Insights From the Field Part 1 — How Organizations Are Supporting Black Employees Right Now

Still reeling from Covid-19 and the structuralized racism it lays bare, another Black citizen murdered in public on camera. Continued police brutality. Rebellions and protests. Individuals are asking—what can I do? Organizations are wondering—how can we support our Black employees and what is our role in addressing social injustices?

This week we connected our community of leaders, diversity and inclusion practitioners, people leaders, and scientists across the US to begin a discussion to answer these questions. With their permission, we are sharing what we heard in order to get ideas and resources out to the broader community so we can help each other as we navigate this critical moment.

WHAT WE ARE HEARING

Here’s what we are hearing about what’s happening in our organizations right now.

URGENCY The number one issue is urgency. Employees are seeking support, guidance, accountability, and leadership now.

SUFFERING Employees are reporting very high levels of pain, exhaustion, and confusion. Employees are suffering and we must respond. Our Black employees are dealing with grief, exhaustion, and fear. Most of our non-black employees want to help but they don’t know how to.

SAFETY Black employees have concerns over basic safety. They have an urgent need for support around wellness and mental health support.

LEADERS ARE HESITANT Many leaders want to respond but are afraid to do or say something wrong. They are unsure what their role is. There is commitment to the issues but a hesitancy to act.

MIXED MESSAGES While many companies are outwardly expressing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and related causes at this time—some are even donating to supportive organizations—they are also slashing internal diversity and inclusion budgets. While the messages of support are encouraging, employees want commitments to action to improve how structural racism and unconscious bias affect the organization itself.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED This level of injustice and upheaval is a tipping point. While organizations may have been able to stay silent to happenings in the wider society before, that time is over. That doesn’t mean organizations have to take a particular stance, but they do need to take care of their employees.

HOPE Inclusion and diversity leaders are hopeful that this momentum will seed true change beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. They hope organizations will turn this passion into commitments to build diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging inside the organization (e.g., removing bias and increasing inclusion in critical processes like hiring, management, career development and promotions).

WHAT IS HAPPENING 

Here’s what organizations across the country are doing right now.

CONNECTION & HOLDING SPACE Many employee resource groups (ERGs), especially those Black/African-American ERGs, are meeting frequently to hold space, process, grieve, and strategize. During this time of Covid-19, many of these meetings are held virtually.

Many organizations are holding space for employees to dialogue—some conversations are useful while others are leading to discord. Two learnings are that these sessions must be voluntary and they need an expert facilitator/moderator.

LISTENING Some companies are holding listening sessions to ask their Black employees what they need right now. Others are checking in directly with their Black employees and their ERG leaders.

What they are learning is that some Black employees need to dialogue and process, others need space and time away from work. They are learning that what has been done up until now isn’t enough or isn’t aligned with what employees actually need. This is part of centering on the experiences and needs of Black employees.

ALLYSHIP Allyship is a word with many definitions but the bottom line is many employees are activated but they don’t know what to do or how to do it. Many organizations are making commitments to host allyship trainings to upskill employees around how to support their fellow Black employees and how to be an inclusive co-worker.

A central piece of allyship is taking responsibility for self-education and this means organizations have an opportunity to facilitate that process by curating educational resources for their employees. One organization shared they are asking all ERGs to focus on anti-racist material and activities in the coming months (e.g the parents club might share resources on talking to your kids about racism).

MENTAL HEALTH & WELLNESS Companies are providing grief/trauma support available in the form of therapists, counseling, and PTO, especially for Black employees.

AMPLIFYING BLACK VOICES Companies are seeking expertise and guidance from the Black community of scholars, scientists, activists, and diversity practitioners — like Dr. Erin Thomas (Upwork), who has shared an excellent list of recommendations for organizations to meet this moment effectively, and Dr. Angelica Leigh (UNC) who encourages positive defiance from employees to make organizational change.

CRISIS TASK FORCE Some organizations are creating cross-functional crisis task forces who will be at the ready to meet the two urgent needs now (racism and Covid-19) and as they arise in the future.

LEADERS EXPRESSING SUPPORT Some CEOs are sharing heartfelt letters and video messages with their employees. Many of these messages are met with approval and relief. Others ring hollow or miss the mark.

DIRECTLY ADDRESSING RACISM In the past organizations have been hesitant to talk about race and racism. But that seems to be changing. Companies are holding trainings on racism and unconscious bias that include tools like the Implicit Associations Test.

OPEN QUESTIONS WE ARE HEARING

  • How can we align leaders with systemic change within the organization rather than just outward expressions of support?
  • How do we ensure our efforts will be sustainable — have lasting, robust effects year after year?
  • How do we use metrics and goals to hold organizations and leaders publicly accountable?
  • How can we support employees with chronic stress and the negative impacts on health outcomes?
  • How can we ask leaders to share what work they are doing to transform their own heart and mind?
  • How do we encourage employees/organizations to self-educate rather than ask Black employees to bear the burden of educating non-Black co-workers?

HERE’S HOW WE ARE TAKING CONTINUED ACTION

We at Forshay are committed to sharing what we learn, as we learn it. No matter what your expertise or experience in diversity and inclusion, we are all beginners in this pivotal moment. We are committed to convening passionate leaders, leading edge researchers/scientists, and innovative diversity and inclusion practitioners to share insights and actions. We invite you to join the conversation. Contact us at info@forshay.com.

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