Several colleagues encouraged me to write about the recent events across the United States that the world has witnessed with sorrow and shock. Instead of me being flattered that they wanted me to write because they believe I have an important voice in this space and lend credibility to diversity and inclusion conversations, I lashed out. I had a visceral response – “YOU write about your dismay from the tragic murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. YOU talk about the difference between peaceful protesters and rioters. YOU explain why Black lives matter in this so-called land of the free. YOU should write about the long tortuous history of police brutality, racism in America and what people need to do to eradicate it. I am sick of writing about this. I am depleted from discussing and advising companies on these topics. I’m even exhausted from coaching friends and colleagues and educating White folk. I often leave these experiences feeling as if my messages have fallen on deaf ears or that nothing will change. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
But then I took a step back and intentionally disconnected from the news and social media for 48 hours. The overwhelming feelings induced from the news and the dangerously racist views expressed by so many on Facebook and Twitter was literally beginning to suffocate me. I couldn’t sleep, was nervous and anxious. I was feeling hopeless and helpless. I was feeling mentally defeated. I even began to feel physical pain from the agony of lives lost and the reign of hate in this country. I had to go visit my mom for some uplifting and inspiration. And some wine. Red wine. I had to talk through my thoughts and ideas about what I can share to be helpful in a grieving world where we’re experiencing so much loss, and in a broken country that is devoid of real national leadership.
Now I’m ready to write. I have sorted through so many wonderful pieces that have already been written, trying to determine what else still needs to be said. I realize that no one person can change the world, rewrite history, nor single-handedly dismantle systemic racism in America. But each of us can do our part to make our corner of the world better, safer, and free from overt racism and its covert behaviors and practices.
Let’s lead with love.
What do I mean by that? Let us all make a personal commitment to have empathy and compassion for our brothers and sisters. Check on your Black friends or colleagues. Reach out to see how he or she is doing. Practice active listening and ask questions when you don’t understand. Ask how you can be helpful. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room, as that is only more infuriating that you pretend my pain is invisible.
Within companies, let’s lead with love by taking these three simple but powerful steps forward:
Communicate often – and back it up with action. CEOs keep telling your employees in your own authentic words about how you support your Black employees and the communities and customers you serve. Stand firm in your belief and position that Black lives matter. Most important, demonstrate how you are supporting Black communities by finding ways to stand in solidarity against racism and injustice. Promote that you have appointed a leadership team who has the same genuine values and beliefs. The Black community will see you and appreciate your support and courage to talk about race relations in America. We know it’s difficult. We know you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. But nothing is more wrong than your silence. This is what real leadership looks like. This is leading with love.
Don’t Tolerate. Companies must be vigilant with enforcing zero-tolerance of racism, discrimination, or harassment in the workplace. And this can’t extend only to what is said or done in the workplace but even when your employees are outside of the workplace spewing hate, inciting violence, or expressing threatening or dangerous views towards your employees and customers who are people of color. Although your employees aren’t “on the clock,” they are still an extension of you. Just yesterday, I spoke to the corporate offices of Kroger and Dollar General to demand the dismissal of one of their employees. They had the unfortunate situation of a grossly racist employee who worked for both companies. Over the weekend, on Facebook, their employee – who proudly identified herself as an employee of these reputable brands – wrote (riddled with bad grammar and broken English) a horrific exchange about Black people: “I vote for that send every one of them back to Africa and every time a boy is born they are to snip them so they can’t continue to produce.” Kroger and Dollar General moved with incredible expedience to investigate and take action. Needless to say, this employee is now social media famous and unemployed. Companies have to take a stand. We have to convey to overt and covert racists who are consumed by hostility and hatred that this is NOT acceptable, and they WILL NOT prevail. This will not be tolerated. That you do not deserve to work with the public or serve the black and brown communities who are loyal supporters of our businesses. Kroger and Dollar General demonstrated that Black lives matter. This is leading with love.
Educate. Ongoing education is critical to truly understanding diversity, inclusion and becoming culturally competent. When speaking about the topic of diversity and inclusion education, I never refer to it as training. There is an important distinction between training and education. Training is teaching a particular skill or type of behavior. However, education is the process of achieving knowledge, values, skills, beliefs, and moral habits. For companies to play their integral role in improving race relations in America, we must invest in ongoing diversity and inclusion education. There is no one person who is so proficient in understanding this complex topic that they couldn’t benefit from education. Learning the intricacies of people and culture is a lifelong lesson. Invest in the professional and personal development of your employees, and the dividends will be innumerable. Participate in this education yourself and share your thoughts with employees along the way. This is leading with love.
To all my White friends and colleagues who have decided you can no longer be silent, thank you.
To all the companies, community leaders, government officials, and people of influence who have decided to be a part of the solution, thank you.
To every human being I know, and to those who I never met, if you allow love to lead in your life, THANK YOU.
I am filled with optimism. I have been infused with hope. I believe America will get to a better place.
Love will win.
Copyright OrgShakers: The global HR consultancy for workplace transformation founded by David Fairhurst in 2020