Diversity and inclusion. Amplify Black voices. #pullorshutup
No doubt, you’ve seen some variation of these phrases as the spotlight is on diversifying and highlighting Black voices. With the world’s eye on matters of race, it seems people are understanding more than ever that systemic racism and anti-Blackness runs deep. As we all know, however, racism and its effects are not limited to police violence.
When Amy Cooper revealed her prejudice and attempted to weaponize Blackness in Central Park in May, it got many Black folks sadly recounting their own “Amy Cooper” stories, particularly in the workplace. From microaggressions to passive aggressive acts, the stories are all too familiar, all too often.
As Minda Harts, entrepreneur, author, and speaker, tweeted “Many black women have had to leave their dream jobs because of women like her. I had to leave my dream job in 2014 because of a woman like her. Racism kills not just people but careers too.”
Amy Coopers exist and manifest in many forms within organizations and undermine diversity and inclusion efforts. As companies declare a stand against racism, efforts must turn internal to undoing exclusion and fostering inclusion and belonging. When factoring racial dynamics, the work is even more complex, particularly when Black people do not hold power or see representation within decision-making. Leaders, it’s time to be about it. Here are three key considerations to build and maintain inclusion as a manager.
Author note: While these tips can be applied to managers promoting inclusion overall, the perspective shared is for non-Black managers of Black employees. For Black employees who have open dialogue and healthy rapport with their manager or peers, we encourage you to share this article with them.
Develop your people management skills
First things first! Before you attempt to apply a lens of racial inclusion, you need to check your people management capabilities. Do you have what it takes? This may seem harsh but we’ve all seen instances where subject-matter experts and project managers—lacking readiness—are placed in people management to sometimes disastrous results. Good news though, all is not lost. With work, managers can build people management competency with honest assessment.
To manage is not to merely supervise work production against goals, it is to optimize your employee’s performance. This means being able to coach, resolve conflict, provide accurate feedback, and support organizational change.
Having strong emotional intelligence is critical for maintaining high levels of employee engagement. In a 2019 Gallup Report, employee engagement includes factors such as clarity of role and opportunity for employees to do what they do best. Gallup’s research also notes that managers directly influence these factors.
See how vital managers are in the experience and inclusion equation?
Managers, it is important to keep in mind that, for Black employees, being subject to bias and having labor exploited is seeped into many experiences, either directly or indirectly, on a regular basis. As such, you must be mindful of your words and actions and how they may translate into impact.
Good intentions with careless behavior is just as damaging as straight up biased behavior, just sayin’.
What you actually practice on your team does matter. Your Black employees are looking for consistency, first and foremost. Keep your champion energy 100 across the board. Management training and unconscious bias training are a start, but there’s more. Which brings us to our next point…
Word is bond: trust and advocacy
When you’re talking about true inclusion, then you are also talking about relationships. Now, don’t get it twisted. Building relationships does not mean trying to be all up in your Black employee’s personal business without invitation. We’re talking relationship to performance, to power, and to experience.
Your employees need to know that you have their back in the workplace and that you show it through your intentions, follow through, and advocacy. Advocacy comes in many forms but the most notable are:
1) Standing up for your employees timely
2) Investing in growth
3) Respect and providing recognition
Really, we are just trying to do our work and make a positive impact in peace. If your Black employee tells you something isn’t right, believe and act on it the first time. No gaslighting or making them provide dissertations to prove it! Supporting your employee’s growth isn’t just signing off on professional development requests, it’s taking time to work with your employee to optimize performance and create a safe environment.
Better yet, you might lead on identifying opportunities (with input), so the work is not always on your employee to seek everything out on their own.
Investment is letting your employees be seen, heard, and credited for their own work. You don’t get to just add your name by virtue of being a team or department lead. Your Black employee’s hard work does not equal your success for publicity. Ain’t nobody looking for partial credit after putting endless time and energy in!
By the same virtue, you can aid your employee’s visibility by including them in higher profile work. Be sure, though, to balance this work within the scope of your employee’s actual job. As a manager, do not—repeat—do not create false empowerment or overburden your Black employee by expecting work above and beyond the scope of their job without compensation or consideration of workload.
Thought partnership is not free!
As a manager, shifting expectations to your employee to come up with business ideas and engage in strategy (when that is not a stated part of their job) in the name of inclusivity is NOT IT. Besides the disrespect of it all, burnout is real, remember? And managers, you have direct responsibility in cultivating an experience that keeps employees optimal.
When it comes to recognition, it is important to appreciate and not designate. Your Black employee may be deeply passionate about certain issue areas, particularly regarding race or advancing the Black experience, but don’t assume that they only want to do work in this area.
Black employees want the ability to represent and showcase work—not to be the diversity representative.
So, when assigning projects, be sure that everything aligns back to the employee’s desired performance, growth trajectory and scope.
All we want is RESPECT…consistently and publicly!
Be in touch with emotion, but leave yours at the door
This paragraph is one of the most important you'll read.
We all know it’s a traumatic and painful time between the COVID-19 and racism pandemics but Black people live with these elements of inequity daily while still coming to work, being professional, and advancing organizational efforts. And, no this didn’t just start in 2020.
So while you may want to show vulnerability and shed tears, remember IT’S. NOT. ABOUT. YOU (or your need to affirm that you aren’t harmful or racist).
We get it, you want to show your support and be there. We dig it! The best way to do that is through your daily actions in the sections above.
What you should do is offer availability. But be sure that there is no spoken or unspoken requirement to engage. If the response you get is “I’m fine” or another short statement, do not continue to press the conversation. Instead, as Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts and Dr. Ella Washington wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article, affirm your intentions and let your employee know that your door is open and that you care (and sincerely mean it!)
Understand that your employee is likely under added stress and that flexibility and empathy go a long way in centering their experience and humanity. Work may serve as a helpful distraction, however, don’t take advantage of this state by simply adding more work.
While organization culture starts with leadership, the employee experience is uplifted or deteriorates at the manager level. Allyship is great but serving as a partner to leverage career success is better. If you are personally on the journey toward being an anti-racist, keep going. But keep in mind, your Black employee’s career experiences are on the line and thus, your mistakes and mishaps in trying to get it right can have deep and unintended consequences. Inclusion, particularly racial inclusion, requires inner work and a change in behavior.
True inclusion also means that not only is there a seat at the table, but some folks may need to move over to make room.
As a manager, are you willing to shift?
In what other ways can a manager show support to their Black employees? Drop a note in the comments and let us know!
Feature photo source: Christina Morillo from Pexels