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 of people with resilience and the ability to flourish in spite of racial inequities. Stories of people who navigated the unique historical barriers that come with being Black in America.
While much has changed over the years, much remains the same. Black people must 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 2020 as an organization can identify and begin to address many of these challenges.
Building a more inclusive workplace continues to be a top priority for leaders of most companies. Diversity, equity and inclusion strategies have moved to the top of the leadership agenda.
So, as we pause and look back on history to 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 for them as both professionals and people
- Create an atmosphere of fairness
While it’s important to design diversity, equity and inclusion 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 super curious about how Black employees are experiencing the workplace and the external environment as well:
- “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 having 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 in not apart from the individuals. Leaders are responsible for working on the system, but at the same time, are 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.
Last year the issues of policing in communities of color captured everyone’s attention. But, we are also coming off of a year in which COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on people of color.
And while COVID-19 made being a working parent harder for everyone, we must remember that 60 percent of the parents in the workforce are Black. Recent working parents research conducted by Great Place to Work in partnership with Maven shows that 33 percent of mothers who are black are experiencing burnout.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Baldwin.
There are issues in the workplace that continue to make the experience of Black employees less than favorable.
Organizational listening sessions where we can bring topics of inequality into a discussion in a psychologically safe way are a powerful way to ignite the process of change.
What happens in society spills over into the workplace because organizations are in society, not apart from it. 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 build back better 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 provides the data and insights needed to create a roadmap for affecting positive change.
One story that data tells us—as businesses focus on building back better, 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” but more of 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.
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?
Interested in understanding how your employees view their relationships with their co-workers, managers, and leaders? Gather their experience with our employee survey.