Racial Inclusion: What Your Black Employees Really Need You To Know

With all the current movement around diversity and inclusion at the moment, one would be forgiven for thinking that organizations have suddenly switched on the light, and are working in earnest to promote and embed diversity and inclusion.

There’s lots going on and with organizations moving forward with conversations around race, how many are articulating inclusion in an authentic way?

We’ve heard from CEOs, Diversity Champions and the like, but are we really articulating the voices on Black employees in an authentic way? Lots of organizations, having made their statements around needing to do better, and some have now stepped back to do the work. Or have they?

There is particular concern about the rate at which companies are using Black employees to fix racial inequalities in the workplace. Let’s be clear. Race inequality is not the fault of Black employees and increasing the articulation of race inclusion matters with Black employees alone, will not support building comprehensive changes around inclusion for Black employees.

It is instructive that large groups of Black employees, already weighted down with concerns that they are more likely to die in the Covid-19 pandemic, and discrimination in the workplace that affect Blacks employees disproportionately, are being tasked to fix racial inclusion.

Companies have failed with racial inclusion. Leadership would do well to heed the message around accountability and authenticity. Racism is a systemic activity, therefore, it is incumbent on leadership to drive through the agenda for change.

Organizations have long since been reluctant to fund initiatives around inclusion, particularly those concerning race. This reticence to fund race equality has led to Black employees missing out because of the absence of a legitimate focus on their key concerns and affairs.

Following recent global protests around race inequality, leaders in their wisdom, would appear to think that tasking Black employees to fix race inequality issues, on top of their day jobs, is appropriate.

In addition, Black consultants, who specialise in the area of diversity and inclusion, have seen an increase in companies, approaching them to pick their brains. And all for free. The risk of burning out Black employees, is worth considering.

The problem is that Black employees have endured, often decades of marginalisation throughout their working careers. Asking them to now support corporate responses to diversity and inclusion, particularly in the area of race, is not only taxing, but also grossly unfair.

Black Employees Are Not A Get Out Of Jail Free Card

Racial inequality stems from the systematic abuse of the skills and perceived capability and intellect of Black people, and the ineffectiveness of white leadership to make the changes necessary to build inclusive systems.

Black employees have suffered at length, via leadership created channels that serve to relegate their career chances. These systems have been developed, and reinforced, with impunity. Leadership now seeks to foster the unbending support of Black employees, in an effort to present a vision of togetherness with concerns of Black people. This matters. It really matters, and gives food for thought.

Black employees have been vocal in their objection to institutional racism, as it applies to their workplaces for so long. To suddenly be held up, as a beacon on shining hope, by leadership is not only disingenuous, it is dangerous.

There are a few things to consider here. How many within leadership have sought to really discuss the issues around the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter global demonstrations with staff, and offer support and counselling for the trauma that their Black employees suffer? How many have offered solutions to assist their Black employees at a time when they feel particularly vulnerable within organisations?

This is a particularly testing time for Black employees, yet leadership seeks to see this as an opportune moment to glean as much information about ‘blackness’ from these employees, seemingly in an effort to respond to the chants of racial inequality from the Black community and employees.

Of course, Black employees are willing to engage in the conversations about race inequality, but the hard work must be done by leadership.

What Do Black Employees Need From Leadership?

Let’s get this right. This is about leadership. The leaderships’s leadership. Leaders must do deep work. Certainly, this will entail putting money on the table for specialist consultancy and support for your racial equality initiatives, but surely you think it’s worth it. Don’t you?

Attaching value to racial inclusion is a must and one could only hazard a guess that this time, organizations must get it right. The easy way out is to involve Black employees to look busy and put out a statement or two, or post a few images to social media for the world to see. Your Black employees have been here before. They know the game. What is needed is authenticity.

Black employees need support. If you can’t provide it, due to lack of knowledge and expertise in this area, buy it in. It’s unfair to place additional burdens on Black employees during this time, and highly inappropriate to request it for free. The same level of support systems that were put in place to support employees at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, should be extended to your Black employees now.

Your Black employees need leadership to lead on the race inclusion agenda. They need to know:

  • that you are genuine in your stated commitments to advance the development of racial inclusion agenda
  • that you are cognisant that this cannot be a tick box exercise
  • that you value them as employees and not experts in diversity and inclusion who can change the world
  • that the concerns around racial equality and the Black Lives Matter campaign is one that will necessarily be fixed by leadership actions and not by Black employees
  • that real value is attached to race inclusion and you will remunerate resources and fit for purpose consultancy, to get it right
  • that you are willing to take time to talk to your Black employees, about how they feel during this environment and how you can help to support them by creating an environment of belonging

Harnessing the input of lived experience from your employees is a great thing, but leaders must remember that their employees are not strategists in race equality. Black employees do not necessarily have the skills and experience to deliver what many in leadership, suppose will be the end game for their shiny new race diversity initiative.

The impact of race inequality has been palpable. The discussions around it can be supported by input from Black employees but the hard work, as always rests with leadership being focused on the agenda, and accountable about getting it right.

Moving Forward With The Racial Equality Agenda

Leadership must get down to business and do the hard work necessary to build racial inclusion into the systems that will support inclusion and equality for all. It’s time to give your Black employees a break.

Black employees are not your experts and certainly will not continue to work for free to build inclusive companies. An active reversal of group think and a commitment to real inclusive change will be leadership’s next step, if they are serious about achieving real results in this area.

Leadership must establish budgets and utilise resources in a way that has not been done before. Inclusion and belonging is about making systems responsive to the needs of Black and Brown employees. Certainly, these employees are a useful resource along the the journey, but they cannot, and I suspect will not, endure the pressures recently thrust upon them for much longer.

Public relations pieces and activities are OK, but remember that this is about authentic, holistic change and it is going to take brave decisions from leadership to get it done right.

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