Tips for Supporting the Sustainability of Black Professionals After Traumatic Racist Experiences in the Workplace
Over the past two days, my COO and I have had open conversations about our experiences with white women, who intended to be allies for us, actually perpetuating white supremacy in the workplace. During this conversation this topic broadened into us discussing the practice of self preservation for Black professionals especially in the forthcoming age of White allyship. Here’s how the conversation began:
As a CEO, I have witnessed Black executives leave my company and the companies I support as a diversity consultant. The main reason they decided to leave being that they needed time to heal from previous racist traumatic experiences in the workplace that lead them from high paying positions in Billion dollar enterprise companies, back into the startup world as entrepreneurs. 90% of them were women, mothers, daughters, and overall human beings fighting for survival. The hardest part was that as a fellow Black woman, I watched them leave and there was nothing I could or wanted to do to stop them. As a CEO I have lost two Black women in my own company for the same reason. I’ve sat at the end of the conversations that supported their decisions while simultaneously realizing it would hurt our company in the middle of a fundraising round, and the one thought I couldn’t stop thinking was “I get it Sis, go take care of yourself.” It hurt to experience such a conversation then and to relive it now.
Through the knots in my throat and my belly and the triggering of my own trauma, I found an overwhelming feeling of empathy, and that empathy came from a shared pain. The pain of constantly experiencing racism in the workplace at the hands of White men and through the misunderstood definition of allyship on behalf of White women and many other non-Black racially diverse populations is overwhelmingly prevalent on a daily basis. Inclusology’s COO, Jillian Roth stated, “As a Black (or any Global Majority) woman, it’s critical we own our power. White women will lead us to believe we are jointly fighting for our power. While they continue to disavowal their power at the expense of ours, which has a cost on our hearts, backs, and pocketbooks.” Due to these experiences, I have decided to write this article with 5 tips for leaders, executives, families, friends, and colleagues of Black professionals who are fighting for preservation and sanity in the workplace. Here’s what you need to understand:
- When we give you the call, answer it humbly and with accountability- The premise here is that when you receive feedback from a Black professional, whether it be about racism, sexism, or any damn -ism, LISTEN! Your response should not be a justification of your actions or an explanation of your intent, you need to hear that person and work to understand your participation in creating the situation. Feedback is a gift because it is an unexpected surprise. In some cases a medium for the preservation of our sanity due to the hundreds and thousands racist aggressions we face, an attempted expression before the bleeding of that thousandth cut. Create the space of acceptance and carry on with an attempt to act. Show us that when you know better you do better.
- Accept that you may not have been the first or the last person to do something that offends our racial identity, and if we tell you it’s about race, it’s about race- We’ve experienced it enough to call a duck a damn duck. You may not have been the ONLY person to offend us but you are the one receiving the outcome of those shared experiences. Even if you can’t see it, trust us, we can. It is a privilege to be in a position to learn about racism instead of having to experience it, keep this in mind moving forward.
- Give us time and space- When we request a day off, don’t hold it against us, if we tell you we’re not feeling well and you don’t think you see any symptoms, it’s not your place to diagnose us, especially if you’re the cause. If I fail to do my job it might just be because the workplace is not a safe enough space for me to authentically show up as my best self. Figure out a way to capture this data. An employee resource group, anonymous assessment, flash survey, 1–1 meeting with someone we trust in leadership can be your best friend for capturing data. And, if we don’t want to talk to anyone in leadership I can bet it’s because we’re not represented there! Close your diversity gaps from a place of authenticity and effort, it matters and we notice it.
- Add counseling/therapy sessions as a part of your insurance plans and allow us the time to attend them even if it requires us to leave work- There are some days where we experience hundreds (and I’m not exaggerating) racial microaggressions. These come in the form of slurs, signs, offensive statements, being passed over for promotions for being called and seen as aggressive, or receiving feedback about our hair etc. We need time to process this and in a safe non judgemental space and without feeling like we’re going to be disciplined for our expression. Taking a walk doesn’t work if you have to come back into the same space that created the need to walk in the first place. We need space(s) where we can trust the recipient of our venting and the workplace is not always the safest space to find that person.
- Create better policies for reporting workplace discrimination and corrective action for offenders- We need to know that our workplaces treat these issues with a high amount of sensitivity and severity. If we report an instance of racial discrimination whether micro or macro, you have to assure us that actions are being take to prevent it from happening again. We get it, people make a mistake, the problem is that if the mistake turns into the same mistakes and there’s repetition in the offense, from the same offender, we start to doubt your dedication to our safety. Show up for us!
Don’t just be mindful, be actionable, with the intent to change. Show us that you care about us as much as you care about your product and your profit. When you do, it’ll increase your profit. A superficial celebration of Black history month doesn’t cure our woes, sometimes it is a reminder of the discrimination we faced which created the need for a Black history month in the first place. Take these tips with a grain of salt and then sprinkle it on the ground so you don’t fall while you approach the work needed to change the reason for an article like this in the first place.