Beyond Black History Month: Supporting Your Black Colleagues and Employees Throughout the Year
Leading diversity strategist Torin Ellis recently joined us for an episode of the SeekOut Spotlight Series. During his powerful presentation, Torin provided an actionable piece of advice every company can use to elevate its diversity efforts: Ask every employee during their performance evaluation what they did to contribute to DEI&B.
DEI&B isn’t a responsibility that falls solely on HR and the recruiting team. Everyone in the company must be held accountable for creating a workplace where all employees are treated fairly and feel welcomed and respected. After all, the “inclusion” and “belonging” elements of DEI&B are driven by the everyday relationships and interactions employees have with each other.
As we conclude Black History Month, let’s discuss how every employee—regardless of their background, role, and level within the organization—can make the company a supportive place to work for their Black colleagues every day of the year.
Provide emotional support to your Black colleagues
The 2022 Black History Month theme centered on the importance of Black health and wellness. It’s a timely theme given that the past couple of years have been especially mentally and emotionally taxing for the Black community.
From being disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, Black/African Americans as a whole have experienced significant trauma. As Asha Tarry wrote on HR Executive, “Historically, Black people shoulder the pain and anguish of not only themselves as individuals, but also that of the collective group of Black people everywhere.”
Being emotionally supportive to your Black colleagues starts with listening and learning about their experiences—provided they’re willing to share with you how they feel. If a Black colleague wants to talk to you about societal issues or their experience in the workplace, here are some ways you can best lend an ear:
Listen empathically – There is a lot you don’t know and can never fully understand. With that in mind, simply listen with the intention of learning and being a better ally going forward.
Avoid offering advice or feedback – Even if well-intentioned, offering advice or your own perspective can come across as dismissive. Listen and be supportive but avoid chiming in with your thoughts.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable – Learning about the experiences of your Black colleagues is never going to be an easy conversation. Always remember that no matter how uncomfortable you feel, it pales in comparison to what they experience every day.
Listen closely to the Black people you work with and take what they say to heart so you can learn what it takes to be a supportive colleague.
You shouldn’t only rely on the Black people you know to educate you about the Black experience and Black history. Some may be willing to help you learn but others may find it too exhausting to continually have those conversations.
Take it upon yourself to learn on your own. Read books and articles, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts—and more importantly—share that content with your wider company. Consider starting a Slack channel where resources can be shared or hosting “Lunch and Learns” on topics you feel your entire company can benefit from learning about.
By proactively educating yourself and sharing what you learn with all your colleagues, you’re ensuring this important conversation extends beyond Black History Month, throughout the entire year.
Wondering where to start? Here are a few resources that were shared on SeekOut’s Slack during this year’s Black History Month:
The Biography of Sojourner Truth — National Women’s History Museum
Mind, Body, Spirit: 10 Self-Help Books by Black Authors to Help Align Your Life — Book Riot
Celebrating Black Deaf History Month With DEAFinitely Dope — Airbnb
The Guide to Becoming a Black Community Ally — Southern Utah University
True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight For Equality — Kunhardt Film Foundation
Check out these resources and search for other ones that will help you learn more about the Black experience.
Be conscious of what you say and how you act
We all know that the way we conduct ourselves in and outside the workplace is of the utmost importance. However, Black people often experience microaggressions from non-Black colleagues who lack the awareness to know that what they’re saying or doing is harmful.
Listening to your Black colleagues and educating yourself is the best way to learn how you can avoid unknowingly making a misstep. There has never been more dialogue about inclusion than there is today and it’s important to actively listen and participate in those conversations so you can learn how to do better.
Here are resources shared on SeekOut’s Slack that can help you educate yourself and your colleagues on common microaggressions Black people deal with at work:
Avoiding Digital Blackface, and Other Actions for Allies — Better Allies
Which skin color emoji should you use? The answer can be more complex than you think — NPR
Why Black hair is a workplace issue — Digitally Cognizant
Name Pronunciation Tool — #MyNameIs
Explore these resources and consider sharing them with your wider company so everyone learns how to be inclusive to their Black colleagues.
Speak up when you see inequity
Calling out harmful behavior in the workplace can be uncomfortable. But remember, being an ally means “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” Lead by example and speak up whenever and wherever you see racism, discrimination, or any form of inequity.
Inequity in the workplace
It’s easy to ignore harmful words or actions in the workplace when they don’t impact you. However, your company will never truly be inclusive until every employee is willing to call out inequity.
Ask your company leadership to implement an internal ticketing system employees can use to anonymously submit concerns to HR (tip: check out SpeakUp). HR can then follow up with the person affected, find out more about the situation, and determine how to best proceed.
Having an anonymous ticketing system in place helps employees report harmful behavior without fear of backlash. It also demonstrates your company cares about inclusion and wants to make it easy for all employees to voice concerns.
Inequity in hiring
Whenever you’re involved in hiring, ask the recruiting team and hiring manager upfront about their diversity hiring strategy. Is there a requirement that a certain percentage of the slate be underrepresented candidates? How do they intend to source diverse candidates?
However, sourcing underrepresented candidates is only a small part of the larger challenge when it comes to diversity hiring. It’s important to ensure every candidate who interviews is fairly evaluated and comes away with the impression that your company is an inclusive place to work. Here are a few tips for creating an equitable interview process:
Include a person on the hiring team whose sole responsibility is to be on the lookout for unconscious bias.
Ask every candidate the same interview questions and use a consistent rubric to evaluate each candidate post-interview.
Have candidates meet with a peer who can share insight into their experience in the workplace.
Encourage your recruiting team to follow these tips for every role so diversity is always top-of-mind when hiring.
Inequity in society
Encourage your company’s leadership to take a public stance on social justice issues. When issues arise, request they issue a public statement, publish a blog post, and make a social post showing support for the victims and/or groups impacted.
But more importantly, your company should back up its words with actions. Statements should include commitments to support community organizations that make a difference or to improve representation within the company. Hold your company to those commitments and request leadership provide periodic updates internally to employees and externally to the public.
Support the Black community outside the workplace
Your support for the Black community should extend outside your workplace to the community you live in. Donate to or volunteer with the organizations you asked your company to support or find other ones whose mission resonates with you. Check out the list of Black-led NPOs on Every.org and research local organizations that could benefit from your support.
Additionally, make it a priority to financially support Black-owned businesses. A lot of people do so during Black History Month, but these small businesses need your support throughout the year. Explore your community and share your experiences and recommendations with your colleagues, just like you did with the learning resources you discovered.
Here are a few resources for finding Black-owned businesses:
198 Black-Owned Businesses to Support — The Strategist’s list of Black-owned businesses, many of which you can order from online.
Support Black Owned — Search for specific Black-owned businesses by zip code.
EatOkra — Download the app and find Black-owned restaurants in your area.
These are only a few of the many resources that can help you find Black-led organizations and businesses so take it upon yourself to explore what your community has to offer.
Don’t let the momentum wane
As we conclude another Black History Month, it’s important to carry on the actions and dialogue that were the focus of the past 28 days.
Make it a priority to continuously listen, learn, act, speak up, and offer support throughout the year so you contribute to your company’s effort to make the workplace inclusive for your Black colleagues.
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