Breaking the Silence: The Crucial Role We All Have in Tackling Racial Inequalities – Part 2Sep 18, 2023
In today's rapidly evolving societal landscape, business leaders wield a powerful influence not only within the confines of their organizations but also in shaping the broader society.
As the call for social justice and the fight against racism continue to gain momentum, it is incumbent upon these leaders to proactively engage in meaningful actions that go beyond mere rhetoric.
Below, you will find two pivotal ways in which business leaders can exert their influence to positively impact their organizations' support of the current social justice movement and fervently promote anti-racism, thereby catalyzing lasting change within their workplaces and the wider community.
1. Do Away with The Culture of Silence
Racism is one of those topics that have long been considered taboo in the workplace. In fact, silence seems to be the default mode.
Many whites avoid this conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing or appearing racist or ignorant. If you are a person of color and you work in a predominantly white organization, you do it because it is exhausting to always play the role of educator.
However, avoiding these much-needed conversations is no longer an option.
“This culture of silence around racial inequities and its impact is often reinforced because it has been ingrained into our collective psyches that the workplace is not an appropriate place for these conversations.” (Dreasher, 2018)
As mentioned before, organizations do not operate in a vacuum, and employees (some more than others) will bring in the burdens of the outside world—be it stress, trauma, fear, or hurt. These emotions will, most certainly, impact productivity and engagement.
2. Create Safe Dialogue Spaces in the Organization
Given that silence is no longer an option, organizations should create opportunities for honest discussions on racial disparities and how to address the systemic disadvantages that are still in place both in our society and, perhaps, in the organization.
While conversations about race will indeed be uncomfortable for many, think of the tremendous impact that the insensitive jokes, the racially charged emails, or the comments many employees of color hear implying they were only hired so the company could reach numerical benchmarks.
More than ever, organizations need to provide opportunities that create a shared understanding of race and the inequalities that are still in place. Creating safe, dialogue spaces for difficult conversations to take place sends a signal that employers care about their employees’ well-being.
To be sustainable, these conversations cannot be isolated, one-off events. First, they need to be part of the training curricula as part of a systematic approach to addressing racism within their organizational culture. Second, they need to be immersed in the organization’s DEI+ strategic plan. There needs to be accountability, and progress toward racial equality needs to be measured.
Taking Personal Responsibility: 10 Steps That Will Help You Become a Change Agent
While organizations can play an essential role in addressing the systemic inequalities that still plague our society, every one of us can play a role in promoting race reconciliation. Below are 10 steps you can take toward that:
- Become informed about people from other races and cultures. Remember that there are many histories and many of them are not being taught. You can start by reading, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki. The book addresses the economic and political history of many groups in the United States, with considerable attention given to instances of racism.
- Have the courage to step up for inclusion when you hear a derogatory comment—even if it is not directed at you. However, do it in a manner that invites dialogue. For a free PDF with strategies for reacting in a way that invites dialogue, email me at [email protected].
- When you inadvertently cause offense to someone, acknowledge your actions without offering explanations, denials, or downplaying the situation with phrases like "I didn't mean it" or "It was just a joke, lighten up!" Instead, seize this moment as an opportunity to (a) gain insight into the impact your words had on another individual and (b) realize that there's ongoing self-improvement work ahead of you. Simply extend a sincere apology.
- Learn about your unconscious biases and how they impact others. Start by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is the most prominent method of measuring implicit bias and is available online, for free. I suggest you complete at least two of the tests. After that, find a colleague and discuss your findings focusing on:
- What surprised you about the tests?
- What, if anything, shocked you about your results?
- Do you have hidden biases that were uncovered?
- Gain insight into how your power and privileges affect others. Start by reading Peggy MacIntosh's article, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and then engage in a group discussion on the topic.
- Push for initiatives that ensure your workplace is a safe place for individuals to have conversations about racism and other polarizing topics. The two strategies presented earlier should help.
- Get involved in community initiatives dedicated to addressing and minimizing racial disparities. Your active participation in such projects can make a tangible and positive impact on fostering a more equitable and inclusive society for all.
- It is imperative to champion curricula reform in our educational systems. The content our children are taught in school should be a true reflection of the rich diversity that defines our nation, ensuring that they receive a well-rounded and inclusive education that prepares them for a diverse and interconnected society.
- Recognize the pain individuals are bringing with them to the workplace, schools, churches, etc., because of recent events, including the killings of unarmed Black men by police officers. How do the Black individuals you come in contact with feel? Have you stopped to hear their perspective? Read How Many More Have to Die? What Each and Every One of Us Can Do. This blog was written after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and offers some action steps.
- Above all, it is vital to make a personal commitment and actively take steps to reduce racial disparities, mitigate discrimination, and enhance race relations across all levels of society. This individual dedication is the cornerstone of meaningful progress toward a more equitable and inclusive future for everyone.
These are individual actions that can help you understand the reality that Back people face every day. We can no longer remain ignorant of the injustices many carry around with them. It is time to get uncomfortable, so we can all move forward together. The current environment is calling on all of us to take a strong anti-racist stance. I hope you use the power and privilege you have been granted to advocate for a more equitable and just society for all.
Mastering Cultural Differences offers a comprehensive, three-hour training focusing on our historical and structural inequities from a race perspective. In this highly interactive program, I work with clients, to help them recognize the need to have conversations about race, understand the need to overcome colorblindness, learn the steps to engage in a dialogue about race, understand the history of racism and the many histories we don’t learn, recognize systemic racism, and learn strategies to be an ally. Contact me if you would like to bring this training to your organization.
Subscribe to The DEI+ Newsletter!
Sign up to get weekly tips and strategies about diversity, equity, and inclusion to help you increase your DEI IQ. Emails are guaranteed short and to the point!