By Sherry Robinson – President & CEO, ACTN Strategies LLC
We are experiencing unprecedented levels of unrest and turmoil related to recent protests and COVID-19. Whether it’s the result of losing a family member due to the pandemic or at the hands of police aggression, these national events have had a direct impact on people of color. Media coverage over the past weeks has exacerbated the suppression of grief and pain felt by many Americans. This suppression is usually unacknowledged by leaders and colleagues in the workplace.
Danielle Cadet emphasized the need for empathy of African-Americans in the workplace in her recent article “Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay – Chances Are They’re Not.” Many of these individuals have had to bear the personal loss of the pandemic and societal burdens that extend back 400 years, while pretending everything is “Business as Usual” at work.
We as leaders know that mental health, self-care, and the support of others promotes a unified workforce and economic prosperity within an organization. Those of us who acknowledge “the Elephant in the Room” and start the dialogue within our teams, will reap the benefits of a healthy and productive working unit with far less conflict and repressed resentment.
Here are a few tips to get the conversation started:
Research and Understand African American History
Explore Issues of Race, Racism, and Racial Identity by researching the plight of African Americans in America.
Make Accommodations for the Situation
Provide a “Safe Zone” for your team so they can feel comfortable discussing race issues and relations with candor and transparency without the fear of retaliation.
Listen Without Judgement
Listen to understand without judgement and advise your team to do the same. Encourage your colleagues to exercise sensitivity when sharing perspectives.
Leverage Tools to Start and Keep the Conversation Going
Seek out tools you can use to start and keep the dialogue flowing. For example, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture launched a free resource entitled “Talking about Race.” This online portal provides digital tools, online exercises, video instructions, scholarly articles and more than 100 multi-media resources.
The bottom line – Ignoring or making light of the situation will not solve the problem.