This weekend, an 18-year-old white man drove several hours to a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood and fired open with an automatic rifle with the ‘n-word’ on the barrel. Of the 13 people shot, 11 were black. Ten of them died.
If you went to work on Monday by jumping straight into status reports or an overview of the upcoming week, you missed a crucial opportunity to be there for your employees.
Your people are desperate for safety, both physical and psychological.
On some level, we can all identify with the fear associated with the prospect of a mass shooting. Hearing about situations like this brings us face to face with our own mortality. And there are far too many in this country.
But there is an even deeper shiver when you learn that the attack was targeted, and that it happened as a result of someone’s dislike for you and anyone who resembles you.
For your black colleagues, the logic goes like this: if a man is willing to pick up a gun and kill ten complete strangers from a race fueled by hate, is it really that far to assume that there are people in our own workplaces, some of which we see every day, that also harbor a similar kind of grudge? Maybe they would never point a gun at me, but wouldn’t they invite me to a meeting? Pass me for a promotion? Talking bad about me to others? Skip my strengths and focus my assessment on my weaknesses?
The conventional wisdom at times like these is to condemn the act, reinforce your company’s values, and then listen to your employees from the affected communities.
A little advice on the first two points:
Companies typically gravitate toward statements that “condemn all acts of hate” or remind readers that your company has “zero tolerance for intolerance.” Resist that urge. Not only is it right, but it is critical to address directly the adversity facing minorities in this country. Don’t be vague. White supremacy is wrong, and it is specific. Call it what it is or it will never go away.
And there is also a trick for the earpiece. Like I said Business Insider after the murder of george floyd, now is the time to create space for ideas from your minority colleagues, but not to exert pressure.
“Your minority colleagues are just that in the workplace — minorities. Because there are so few in every room, they work two or three times as long to make their perspectives heard. Help amplify those voices, but don’t put pressure on them about having answers – especially when it comes to diversity.”
And remember, while it’s important to listen to your affected employees, listening that isn’t followed by action bears a resemblance to the politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers” but refusing to address the kind of gun control legislation that would help. prevent events like what happened in Buffalo in the future.
You can draw a straight line between how much your minority employees believe you support them and what relevant actions they see you taking in your own company.
If you’re still telling minority employees that your company still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity, they know it.
If you have a “diversity council” or “inclusion task force” made up of minority members largely advising human resources and diversity and inclusion professionals, you’re still missing the point.
Think about what’s in your control and don’t just tell your employees, show them that you take their safety, support and success seriously.
Is offering leisure for the sake of well-being? Free advice for who needs someone to talk to? Perhaps it’s the combination of creating an ombudsman-style program that allows employees to anonymously voice their concerns about race in the workplace and then take tangible and immediate action to address the concerns raised.
Whatever it is, do it resolutely, but without expecting praise. Remember that the work you do is not a favor to anyone, but it is a small step towards a more level playing field for all. If you do it right, your coworkers will feel safer and more valued in your workplace over time, making them more likely to stay.
This work is hard. But it’s the job of leadership, and it’s worth it.