Your Company Says Black Lives Matter, Right? Hold Them Accountable.
In the weeks of protest following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubery, Tony McDade, George Floyd (and countless others), we’ve seen brands and companies proclaim that Black Lives Matter and that they stand in solidarity with the black community.
As well-intentioned as that sounds and as many people have called out, two questions remain: How can brands, corporations and organizations move beyond a social post and donation to create sustainable change both internally and externally? And how can Black employees within these organizations—often the “only one” and too often tasked with not only doing the job they were hired for but also the exhausting work that positions them as the unofficial spokesperson for all Black people—hold their employers accountable in creating a truly diverse and inclusive space in which they can succeed in?
I’d be lying if I said I had the correct answer to either of these questions but I’ve been working towards creating change within my own realm and would encourage you to do the same — regardless of your skin color. It cannot be emphasized enough: This is not just a one time thing. This is a battle we face as a community every single day. When another breaking news story inevitably takes center stage and as people resume posting their outfit of the days and breakfast bowls on social, we still feel that pain. Black people don’t have the luxury of “moving on” and neither should our employers. While it is not the responsibility of the minority to educate employers on ways to create an inclusive and anti-racist workplace, this is a unique opportunity to amplify our own voices and hold our employers and coworkers accountable to work towards the change they claim they wish to see. Here are some ways to start:
“Too many people of color feel uncomfortable at work.” – Harvard Business Review
Too often, Black people are tasked with being the unofficial spokesperson for every single black person in the world. All of a sudden, everyone wants to know what your thoughts are on a certain social post, message, campaign, etc. addressing the Black experience or Diversity and Inclusion.
If you feel uncomfortable providing your thoughts on that specific deliverable, or if it is truly not part of your job responsibilities to craft that narrative, social post, etc. let the person asking you know that. Feel free to express that your perspective does not represent the views and perspectives of every black person who might interact with the content and kindly refuse.
“Companies have fallen short when it comes to understanding how to develop a corporate culture where all employees feel included, respected, comfortable, and able to do their best work.” – Andrés Tapia, author of The Inclusion Paradox
While companies seem to somewhat understand the importance of diversity, the inclusion piece is clearly lacking. If you find yourself constantly being tokenized, tasked with sharing your “invaluable perspective” time and time again and/or are the “only one” in your workplace, offer up some resources to help your company combat that in turn creating the space needed for you to feel included, respected and ultimately do your best work.
Organizations such as Paradigm and Mimconnect are working to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into every aspect of organizations. If budget is of concern, there are free resources as well such as Dismantling Racism Works which offers free workbooks and information online. Placing these resources on your company’s radar via an email to your manager during this time could result in much needed dialogue and (hopefully) change.
CALL IT OUT
“Black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions in the workplace than any other racial or ethnic group.” – Center for Talent Innovation
For too many Black people, microaggressions are so commonplace that it seems impossible and exhausting to tackle them one at a time. But dealing with this constant discrimination, no matter how subtle, has serious consequences such as worsened health and lowered self-esteem.
While the emotional labor ultimately should not fall on Black people, keep in mind that addressing the microaggression in the moment can potentially change the behavior of the aggressor or at the very least challenge them to think differently. While your response will vary by situation, context and work relationship, you can call out the microaggression by asking for clarification, expressing your feelings and/or challenging the stereotype to get your point across.
TAKE TIME + SHARE WHY
“Police killings of Black Americans account for an estimated 55 million additional days of poor mental health for Black Americans per year.” – Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institutes of Health
These past few weeks have been especially hard and it is critically important for employers to understand that the specific experiences of Black employees are different than those of non-Black colleagues. This becomes even more important in environments where Black employees face daily microaggressions and feelings of tokenism in predominantly white spaces.
Take the time you need to care for yourself and your well-being and let your employer know exactly that. Whether it’s for a much needed mental health day or an upcoming holiday you’d like to celebrate, being transparent in your request could open up a dialogue about mental health in the workplace and the unique needs of Black employees during this time.