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NOTE: The following was adapted from the July and August 2020 Leadership Connect newsletters, with additional content added.
In the wake of recent #BLM protests, how do you re-engage Black and other minority employees in your company’s anti-racism efforts, given how emotionally drained these employees often feel these days?
It was an important question posed by a participant in our first Leadership Connect virtual roundtable, held July 23, 2020. Indeed’s LaFawn Davis (who was VP of DI&B at the time) was on hand to share her experiences and best practices and to answer questions. LaFawn’s response to that question was especially powerful and insightful.
“We can’t rely on our Black employees to educate everyone else about racism,” LaFawn explained. “They didn’t create systemic racism, and it’s not on them to try and fix it within their company. They can’t. They’re exhausted. Show them you’re taking on the burden of education and self-exploration, that you’re sincerely looking at the systems in your company and how you can dismantle bias and barriers. When you show them the hard work you’re doing, then you’ll start to see them re-engage.”
LaFawn added that Black Inclusion Resource Groups (IRGs) “are there to help, but they aren’t ‘The Help.’”
Some other insights and strategies LaFawn shared include:
- Don’t ignore what’s happening (with #BLM protests). “Acknowledge the pain of employees because...they’re so affected by what happens around them. It’s affecting their morale, engagement, capacity, their sense of belonging, their productivity.”
- Be patient and empathetic. “If there’s a particular marginalized community that’s experiencing great trauma, and that’s what they’re holding every day, there’s less capacity for them to be high-performing, to be innovative and to push against the status quo.”
- Focus on long-term systemic change. “We have #BLM on the street and on billboards. We have CEOs making lots of supportive statements. But all of these aren’t actually about long-term systemic change. Those things are great and employees are asking for them. But without the action to make change, it’s performative. So we really want to focus on things that will take us out of this moment and make sure we’re part of the movement.”
LaFawn also shared her three pillars of change:
- Remove bias and barriers. “Look at your systems that have been created to make sure they’re not rife with bias. The way you attract and recruit employees, the way you grow and retain employees, your promotion and performance review processes, the way employee feedback is given — are you looking at all of these things to make sure they’re equitable? Are you actually moving people around the company, giving opportunities in an equitable way?”
Equity should be the end state. “It’s where we all want to get to. But we’re not all starting at the same place. Privilege and power dynamics get in the way of equity. So it’s important to dismantle the myth of meritocracy and look inside your systems to make sure they’re truly equitable.”
- Build inclusive teams and products. “On the team side, it’s an employee’s day to day experience that matters. Their managers have to be a big part of setting the culture of inclusion and belonging on their teams. If they have a wonderful company, that's great. But if on their team they’re feeling that sense of belonging or psychologically safe, it's actually more important.”
Building inclusive products is around accessibility. “When you solve for accessibility, you solve for everyone. Building your products in a way that makes them available to everyone and serves the communities in which you operate is the goal.”
- Cultivate a sense of belonging. “Have you ever felt you shouldn’t go into a room because no one there looks like you? Sit with that feeling, that discomfort, because that’s what marginalized communities feel every single day.”
We all have something in common. “That’s what belonging is all about. It's not about being surrounded by people who look like you. It's about being surrounded by people who are connected to you in some way. It’s about creating spaces for connections beyond just what we look like or where we come from, but all those other pieces that make us align. IRGs are a good way to create those spaces for connections.”
It’s not just about diverse hiring
In conclusion, LaFawn advised:
“Over the past 15 years I've seen an evolution. Initially, companies really focused on diversity, which was about having a certain percentage of a certain demographic in their workforce. They quickly saw that it didn't work. Because you can spend millions on hiring more diverse talent. And they will walk in and walk right out the door about a year and a half later. Because if you don't focus on creating the environment in which they can thrive, why would they stay?”
How to avoid virtual signaling
Separately, LaFawn also shared her take on virtual signaling — what it is, and how employers can avoid it:
“The term virtue signaling is used when someone is trying to win praise for showing support for a social cause without actually doing anything meaningful to advance it.”
LaFawn added: “Employers can avoid virtue signaling by examining the actions –– not just the words –– that they take around anti-racism. Are you saying/doing something because everyone else is? Are you more concerned about the optics of your brand, or are you committed to real work around anti-racism? Are you being performative (as in posting a message of support only after you've been called out for focusing on yourself or your brand instead of the people who are marginalized)? Or are you being authentic by making systemic changes, examining privilege/power dynamics and doing anti-racism work?”