January 05, 2021

Supporting Black employees: A movement, not a moment

George Floyd’s murder expanded the conversation about the treatment of Black people in the United States and beyond. On the heels of Covid-19, this event and other similar high-profile acts of violence perpetrated against Black Americans led companies across industries to publicly proclaim that Black lives matter and offer their plans for creating a more just and equitable world.

In late June 2020, Bravely hosted a conversation about supporting Black employees and created a brave space for our group of panelists (all Black professionals in Bravely’s network of coaches) to share their own experiences in the workplace and lend their expertise to the conversation about what leaders need to do for their Black teammates.

For many of the panelists, the biggest questions was, “Why now?” Why were so many companies talking about systemic racism and anti-Blackness in the workplace — even calling these toxic and deeply entrenched forces by name — for the very first time?

A recurring theme of the discussion was that there is no quick fix or prescriptive plan that can be quickly and effectively implemented to halt systemic racism. True and lasting change is hard-won and will take a lifelong commitment to reworking the very foundations our work is built on. To get there, organizations will have to activate now — there’s no time to lose.

Six months after that initial conversation, the same panel came back together to share reflections on what has and hasn’t changed. Overall, a sense of hope emerged. Bravely Pro Hakemia Jackson likened the moment to “an awakening that couldn’t be put back in the box.” Systemic change starts with small actions that build upon each other. Below are suggestions, reflections, and tips from the conversation.

Access the full recording of Supporting Black Employees: Six Months Later.

Reflect and consider

  • How are you building trust and rapport with your people? Do you have the relationships in place to be able to check in on BIPOC when something traumatic is going on in the world? 
  • Has your organization taken action toward creating a space of belonging and safety for BIPOC? Get clear on how you define action and how you communicate that out to the entire organization. 
  • Consider forming a “trauma policy.” Trauma will continue to happen — both in the lives of individuals and shared among any number of identity-based groups. What is your workplace policy for when an employee needs time to process something traumatic? 

Actions for leaders*

*Hint: Everyone can be a leader, no matter your role! Consider your sphere of influence. 

  • Check in with your BIPOC colleagues when traumatic things specific to them are going on in the world. But before you do, make sure you have the trust and relationship to do so.
  • Choose Courage: Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.
  • Be vulnerable and acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers — we are figuring this out together. 

Harmful actions

  • Don’t expect your BIPOC employees to have the answers on how to solve systemic racism in the workplace. We all must be part of co-creating the solution. 
  • “The biggest way to piss off your employees is to promise something and not follow through with it.” – Angela Dash 
  • Doing nothing is possibly the worst choice you can make. The urgency of the need for change must outweigh the fear of making a mistake.

Sarah Sheehan, Co-Founder and CEO of Bravely, reminds us that “this doesn’t get easier, but the commitment has to remain strong.” Allies will likely get it wrong. Shift away from fear of getting it wrong, and towards a growth mindset of “what will I do if I cause offense?” Have a plan in place to acknowledge, reflect, learn and make amends. Then recommit to your goals with an actionable plan, specific to your capacity and your team’s needs. 

HR Leaders were the unsung heroes of 2020. They’ve been tasked with transitioning us, overnight, from in-person work to working remotely, managing sick and care days, and finding new pathways forward for a more equitable workplace — one that cultivates belonging. As we enter a new year, we celebrate our HR Leaders and look forward to supporting your teams’ goals for equity, inclusion and belonging in the new year and beyond. 

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