Your Black employees are not okay. They have not been okay for years. The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery (in the backdrop of a global pandemic that is also killing Black people) has drawn a laser-like intensity on the systematic mistreatment and racism that your Black employees and the countless number of Black people in America experience every day.
As a leader, you must act now to dismantle the systemic and hostile environment that can exist in your organization. It is a moral and business imperative. These are things that you can do right now to make a difference in the dismantling of the racial and systemic injustice that many of your employees and customers are experiencing.
Leadership Action Plan
If you would like to fix this and make sure that your Black employees, other people of color, your customers, your partners, and friends, believe that you are committed to building a more just and equitable society where everyone can thrive, you need this leadership action plan. This is what I call a “Starter Kit.” These are things that you can do right now to make a difference in the dismantling of the racial and systemic injustice that many of your employees and customers are experiencing. You will need a much bigger plan long term, but the following is what I would advise you to do right now.
Step 1: You should check on your Black employees. This should be a personal phone call from you. Your goal is to ask them how they are doing in the wake of these events. This is a time for authentic listening and empathy as a leader.
Step 2: Your leadership team should follow Step 1. You should require that every member of your leadership team do the exact same thing you must do.
Step 3: Give your Black employees some time and space. You should give them two days of personal time off or create a venue/space at work for them to have time to grieve. We have needed a break from racism our whole lives. Give them some time off.
Step 4. Conduct an assessment of all your employees. You must get situational awareness of how your entire workforce might be feeling. Allow everyone to contribute some anonymous feedback. You need to hear what they think about how you as an organization have responded to this crisis. This analysis will give you a greater insight into what you can begin doing to make it right.
Step 5. Apologize to your Black employees. It has become fashionable for some organizations to make a statement of support for Black employees and to denounce racism; however, these same organizations have had hiring practices and employment practices that demonstrate the opposite of the most recent statements. It’s first important to acknowledge your own failures as a leader and as an organization in this area. Then publicly apologize for it.
Step 6. Bring in experts to help you build an inclusive, anti-racist, world-class culture. Let’s face it—if you knew how to dismantle racism and build a world-class culture where Black employees feel safe, supported, and empowered, you would have already done it. Treat this with the seriousness that you have given the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, when your expert tells you to do something, do it.
Step 7. Don’t dump this burden on your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team. We are good at what we do. We have expertise. But this problem is so much bigger than one department. This is a leadership and cultural problem. Your whole organization must be committed to building that world-class inclusive culture.
We will only stop racism and racist culture if we work together. As leaders, it’s our responsibility. You know that you cannot go back to the way things were before we saw George Floyd killed in the street, in broad daylight, on video. You must take action not only to illustrate an intolerance of racism but also to become explicitly anti-racist as an organization.