In a single weekend this month, we saw 8 US cities rocked by violence through various shootings that left 65 people injured and 17 dead. The most devastating of these was a racially-motivated rampage in Buffalo, NY where 13 were people shot, 10 of them fatally. Because this shooting was motivated by racism, many corporate DEI folks are once again considering how to support Black & Asian employees.
I have noticed that many companies haven’t been publishing their commitments, thoughts, or prayers like they have for similar incidents in the past – and I’m grateful for it. Black people are tired of the words and need to see action. As a Black person, the pain is both cumulative and personal. It feels like there’s one of these events every couple of months now. As Cathy Park Hong tweeted, we’re now in a state of “constant mourning.”
To your Black employees and fellow leaders, the Buffalo shooting in particular is a hefty reminder that we can be hunted, just for being Black and minding our business. We are keenly aware that as our parents, partners, and children leave the house every day, there are people who want them eliminated for no reason other than the color of their skin. Black people live with this reality daily. Without action, recurring words of sympathy from companies come across as a brush-off.
As we come up on the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, the racial reckoning that followed, and the observance of Juneteenth, DEI advocates are searching for progress. Now is the time for companies to take action, and assess what they can do within their sphere of influence to create a positive impact toward a world and company where Black employees can feel safe. To help companies take action, here are some Dos and Don’ts during this time of widespread grief:
- DO visit your previous commitments and ensure that you are following through or are on track to follow through on those commitments. As you revisit your commitments, remember to prioritize impact over intention – and action over prolonged deliberation. Don’t exhaust all your organizational energy in endless discussions over the perfect next step, since that may not exist and your momentum may dwindle in the deliberation stage. Remember that racism has real-life implications for marginalized groups, so it’s important to acknowledge this by demonstrating your commitment through action.
- DON’T make new public statements or commitments until you have done an assessment of how you are doing on your previous statements and commitments. If the statement that you want to publish doesn’t denounce White supremacy outright, then you may want to rethink the purpose and impact of that statement. While the corporate world feels the increasing pressure to react to breaking news, employees and consumers can tell when messages are inauthentic and serve as window dressing for leaders who are apathetic to the issue. Companies are getting push-back right now on taking a stand on political issues that may be outside of their corporate purpose, words & actions that denounce racism really do support your workforce and bottom line – and should not be controversial.
- DON’T insist that your Black employees share their feelings or experiences, or that they educate others. It is not their job to educate the workforce or to explain their feelings to help generate empathy among your employee base. You can provide your organization with the education and resources for this. This is already an especially vulnerable time, so if your Black employees need space to heal and process, provide that to them.
- DO look into the mental health resources that your company can provide to employees and ensure that the service provider understands intersectionality and serves the needs of people of color and other marginalized identities.
- DO make sure managers provide psychological safety to their teams. Encourage them to check in on impacted individuals and acknowledge emotions. As MCCA’s Jean Lee explained in this LinkedIn post, this is an opportunity to make good on commitments to building inclusive workplaces where people can bring their whole selves, even if there’s a culture of leaving what’s “personal” at the door. Provide manager training to navigate these conversations and ensure managers understand that this is not the time to express their political beliefs. Train on the topic of cultural humility to help managers understand the mindset that they need to adopt at this time. Ensure managers from marginalized groups have the support they need during this time as well.
- DO seek out opportunities to understand the impact of the events and the lived experience of Black people, especially if you do not personally identify. Provide learning opportunities for your leadership team and spaces for employees of different backgrounds to regularly connect. This should be a time of self-education and vulnerability for executive leadership as they assess how they can leverage their social capital to create social change.
- DO support your DEI team. While I haven’t seen a current study on occupational demographics in DEI roles, it’s widely known that the vast majority of those in this role are people of color, and many are Black. They are responsible for leading the organization through these challenging times, while navigating workplace politics and microaggressions, and also personally dealing with the trauma of the tragedy. Oftentimes, they are understaffed, underfunded, and undersupported, while carrying the pressure of resolving their company’s complex and historical systems of racism and other “isms.”
- DON’T quickly forget. Media sensationalism has a way of quickly transitioning us from one big headline to another, making it easy to forget about this tragedy, especially for those that do not identify with marginalized racial groups. The reality is that Black people will never forget, and will continue to wear this trauma on top of previous racially-motivated acts of violence until the next one layers itself atop this one. Black people wear generations of this trauma physically and mentally, contributing to the physical and mental health disparities that we’re now well aware of. Be sure that you don’t quickly forget, because your Black employees never will.
- DO take a bold stance. Now is the time to put your weight behind anti-racist policies and connect with your network of internal and external influencers to support policies that support the safety of Black people. For example, since 2015, NASCAR has barred Confederate flags from its events and properties due to the flag’s racist origins. Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens committed to ending the practice of storing multicultural cosmetic products in locked cases as a result of the message that sends. YouTube invested $100 million dollars to support and promote the work of Black creators and ensures that artists are protected from White-supremacist and bullying content. These are just a few of the companies in a long list of those taking a bold stance to support, protect, and promote the Black community.
With these Dos and Don’ts, you can help your organization take meaningful action after Buffalo. Unfortunately, you will most likely be able to recycle these recommendations for future events as well.