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Digital - Business - Media

Actions Speak Louder Than Words
: What Will Businesses Supporting Black Lives Matter Do to Ensure Racial Equality in the Workplace?

The corporate reaction to the global protests over George Floyd’s murder last month has been a rush to social media to post statements of anti-racism and solidarity with those fighting the injustice. Unfortunately, this is where most companies and business leaders stopped. It is not surprising as there is a significant fear of doing or saying the wrong thing coupled with the lack of knowledge of what responsible action might look like at this time.

These macro-level issues of police injustice, racial inequality, and more, can be challenging topics for a brand or company to engage in. But the first step for a company or leadership doesn’t need to be larger than life itself, there are other important actions that will have a tremendous impact on their business culture and the community in which they operate.

We all must learn how to become allies and agents of change. That means recognizing that it will take a lot more than putting out a tweet or carefully worded statement. This is going to require work, it will require time, it will require money, and it will require the will to change.

When close to 95% of the United States population doesn’t see themselves as racist, we know there are structural elements at play which most people aren’t recognizing. There are systemic factors being supported with ignorance or without active knowledge. This means we need to go beyond just making a statement that we think racism is bad and actually address the systems in which contribute to the overarching racist culture.

Many people and organizations may not know what a first, second, or third step should be but participating in a social media blackout or putting out a hashtag can make people feel like they are contributing to the solution – we must also remember that this is just the entry point into a complex movement.

If the fundamental goal is to create a safer, more inclusive, and successful workplace, and in turn community, there is some self-assessment that is required. Do you and your organization support policies and political campaigns that are problematic and destructive for visible minorities? Are you partnering with organizations that are working to change these systems and policies? Are you having tough and uncomfortable conversations with staff members about what they can be doing better? Are you challenging injustice you personally see in your workplace?  Are you creating space for others to share their stories and experiences? Engaging friends who make jokes that support a culture of violence and marginalization? Are you analyzing your own internal biases that have contributed to a societal structure that allows this to happen and that keeps racialized structures in place? Each and every one of us has a role to play in challenging racism and changing the culture.

While we now recognize there is so much for us to do, it can be incredibly daunting to assess what a first step might look like for you and your business. But it is incumbent on us to start to listen and take the lead from those directly impacted.

We don’t just wake up and become an ally – it is a skill that is developed over time. Learning means making mistakes and being open to hearing feedback. Talk to others to understand the challenges they experience. It can feel uncomfortable asking these questions out of fear of saying the wrong thing but that is all part of this evolutionary journey.

We next need to take some time to understand our own biases and how they have fueled our own decisions and experiences. And use our newfound understanding of biases to fuel action in our surrounding environments. Challenge an inappropriate joke, champion diverse staff members for leadership roles, and make your discussions and decision making inclusive by bringing more voices into the process.

Understand what it means to use your privilege and platform to change the narrative. It is great that you are posting hashtags, powerful art, or a story about the pain you feel watching all this unfold. But use the power of your platform on social, and in real life, to call out what allows systemic racism to exist.  Use it to amplify other people’s experiences. To challenge those who think they are allies but unconsciously support racist structures and act out microaggressions without realizing it. It is incumbent on all of us to actively listen, create spaces for people to share their experiences and use our privilege to challenge the existing systems and structures which have allowed systemic racism,  in its many forms, to exist

It will be incredibly tough and uncomfortable but we all have an opportunity to be a part of an exciting and necessary change.

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