The world is changing, and as more and more people shift their awareness around racial inequality, I am grateful to those who are able to act quickly. The work of those who jump in and organize protests and initiatives is necessary and helps move our society move forward in important ways.
At the same time, some of us need more time. Not that we’re less committed to social change—but some people take more time to process emotion and fully integrate new ideas before they are ready to spring into action. I am one of those people.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the actions I have been taking to more fully step into a growth mindset with regards to systemic racism.
At this time, we are called to action. Whether we take our action steps more slowly and methodically, or we’re ready to jump in right away, we must act. In this blog, I share five steps leaders can take to be part of the movement and bring your team members together in a powerful way to impart change.
Step 1: Take an Honest Look at Yourself
It’s time for all of us, but especially leaders, to take an honest look at ourselves. This is precisely what I did in my last blog post and I encourage you to do it, too.
Question yourself: am I in a fixed or growth mindset about systemic racism? What do I need to educate myself on? Find an extensive list of helpful resources here.
Simply acknowledging that this is a massive and complex topic is a good starting point. It can be very challenging to look at ourselves honestly, especially if we suspect that we may not love what we find when we pull back the curtain. Be gentle with yourself, and recognize that this is a charged and scary new shift we are all being asked to make. In the end, I know we will all come out better for it.
Step 2: Talk about it with Your Team
As a leader, your team is looking to you for guidance right now. If you find yourself trapped in a fixed mindset, hear yourself thinking thoughts like, “This issue doesn’t affect me,” or simply feel unwilling to take a risk in sharing what you think, your employees are noticing and wondering why.
Trust me on this: they are watching to see what you will do (or not do), and they are much more aware than you may realize. If you don’t say anything, you’re leaving it up to your team members to guess at what you are thinking—and it is very unlikely that they will guess right.
Be courageous and lead a conversation with them. Push past the fear of saying or doing something “wrong”; some leaders will handle this very well, and others will try, but stumble. It’s okay. The only thing that really won’t work is to pretend like everything is “normal.”
The key in starting a useful conversation is to create an environment where others feel safe to correct you and each other, share their own perspectives, and talk about what they are experiencing. Don’t miss this opportunity to pull your team together; acknowledge what is happening. If you need to, brush up on your history for a refresher so you can answer the question, “Why is this still happening?”
Step 3: Hold the Space for Different Experiences
We’re all coming from different perspectives and life experiences, and it’s important that leaders remember this so they can hold the space for everyone. Some people are very familiar and involved with what is happening, while others are only beginning to see the complexity. At the same time, you may come across people who are tired of or triggered by the topic.
Some need rest; others need action.
This is where empathy comes into play. Practice empathy for all, including yourself. There is a tremendous level of unrest in our country at the moment, and the issues are complex, nuanced and deeply personal.
You can practice and demonstrate empathy by being completely authentic with your team. If you don’t know an answer, say, “I don’t know. I’d love to hear what you think.” If you feel uncertain about how to approach the topic, say, “I’m uncertain and worried about getting this wrong, but I know it needs to be addressed.”
The conversation can be both about the movement and about diversity & inclusion within your organization. First, acknowledge the situation, and then allow the discourse to grow and morph from there. Your team members will probably pipe up to share stories, ideas, and questions when you give them the chance.
If you are truly struggling with facilitating this conversation, acknowledge that. You may have an opportunity to invite someone on your team to run the conversation, reach out to another leader in the organization, or bring in a coach from outside to support you.
Step 4: Hire, Develop, Promote and Sponsor
Your professional network probably looks a lot like you, which is significant, especially when you’re hiring. To create more diversity in your organization, look outside your immediate network for potential recruits; tap other people who have more diverse networks to find and hire POC.
Ensure that your new hires receive effective coaching, mentoring and sponsorship, that is, talk them up in senior meetings. Advocate for them when an opportunity comes up for which they would be a good fit. Have lunch with them and ask them what is working and what is not working, and make an action plan to do better.
Step 5: Review Your Organization’s Commitment to Racial Justice
Re-assess your organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and budgets. Do they proactively support racial equality? What is your organization doing to improve the lives of Black people—staff, clients, stakeholders or community members? What is your organization doing to hear the perspectives of marginalized people within the company and community?
Tangible ways of doing this can be as simple as seeking out a Black-owned business when it’s time to hire a vendor, supplier or other company need. It can also mean actively reaching out to its POC employees and community members to try and learn about their experiences (this is especially important for companies who have only a handful of Black or POC employees who may be feeling “pushed out” on some level).
In sum, it’s time for leaders to take ownership. Take responsibility and be proactive. Together, we can make a major shift in the current cultural climate toward a more inclusive, diverse, multi-faceted, and ultimately, better world.
If you would like support in starting a conversation like this among your team members, I am here to help. Click here to find a time to connect.
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