Business

How to talk to your employees about discrimination

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Protests over murder George Floyd They show no signs of slowing down, and at work this week, many bosses around the world have been able to address the unrest. For Afro-descended leaders, the legacy of racism is painfully familiar, so most can speak fluently about their experiences of oppression. Some may take the opportunity to speak at this time, but many will find it difficult to raise their white colleagues. Keep in mind that this is an emotionally turbulent time for color communities.

How to talk to your employees about discrimination
How to talk to your employees about discrimination

As for white leaders, some may have started their educational journey, perhaps by running diversity initiatives in their companies, but most recognize that they still have a long way to go. Some understand that they are very early on. Managers may be concerned with how they make their colored employees feel like they are being supported, or with the fact that they have very few Afro descendants. In general, they may find it difficult to find a language that can deal with all the pain, confusion and anger, and how to make real changes in their own businesses and in the wider business world.

“Understanding race and racial justice is a process,” said Lisa Brown Alexander, president and CEO of Nonprofit HR. “Most people connect with certain beliefs and perceptions, and it’s not easy to unpack them overnight. Admitting that you’re at the beginning is the first step. Admitting that you don’t know is difficult, but the way the tenacity you need to build your business is the same kind of tenacity you need to understand race and racial justice in today’s climate. “

We spoke to various diversity and inclusion experts about how managers and bosses should think about how to deal with racism today and in the future.

Whatever you do, be authentic

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Whether you’re a black or white leader, what people are looking for is real reflection. “I think now is the time for leaders to be authentic,” said Connie Evans, president and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. “By speaking to my own team on a weekly basis, I tried to be authentic by expressing my own fear and outrage, my personal feelings as a black woman, and simply sharing my thoughts about what was happening.”

Rumina Morris, an expert on diversity, justice and inclusion, agrees that this also applies to white leaders. “The most important thing is to come from a place of authentic guidance,” she says. “The heroes are the ones who ask, ‘What can I do? How can I help? Tell me more'”.

There are two types of bosses: those who believe in the stories and pain of black people, and those who believe in the idea that an inclusive workplace only makes business sense. Employees are happier with the job, and employers get better engagement when there is real interest. The fear of saying something loud on the subject should not prevent managers from taking a position. Messy conversations are better than deafening silence.

Address the broader context of the current moment

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“First of all,” says Dr. Donathan Brown, an expert on race and public order at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “Executives need to understand, contextualize, and articulate what the current crisis is: an ongoing and persistent pandemic, COVID-19, which causes a devastating number of deaths in color communities all over the world. Whether it is unequal access to high quality health care, police brutality or business leaders must set the tone that adequately captures the tensions in question. “

Do not leave the conversation as it is out of your reach

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“Too many entrepreneurs are unsure how to speak to their employees about racism, and this fear and worry is often the reason for their inaction,” Morris says. “Managers should model their subordinates how they navigate in work situations and conduct challenging conversations with confidence and skill. But when it comes to racism, bosses can quickly see that they are dealing with a problem that is beyond their reach. Let’s face it, most bosses are white. Race-based discussions are usually not part of their dinner talks. They don’t have to be, at least not the kind of intergenerational trauma and pain talk that black communities experience regularly. But the unease makes many managers avoid the discussion altogether. ”

Diversity initiatives are no substitute for serious discussions

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“Some bosses may recognize that they are incapable of racism and turn to ‘experts’ about diversity and inclusion,” Morris says. “You can hire a consultant who can get in touch with your employees through different lines. Some will even create a position of diversity and inclusion in their organization to drive racial and cultural dynamism in the workplace. But the real leaders who really stand out from the others are those who are curious and want to understand. They are the few who are ready to recognize their own power and privilege. They show humility in their ignorance and grace in their listening. They ask questions, ask for help and are not afraid of being wrong. Managers, especially from dominant groups, must be able to speak to their employees about racism. ”

Don’t leave them responsible for explaining racism to your black coworkers

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“It’s never the blacks’ job to educate whites about inequalities, discrimination, and daily struggles,” said Lillian Humphrey, director of cultural diversity and inclusion at Power Home Remodeling. “In general, it should never be the responsibility of a marginalized group to teach the majority. The majority should be self-taught first. As an organization, it is important that those in leadership positions use their power and influence to assume a position, make a statement and support the feelings of your minority employees. Hopefully, if black employees don’t start to see what their leadership is doing, it will have a ripple effect. “

