No Time To Be Silent: How to Begin the Conversation on Race
Updated: Jul 31
It has been just over two months since George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police and millions of people responded by marching and protesting on the behalf of all Black citizens. This resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has affected all of us – from personal relationships to our professional ones. We have seen companies large and small scramble to issue commitments to diversity and we have seen others remind us of the work they have been doing for years.
Wherever you and your company fall on this spectrum, one thing is clear: this is no time to be silent.
Of course, talking about race and systemic racism with your colleagues isn’t easy. For employers and leaders looking to help teams navigate these conversations, it's important to stress empathy, authenticity and of course, why this matters.
Here are four tips to help you begin a conversation on race in the workplace:
1. Lead with Education, Not Emotion
Everyone has a different take on what's happening in the world around us. And some employees may question the relevance of addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the workplace.
Regardless of personal opinions, it's a shared responsibility that's critical to the company's success. This message must be stressed. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the strategically smart thing to do. And without understanding the business implications of DEI, it will be difficult to rally all employees to achieve long-term success.
Here are a few resources to help you navigate your conversation.
The Business Case for Racial Equity by W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum Institute
We’re Entering the Age of Corporate Social Justice by Lily Zheng published by the Harvard Business Review
Inclusion, Not Only Diversity, Should Be The Goal If We Want An Equitable Workplace by Naz Beheshti published on Forbes.com.
2. Have a Goal
You should have a goal for each conversation you enter. This will help you shape and format the discussion, and ensure you come out with concrete next steps. And as you would for any meeting, prepare an agenda to help you plan accordingly, even if you don't plan to share it. Also, think through deadlines and action plans to ensure accountability and progress.
3. Set the Tone
Make sure to set ground rules for positive dialogue and practice authentic listening. Employees will be dealing with varying emotions, some of which, will be trauma. Showing empathy and support is a critical step. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you do need to show that you are prepared to do the work to learn.
4. Calls to Action
Make sure that after your first conversation, you and your team know when the next conversation is going to happen. Perhaps you will need to create smaller groups for breakout conversations or maybe you will need to create a DEI committee. Whatever you decide, just ensure your employees know that this is just the start and there is much more to come.