Support your Black workforce, now

Practical ideas to take action on the journey toward tackling racism in the workplace

Racial inequity is far from new, but a global pandemic and several recent instances of violence toward Black people in the United States have illuminated and magnified racial disparities with extraordinary fervor. The reprehensible murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are just a few of the recent events that are representative of the systemic racism and bias facing Black people inside and outside the workplace every day, highlighting the need for organizations and their leaders to better support their Black workforce, especially in this moment.

The additional impact of recent events on the Black workforce

Black people enter and exit the workforce as part of a racist system. While some organizations and leaders may now, for the first time, start to understand the racism facing Black people, it is not new. Black members of the workforce have succeeded despite such challenges. Now, imagine the additional burden of the ever-present horrific events facing the United States at this moment; this is the imperative for change and for action.

The American Psychological Association recently declared that “we are living in a racism pandemic,” noting the heavy psychological toll (that is, trauma) recent murders have caused Black people.1 In addition to the inequities they have faced for decades (including inequities that may be compounded by the intersectionality of their multiple marginalized identities, such as being Black and a woman), the Black workforce is uniquely affected by current events, facing emotional trauma, fear for personal safety, doubts about belonging, and uncomfortable or hostile work environments.

Inclusive leadership is a start

While organizations craft strategies to best support Black members of the workforce, every individual can also contribute to fostering belonging and promoting equity for Black colleagues. Research shows that inclusive leaders demonstrate six signature traits: commitment, courage, cognizance of bias, curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration.2 By cultivating and practicing these behaviors, leaders can foster a more inclusive workplace for Black workers—both today and in the long-term.

Inclusive leadership checklist:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to supporting Black colleagues—right now and moving forward.
  2. Have the courage to do better.
  3. Be cognizant about Black coworkers’ experiences and perceptions.
  4. Be ever-curious.
  5. Build cultural intelligence around current events.
  6. Collaborate with the Black workforce and allies.

Immediate organizational action and the practice of inclusive leadership are only starting points to tackle a system of challenges that seeks sustained attention and support. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is both an art and science, requiring patience and a multi-faceted, evidence-based approach aligned with an organization’s unique business strategy. However, regardless of the specific approach taken by each organization, this unique moment in history demands increased attention on supporting Black coworkers—immediately and moving forward—to create true change for Black colleagues, and for us all.

About the cover art

The cover illustration is a loose depiction of Blackness. As a whole, we as Black people have been accustomed to living in a type of parallel universe, an existence unique to only Black people. With the use of technology and social media, more people are able to witness some of these differences. The image on the cover could represent a mother, father, child, coworker, or even myself. The natural Black afro symbolizes the embrace of the beauty of Blackness in the workplace while challenging a frequent bias that perceives Black features as unprofessional. Black Lives Matter is a loving affirmation. Black Lives Matter.⁠

—Yolonda Baker, designer. 

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