But make it clear to your Afro-descendant and minority workers that you are here to listen

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“Black people play an important role in small, entrepreneurial organizations,” says Brown Alexander. “Your voices are important, so don’t assume that talking about them will be a burden. Some entrepreneurs may find it difficult to train their organizations, but others are relieved that they took the time to ask. Start by listening, learning, and giving people a safe space to speak. He extends his hand and says, “Sorry. I’m there. Let me know if you need free time. “And then you can start a facilitated conversation or some kind of survey to get a good view of the prospects for employees. My employees are about 50 percent black and I have a private meeting with them to share their concerns, frustrations, and experiences to be able to express it safely and then I’ll meet with all of my employees. “

The same applies to hearing other color guides. “I think entrepreneurs have the opportunity to look at their entrepreneurial community and judge whether it is diverse or homogeneous,” says Brown Alexander. “Use this learning moment to hear from entrepreneurs with Afro descendants about their experiences. Home owners of groups affected by racism have probably had challenging experiences at one level or another, be it developing their products or business, raising funds, convincing customers, etc. Most of them are fluent in these Speak topics. “

Establish safe ways for people to give honest feedback on their experiences

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At Power Home Remodeling, Humphrey says: “We have organized a number of initiatives and training sessions to encourage employees to have difficult conversations about racist issues that can be cumbersome to discuss. These sessions also create a safe place for black people Employees and non-blacks feel like they have a place where they can express their opinions and better understand what racism is. “

Bernard Boudreaux is the deputy director of Georgetown’s Business for Impact program and has worked in various corporate responsibility roles for Target Corporation for more than 30 years. He says that asking the following questions (in a secure, possibly anonymous survey format) provides valuable information to companies trying to understand their own work culture.

Here are the questions he suggests:

1. What could the company do better to fight racism at work, in the local community and in your country?

2. What experiences, if any, have you had in the company that gave you the feeling that race or skin color were a factor?

3. If you feel that leadership within the company has shown racist behavior. If so, how?

4. If there are business practices (human resources, operations, philanthropy, logistics, etc.) in the company that they believe contribute to or impose racist behavior or attitudes.

5. If you think that talking about races is a “safe” topic at work.

Be aware of the fact that your colored employees may not be comfortable talking to you about races

“Don’t assume that your employees feel safe or want to talk to you about racism,” says Boudreaux. “And don’t ask your employees questions about races or sensitive issues when their direct boss or manager is nearby. It’s about the work culture. Many employees can’t afford to be unemployed and just want to go to work. Do your best, get paid for a fortnight and come home safely. You don’t have the “luxury” to express your feelings and maybe get fired for it. Get to know your corporate culture! Make sure your employees are comfortable Feel arguing about racing before you start. Take a second and think about some mostly male, mostly white work environments, then ask yourself if 10 percent of employees of different races in your company would feel “safe” business talk about racism.

Don’t just talk to talk

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“There is something that feels very bad when an organization has never spoken about racial issues internally or externally, but now suddenly wants it to look like it has always supported its employees,” says Humphrey.

“Like many companies that are starting to publish on social media, how they support the # BlackLivesMatter movement, a wave effect has been created that has caused many companies to get on the train to make a statement,” Humphrey continues. “For some, the intention is perceived as real, for others it can simply be seen as a marketing trick. When sharing company news and posting about the racial climate, it is important to ask yourself two questions: “What is my real goal in communication?” And “How do I plan to continue communicating on this topic?” Your communication tactics will fail if you don’t speak from the heart or with a clear goal. And unfortunately your black employees become aware of this and not only do they not feel supported, they also feel needed. “

See if you’re part of the problem and make a plan to solve it

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“Many organizations don’t know they could be part of the problem,” says Humphrey. “If you’re part of a company that still has a racist pay gap, you’re part of the problem. If you don’t give your black employees equal access to leadership opportunities, or if you focus on attracting talent from different races, but not if you do As you grow in the corporate hierarchy, you are part of the problem, and if you are part of an organization that has not been adequately and consistently involved in supporting racial equality, it is important to be transparent and recognize that you are part of the problem work to change that and come up with a plan for it. And stick to that plan, not for the next few months or years, but for a lifetime. “

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