We’re in a period of social upheaval, and many have expressed the desire to broaden their perspective and grow from these events. Leaders, especially, have a weighty responsibility during times like these – starting with making sure that every employee is heard, valued, and protected in the workplace. Unfortunately, systemic racism across all facets of American life is deeply embedded and won’t disappear overnight, armed only with our good intentions. The goal for leaders – and really, for everybody – should be to start where they have the most influence. Now is the time to thoughtfully and with firm purpose survey our workplaces, examine our positions as leaders, and focus on the immediate good that we can do.
In order to make your goals and intentions actionable, focus first on what you can change across these three levels – systemic, interpersonal, and personal. This is a starting point for building workplaces free of prejudice and injustice – but I emphasize, it is only a start. While policy and relational changes are important, it is vital to continually examine and deconstruct the unconscious biases that live within all of us. These biases do damage in the workplace by making employees feel less-than or marginalized, and they must be rooted out. The Harvard Implicit Bias test can be a good tool for you (and your team) for beginning to understand and name the areas where hidden biases emerge.
Breaking down these barriers will be ongoing, but it’s necessary. And far overdue.
Personal Change: Show Solidarity And Empathy With Your Whole Self
- Engage with your people. Lead through the lens of your shared personal experiences and goals for the future – not merely from a technocratic standpoint. Leaders can all too easily get this wrong – in his response to the murder of George Floyd, Boston University President Robert Brown received criticism for his initial statement, which focused too heavily on operational plans for re-opening BU’s campus. This well-meaning yet overly dry letter missed the mark, when the time called for a deep personal statement of empathy and outrage. There are times when you will be called to lead from the heart. Be aware and open to those times, knowing that they make your leadership, your relationships, and your personal growth stronger.
Interpersonal Change: Be An Advocate
- Commit to real coaching and development with your team. This is vital work for establishing a pathway for emerging leaders within your organization, and allows you to get to know your people on a deeper level (rather than just employees who are hired to complete particular tasks.) As you learn their skills and aspirations, creating career development plans that will get them where they want to go, you will be able to be a strong advocate for them during opportunities for promotion.
- Fight to close systemic pay gaps. Armed with your employees’ development plans, fight to close any systemic gaps that exist in their compensation packages. This takes away a heavy burden from your employees – the burden of having to prove discrepancies and solve the problem of salary inequity only for themselves, when in fact, many companies have an organization-wide issue with this.
Systemic Change: Examine Your Diversity & Inclusion Practices
- Get buy-in from senior leadership. Leadership sets the tone and standard, especially when it comes to hiring and employee retention practices. Seek buy-in for examining your organization’s D&I policies from executives and your senior team.
- Seek input from all levels. Transformation can’t just be top-down. Spearhead the establishment of a D&I advisory board that will include employees from every level of the organization, to discuss issues in collaboration and continue to lead change.
- Advocate for inclusive hiring. Actively question hiring practices that do not lead to more diversity on teams and in leadership. Be an advocate for POC and women to be placed in senior leadership roles. Support and amplify their voices during internal discussions.
- Be a champion for equal pay. Initiate discussion with your peers and with senior leadership about salary equity, soliciting data from HR on where employees are clustered on the pay scales. Armed with this data, advocate for a realistic yet urgent timeline for closing gaps where none should exist.
This framework is only a start – anyone engaging with this conversation must be deeply committed to growth, education, and willingness to change when new events or new information comes to light. The role of a leader is not just to enact new policies and call that success, but to continually guide their organizations towards greater standards of equity and opportunity. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to have an impact in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other instances of racism – know that you can use your leadership role to make a difference. African Americans and other minorities have been marginalized in the workplace and in our broader society for far too long. As a leader it’s time to take a stand for creating change.
Sydney Mukes is the Student Intern at Success Labs. Her passion is leadership, helping people and organizations grow, and amplifying the voices of young leaders who want to see real change for justice and equality. She is a Master’s student in the LSU School of Leadership & Human Resource Development, a former member of the LSU Volleyball team, and Athletes for Hope Student Athlete of the Year.
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to grow leaders, build teams and drive results through great people strategy. Contact us to get proactive about expanding your company’s potential.