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Talking About Race at Work: Action and Accountability

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Since July, we’ve been giving you tips on how to navigate successful conversations about race at work – how to begin, how to come into these conversations with empathy and how to listen and learn throughout the process. After listening and learning more about the experiences of others, you have the option to take your work a step further. In order to end racism and racial inequality, it’s not only important to understand it but to take action and address it when it happens, especially at the workplace. Maybe you have heard the term ally or accomplice? Here at Colorful Connections, we like the term “equity broker.”

What is an Equity Broker?

An Equity Broker is someone who helps to alter the policies and practices where they live and work. ​It is someone who understands there is power in diversity and is prepared to put words to action by giving up their place, so a person of color may occupy it. Being an Equity Broker is about taking action when necessary and holding yourself and others accountable.

Three Key Steps to Becoming an Equity Broker

1. Say something, even if you feel scared. It’s not uncommon to overhear or see something at work that is somewhat inappropriate. Maybe a colleague says or does something that is not overtly racist. As you’ve been learning, however, microaggressions are still hurtful and a lifetime of having to deal with them adds up. When you observe something that doesn’t feel right, instead of ignoring it, address it. If you overhear someone mistake a Black colleague for another Black colleague, it might feel easier to let it go but an Equity Broker steps in to say why this isn’t okay. Sometimes, it means pulling the colleague who made the offense off to the side and helping them learn. For example, if they don't understand why that was problematic, remind your co-worker that people of color are not the same and how their actions could be hurtful, dismissive and offensive. Is there a chance your colleague might get defensive? Yes, but the alternative is allowing them to act out their own biases and make others uncomfortable. This alternative is not healthy for a workplace and it is definitely not equitable for all.

2. Admit and own your mistakes. No matter how much work you’ve been doing, you will still make mistakes. Everybody does. And when you have been doing the work and trying hard to do and say the right things, it can feel even more embarrassing. You may feel inclined to talk about all the work you’ve been doing. But Equity Brokers don’t brag. Equity Brokers are doing the work and are learning how to dismantle racism because it’s the right thing to do not because they want to get credit for it. Being an Equity Broker means you are okay with admitting and owning that you messed up and then apologizing directly for what you did and the impact it had.

Use your privilege to make space for and amplify BIPOC. At work, be sure that your BIPOC team members are getting ample time to talk and take lead. In meetings, be aware of the space you take up – especially if you are an extroverted person. It’s great when extroverted leaders take a pause to make sure that everyone’s voices and opinions are heard. If you are in a position where you are assigning projects or leadership roles, take a good a look at who has always gotten these opportunities and be sure you’re giving everyone an equal opportunity to prove themselves. Being an Equity Broker means being intentional. You must evaluate and reevaluate your team, your department and even your field. And then take action in order to change the power dynamics and make a more equitable workplace.

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