8 tips to support black colleagues during a pandemic of racism

Following weeks of anti-racism protests, organisations are being challenged with how to support black colleagues in the workplace

George Floyd’s tragic death in May triggered weeks of protests against racism and police brutality worldwide. Organisations have been left wondering how to respond. Many have expressed support for the Black Lives Matter campaign via social media, with staff and employers encouraged to challenge racism, whatever their racial heritage. But is it enough?

DiversityQ spoke with Perrine Farque, a Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Advocate, and the Founder of Inspired-Human, who believes that there’s a lot of employers and employees can do to support black colleagues at work.

Here are her eight top tips:

1.           Do not stay silent

The message is clear, acknowledge the facts, and speak up to help drive change. Official statistics from 2018-19 reveal that police in England and Wales were three times more likely to arrest a black person than a white one, and five times more likely to use force, while black people were also nine times more likely to be stopped and searched. When held in police custody, black people were more than twice as likely to die there. We cannot ignore that systemic racism still exists today.

As a leader in your organisation, you should make a strong, public statement to speak up against racism and show their commitment to proactively end racism. Employees should actively push their leadership teams to be vocal about their statement against racism and discrimination at work. This is a corporate social responsibility, and it will have a positive impact on communities and society if done correctly.

2.           Listen and acknowledge

It is vital that if you cannot relate, then don’t try to. You need to listen to your black colleagues and acknowledge their feelings. Don’t talk, focus on listening and learning without judgment.

Listening and learning help to foster workplace inclusion, creating an atmosphere where all employees belong, contribute, and can thrive. It requires deliberate and intentional action.

3.           Educate yourself and read more

We are seeing many organisations support the movement by participating in events such as #BlackOutTuesday and Juneteenth to enable its employees to learn about systemic racism and how it is impacting the lives of their black colleagues.

Employees and managers should proactively look for books, articles, podcasts to educate themselves about the history of systemic racism across the world.

4.           Proactively ask your black colleagues how they want to be supported

If you aren’t sure how to provide support to your black colleagues just ask. Practising empathy and offering support to your black colleagues should be emphasised. If managers don’t acknowledge the emotional impact on their colleagues and employees during an international crisis, they will not be prepared to address the implications that it has for your company’s bottom line.

5.           Speak up and hold your organisation accountable

Speak up, stand up, say something. Remaining silent in instances of racism is being complicit. Speaking up will help the company and society move towards equality.

It is also important to speak up at work and hold your organisation accountable for their actions. A recent Instagram survey found more than three quarters (77%) of respondents said their workplace had done nothing to address the relevant issues. We are now seeing an uprising of employees who are taking action to make this change; in fact, Adidas’ employees have publicly called for a response to racism and an investigation into their HR Director.

Organisations cannot stay silent and must take action to create a safe speak up culture at work and providing platforms for discrimination to be reported.

6.           Mentor black colleagues

Managers should be encouraged to identify talent within teams and to support them with the knowledge and opportunity to succeed. Managers should offer black mentees stretch assignment, glamour work, speak of them positively when they are not in the room, ask them what their career goals are. Becoming an ally to black colleagues is critical to respond to racism and discrimination in the workplace. Mentoring black colleagues enforces equity in the organisation; and works toward fair outcomes for black people by treating them in ways that address their unique barriers.

7.           Create new communication channels

Creating a new Slack channel or company forum specifically on the topic of racism will help fight and educate about racism. Invite as many colleagues as possible to become active members of that channel. This will inform colleagues who might have an unconscious bias towards black people.

It is essential to drive this communication from the top-down as an organisation reviews its policies on racial equality. Racism at work is already illegal, but you need to be sure everyone understands and that they take the issues seriously. Where your organisation has made mistakes in the past, acknowledge these, and accept where they need to improve. Ensure everyone across the organisation understands the policy, and knows what to do if they encounter racism. Also, keep communicating this across the new channels you create to tackle this issue.

8.           Donate to relevant charities

Donate money or time to causes that further educate and take action to end racism. Whether it is at the organisational level or the individual level, everyone should donate what they can to support organisations that fight to end racism.

Decide whether to grant paid or unpaid leave to staff who wish to attend, and what to do if someone has already used up their annual leave. Equally, with some events organised at short notice, employees may be asking for time off sooner than would usually be considered.

Creating a diverse workforce for lasting change is not going to happen overnight. Still, there are many steps you can take as an employer and employee to start making positive steps to support black colleagues and ensure that racism in the workplace is a thing of the past.

Following weeks of anti-racism protests, organisations are being challenged with how to support black colleagues in the workplace

Perrine is a Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Advocate. Having spent over a decade in the male-dominated tech industry Perrine wants to drive change within the corporate world. Her goal is to enable other organisations to become truly diverse, inclusive, and equal. Perrine has an extensive track-record of motivating and inspiring teams and creating a truly diverse company culture within tech companies.

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