How to support black colleagues during a pandemic of racism

boardroom of diverse people, diversity, black inclusion, black colleagues

Article provided by Perrine Farque, Diversity, Inclusions & Equity Advocate and founder of Inspired Human

Following the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, millions are calling to put an end to systemic racism.

People are calling for more to be done to address racism including holding their employers responsible. We recently saw Adidas’ employees put out a public call for a review of its HR chief Karen Parkin and whether she has appropriately responded to racial issues within the company. Organisations no longer can stay silent and there is lots that can be done to address the issue.

Many organisations are unsure on how to respond and while the situation may feel overwhelming, in truth there’s a lot of employers and employees can do to support black colleagues at work.

To say nothing is to be complicit

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 proactively push their leadership teams to be vocal about their statement against racism and against discrimination at work. This is a corporate social responsibility and it will have a positive impact on communities and society if done in a correct way.

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

Educate yourself

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.

Ask your black colleagues how they would like to be supported

If you aren’t sure how to provide support to your black colleagues just ask. Practicing 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.

Speak up!

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 per cent) of respondents said their workplace had done nothing to address the relevant issues.

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

Mentor your 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 enforce a behaviour of equity in the organisation, in working toward fair outcomes for black people by treating them in ways that address their unique barriers.

Create new communication channels

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

It is important to drive this communication from the top down. As an organisation reviews your policies on racial equality. Clearly, racism at work is already illegal, but you need to be sure everyone understands 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 and keep communicating this across the new channels you create to tackle this issue.

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 at the individual level, everyone should donate what they can to support organisations that fight to end racism.

Decide whether to grant leave to staff who wish to attend protests, whether that’s to be paid or unpaid, 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 but there are many steps you can take as an employer and employee to start making positive steps to ensure that racism in the workplace is a thing of the past.

About the author

Perrine is a Diversity, Inclusion & Equity Advocate. Having spent over a decade in the male dominate 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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Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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