entire focus back to COVID-19.
But don’t be fooled by the perceived calm that has developed over the past few weeks. Just last month, the international news reported that protests were occurring on three of our seven continents. That kind of passion doesn’t simply disappear.
The racial battle being fought today is ultimately about power and policy. Who has the power and who do the policies benefit? And, why don’t they benefit all of us equally? There’s no easy fix or 10-point plan to rapidly correct something that began 400 years ago and is still being cultivated.
However, there is one place where rapid change can happen, where diversity, equity, and inclusion can be real more quickly: The American workplace. We know that most companies are quite agile when they need to be and, as such, are well equipped to make change happen.
I, for one, am counting on business leaders to lead the way. In the meantime, here are some thoughts on how they (and you) can get started.
Recognize that the time for reaction is in the rearview mirror. It’s time for response and time to keep the commitments you or others made in the heat of the moment. There will be public scrutiny and your response as a leader and a company will have wide-reaching repercussions.
Keep talking and listening. In the world of corporate and business communications, there is a saying about the importance of leaders sticking to a message, “When you get tired of saying it, your employees are just starting to get it.” Usually, this applies to slogans or key messages that CEOs think they’ve said ad nauseam and are ready to throw out in favor of new messaging. Messages of anti-racism, equality, and inclusion, followed by action, never gets old. Keep the conversation going and listen more than you talk.
Understand that this is not a diversity issue; it’s a systemic racism issue that has been built into our systems for hundreds of years. I encourage you to look at your policies, practices, and processes to identify and root out any instances of bias. Use a third party if necessary.
Put your white privilege to work. Keep in mind that “privilege” does not mean wealth in this context; it means advantage. Put your white advantage to work to call out racism when you see it; when you vote; and in all that you do. Make anti-racism and diversity business priorities and business values.
Lead by example. There is no better way for a CEO to underscore commitment than through their own behavior change. If you’re wondering what behavior changes you might need to make, I encourage you to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test. It’s a simple test that helps determine if you are subconsciously racist.
As a leader of a company, or just simply as a human, the best way to encourage change is to start with ourselves. Learn as much you can and what it means to be anti-racist today; then take a visible stand.
Many people of all races are unaware of the ways Black people have intentionally been held back by policies of white supremacy. Saying you’re non-racist or your company is inclusive means virtually nothing in these times—especially if there isn’t visible evidence. These terms have become a business pablum.
People—your peers, your colleagues, and your employees—need to hear and see your anti-racist action. And, you can take action without becoming an activist. Be an example for others to follow.
Charlene Wheeless is a black woman, mother, renowned communications expert, author, and speaker with more than three decades of experience in corporate communications. After serving 15 years in C-suite positions, Charlene revamped a 120-year old company and has developed compelling communication strategies.