Remember when talking about politics, religion, or race at work was taboo? Well, no more. With the unjust murders of Ahmaud Arbrey, Chris Cooper, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, once again, as a society, we are at a pivotal time in this country’s history.
White people are standing arm-in-arm with people of color. White people are realizing they must be part of the solution. Companies are reviewing their diversity and inclusion strategic plans. People are being pushed out of their comfort zone, moving through their discomfort, and confronting their privilege. The hardest part of this is not only starting the difficult conversation around race but continuing the conversation, especially in the workplace. Here are some suggestions for team leaders as well as team members:
Recognize there is a problem. Understand your purpose in participating in these conversations.
Be authentic and genuine. If you don’t believe there are racial injustices, then you won’t put in the hard (very hard) work required to confront and change those injustices. Acknowledging and validating that the problem exists mentally allows you to work towards and opens you up for change. Understand your “why,” your intent. Do you want to genuinely be part of the solution? Or is it because it’s what “everyone” is doing? These are not easy conversations and this is not a trend.
Understand and accept that people are at different stages of their journey.
Show up, prepared. Be respectful. Remember, some people are just starting their journey and others are well into their journey. So, be purposeful when starting a conversation. Emotions are running high so be prepared to say the wrong thing. But, asking questions from a place of genuine curiosity is a step in the right direction. Don’t expect POC to do the work for you.
Create space on meeting agendas.
Be purposeful. Create time on your meeting agenda to check in with team members. Create respectful ground rules such as “no interrupting” and “take a break” so that anyone who wants to talk has the opportunity in a safe space.
Reach out to your Human Resources Department.
HR Managers can play an important role in these conversations by acknowledging and addressing the emotional toll these difficult times are having on employees, especially for Black and POC employees.
Tiffany Castagno, CEO of CEPHR, LLC highly encourages employees to take advantage of the company’s Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) that can include mental health resources. “EAP is a great, free employer resource that employees can utilize and it is confidential to connect with them. Most employers offer this free benefit so you should check out the resources available through EAP. It’s great whether you know and are comfortable with your HR contact or not, since they are a neutral third party to connect with on concerns and to use your voice.”
Work on yourself. Every. Single. Day.
Sitting in your discomfort is not fun and is one of the most difficult things to do. But if you agree to put in the time and effort to soul-search and to reassess your biases and perceptions, then you are working towards change. Mindfully focus on and acknowledge how your advantages in life have shaped your views, biases, and perceptions. And remember self-care. Take a break but come back to the conversation.
I urge all of you to continue learning, to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to have the difficult conversations; continue talking, and continue creating safe space for these conversations.
Suman Kapur, M.S. is the CEO of Well Balanced Solutions. As a Leadership Consultant and Coach, she empowers leaders and team members to recognize basic differences in communication, learn how to create solution-based communication language to resolve issues and provide a safe space to understand communication problems as well as build confidence for individuals and teams to transcend these differences and work towards a healthy work environment. www.LinkedIn.com/SumanKapur