The past four years have brought systemic racism issues to the forefront of public awareness. No matter which side of the discussion you sit, we are all aware of the unequal response to BLM, social justice and pro-Trump demonstrators. All balanced against the growing boldness of white supremacist groups. It is impossible to separate what we feel about what’s happening in this country, and the attitudes and beliefs that we bring to work.
During this time, we need to practice heightened awareness and sensitivity to racial disparity which may be present in the workplace.
People may not speak up and say, “I’m being discriminated against.” Survey results indicate most fear their employer will find a way to fire them. In turn, they may, for fear of losing their jobs, resign themselves to unfair treatment.
But this always, in obvious and subtle ways, affects the quality of work.
Just imagine what it’s like to be blatantly or subtly disrespected just for the color of your skin – no matter how well you perform at your job.
And, this discrimination, in obvious and subtle ways, affects our attitudes outside of work.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, I was, perhaps naively, hopeful that organizations would begin to address systemic racism and how it impacts those in the black and brown communities, both in and outside of work.
I also became fearful that, because of all the noise in the system, the movement and importance of building true equality was losing its momentum. After all, human beings can only absorb so much information… and we can only make so many changes.
The escalating Covid-19 pandemic threw yet another monkey wrench into the way we do business, therefore, it’s understandable that addressing racial inequality temporarily took a back seat.
But then, January 6th happened. I was shocked to my core by the blatant ugliness, hate and racism which was on full display for all to see. And worse, I was deeply saddened to see how much support this hate was getting.
As a black woman, I am well aware of the racism I have always felt and face(d). But to have it so prominently displayed, at the cradle of America’s democracy, visible to the world, was disheartening, disappointing and a disenfranchising moment in our country’s history and journey.
Now, in the aftermath, there’s a lot of talk about people being held accountable for their actions. And again, no matter which side of the aisle you sit, personal accountability is one of the traits that we Americans should always remain proud of.
Our long history of pioneering and unwavering spirit is just as relevant today as it has been for the past 400 years ago.
But part of that spirit is the acknowledgement that the West wasn’t settled only by whites. It is the acknowledgement that people need to work together in order to thrive…not tear each other down. It is the acknowledgement that we can’t rely on the government to tell us to “play nice”—we have to walk the talk.
With race tensions so prominent, now is the time to take action. I don’t mean hit the streets and protest.
I mean, let’s all take steps (small, individual steps) to defeat racism in our own little corners of the world. At home. In our neighborhoods. At work.
In order to address racial inequities, employers must build their own awareness of inequality within their organizations; and expand awareness to their employees.
The conduct of your employees not only impacts your company’s brand, but it’s unlikely that racist and other inequitable behavior is limited to “after hours.” It’s essential to develop a clear plan and guidance on how you will respond to these moments.
I’d like to end this post with a wonderful African proverb, “Alone, I go fast. Together, we go far.”
Given the strain of the pandemic on businesses in the past year, I believe it is time to band together, to foster a renewed collaborative energy within each organization so that everyone is inspired to innovate, contribute, support, and to excel. An energy where everyone is equally rewarded for their contributions. And most of all, that everyone is treated with decency, respect, and kindness.
Change begins with awareness, and intentional actions toward the common good.
Rebuilding America isn’t going to happen in Congress. It begins in each home, and in every business.