In the United States and abroad, recent protests ignited by the deaths of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others have highlighted struggles with the inequality that has ignited conversations around Diversity and Inclusion in media, government and business. People are wondering, “what can we do to make the world a better place?” To provide a more safe and supportive environment for people of color, we must commit to fighting racism and leaning into inclusion. Calls to action such as the #PullUpOrShutUp Challenge, in which beauty companies published ethnic makeup of their leadership teams, have created a new cultural expectation for Diversity to be at the forefront of the business.
Before leaders begin to make changes in their organizations, they need to understand the impact of racism on their team members. One of my earliest encounters with racism was in the fourth grade when a teacher advised me to lower my ambitions because I would not likely succeed due to my skin color. I struggled with this comment. For a child, words from adults in positions of authority can directly impact levels of confidence and self-worth. Eventually, because of my solid support systems, I was able to use this encounter as a motivation to aim even higher. Whether it be peers, bosses, biases and microaggressions at work, all of these negatively affect people of color in long-lasting ways. One-third of our days are spent at work, so leaders must consider how to function as support systems for employees. Investing in the emotional and social wellbeing of employees only serves to create a more cohesive and productive team.
In order to meaningfully combat racism in your organization, you must redefine your company values to ensure they reflect people of color. If you don’t know the best ways to begin this process, some experts can serve as guides to your organization. One guide is Reginald Love. Love is a speaker, author, former political staffer and author of the New York Times Best Seller, “Power Forward, My Presidential Education.” He suggests company leaders seeking to inspire an inclusive environment focus on three pillars: community, empathy and kindness.
Love suggests that before leaders focus on individual performance, they should establish a collective understanding of how the company’s missions and goals unite people of all backgrounds to enhance consumer lives. Finding ways to encourage employees to be mindful of the challenges employees face in and out of the office is a great way to support team members. Some organizations embed this practice into company culture by focusing on values such as respect or the “Golden Rule.” Making a conscious effort to normalize empathetic perspectives in the workplace allows employees to feel safe bringing their entire selves to work. Ensuring that healthy competition does not impose on value-driven behavior is a positive way to discourage bias and discrimination that people of color face at work, according to Love. Leaders must create open company cultures, where Diversity of thought and experiences are actively encouraged.
Another expert in business leadership is Jesmane Boggenpoel, author of “My Blood Divides and Unites.” Her book details the need for inspirational leaders during times of turmoil to inspire reconciliation and harmony. After a leadership team revisits values to determine the kind of company culture leaders wish to create, the team must develop a plan with best practices to ensure that it creates a tangible change. Boggenpoal recommends that employers ensure employees come from diverse backgrounds. That said, employers must also be aware of factors such as religious holidays that may need to be identified to respect employees’ beliefs and cultures and be flexible to the needs of its team. Boggenpoal also recommends that companies have Diversity ingrained in its company culture: CEOs and executives need to consistently incorporate diversity and inclusion messages in their communications and further to discuss these topics when visiting their staff. This sets a consistent tone from the top.
Most importantly, give your staff permission to show up as they are signaling to staff that they are free to show up as themselves can liberate them and lead to more creativity. This signaling can be done through practices such as social events with opportunities to present food or attire from one’s culture. Leaning into Diversity through acknowledgment and celebration of differences will allow staff to feel more safe and supported.
The protests and conversations online have highlighted a global desire for things to change. Everyone has a role to play that can fit their unique talents and interests. Committing to making your workplace a safe environment for marginalized groups is one of the best things one can do to play a part in creating a better world. By remembering the importance of empathy, flexibility and respect, business leaders can shift an entire culture and empower employees of color. With these tips, your company will be able to celebrate Diversity and inclusion successfully.