To support Black employees, leaders must lead with trust, involve all employees in innovation opportunities and connect with both the past and present.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans and an opportunity to recognize their important role in shaping U.S. history. As we acknowledge this, we must also remember the context of the past.
There is no shortage of wonderful stories about people with resilience and the ability to flourish in spite of racial inequities. People who navigated the unique historical barriers that come with being Black in America.
But while much has changed over the years, much remains the same. Black people continue to navigate historical and contemporary barriers in society. In many ways, organizational life can be a microcosm of society at large: Race matters in people’s experience of the workplace.
Reflecting on the events of the past two years illustrates how the consequences are felt differently depending on your status as individuals and members of society. In many ways, there has been a disproportional impact on Black people.
Building a more inclusive and equitable workplace must continue to be a top priority for leaders at all organizations; and belonging strategies have moved to the top of the leadership agenda.
So, as we pause to look back on history and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans this February, let’s also pause and reflect on the present by asking ourselves, “How can we make our efforts to improve the experience of Black employees more impactful?”
Here are three ways to build a more inclusive workplace; one that better supports Black employees.
3 ways to shift company culture to support Black employees
1. Lead with relationships and trust and the rest will follow
For over 30 years, Great Place to Work® has been studying the impact that trust has on creating a great employee experience.
Employees experience a culture of trust when they feel they are working for leaders that:
- Are credible
- Demonstrate a high level of respect
- Create an atmosphere of fairness
While it’s important to design diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging strategies that incorporate initiatives such as training and leveraging Employee Resource Groups, we shouldn’t forget the power of one-on-one relationships to the overall workplace experience.
Purpose-driven leaders are conscious leaders. Now is the time for leaders to be curious about how Black employees are experiencing the workplace and the external environment:
- “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
- “Are there things I’m unintentionally doing that block you?”
These are simple but powerful questions all leaders can ask. They lead to insights that can help leaders become more fluent in conversations related to race and inequity.
Consider this: Great Place to Work data show that Black employees are four times more likely to experience the workplace as unfair, compared to employees of all other races.
While there’s inequities built into the “system,” the system is not separate from the individuals. Leaders are responsible for working on the system, but they are also a part of that same system.
Purpose-driven leaders know this and understand the influence their individual behaviors have on driving impact. Reflecting on what you are doing or not doing to create the sense of unfairness for black employees can be a good place to start.
2. Remember the past and talk about the present
With the focus of Black History Month being one of celebration, and rightly so, there’s also space for us to increase our awareness of present-day challenges.
Over the past two years, issues of policing in communities of color has captured everyone’s attention. And the pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on people of color.
Two years in, we’ve started to normalize things and move back to “business as usual.” However, we should pause to remember that we continue to experience a time of great uncertainty.
Remote and hybrid work can make it harder to build connections and maintain a sense of well-being. The impact on working parents has been immense.
For example, 60 percent of parents in the workforce are Black and our recent working parents research shows that Black mothers are 47% more likely to be experiencing workplace burnout.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Baldwin.
There are issues inside and outside of the workplace that continue to make the experience of Black employees less than favorable.
We must continue to provide a safe space where topics of inequality can be brought into a discussion. Organizations move in the direction of the things we talk about, so having conversations around inequalities is a pathway toward change.
Let’s make Black History Month a time to celebrate but also honor the truth of our society, by being in dialogue around realities of the challenges Black people are facing and continue to face before our very own eyes.
3. Engage Black employees in your “post-pandemic” efforts
Dialogue is important, but so is data. Good decisions are made based on data. There are many opportunities for managers and leaders to analyze the organizational dynamics that create the barriers Black people must navigate in the workplace.
Having a systematic and continuous way of gathering feedback around the employee experience can provide the data and insights needed to create a roadmap for affecting positive change.
One story that data tells us – as businesses focus on rebuilding, post-pandemic – is that Black employees are 27% less likely to be involved in company innovation activities.
This is concerning because the pandemic has taught us that innovation is no longer a “nice to do,” it is a “have to do.” Because of COVID-19, businesses are having to ramp up the innovation engine and reinvent themselves. If the past behavior is any indicator of future behavior, Black employees will largely be left out of this innovation equation.
In the pandemic recovery period, we can support our black employees by making sure they are engaged in our reinvention efforts. Whether it’s through ERGs or involving individual contributors, we must adopt the mindset of Innovation by All™.
The upward voicing of ideas is vital to organizational performance and listening to black voices can ensure that valuable ideas are not overlooked.
While these three recommendations are not the be-all and end-all for improving the Black experience in the workplace, they can help us move one step closer to creating a great place to work For All™.
How supported are your Black employees?
Learn how Great Place to Work® can help you create an equitable and inclusive experience for employees of all backgrounds.