Advice to non-Black Leaders, Line Managers, HR & D&I Practitioners in Supporting Black Employees
Black employees and network groups are dealing, at a conscious and subconscious level, with: their own experiences of racism past and present, the external atrocity of George Floyd’s murder and countless others, the impact of the mainstream media narrative around the disproportionate number of `BAME` covid deaths, as well as trying to `show up` and continue to be professional for work. It’s great that a number of companies have been openly inviting feedback and listening to personal experiences and opinions of their black employees at this time. However a word of caution: to be repeatedly and continuously relied upon for voluntary sharing to help educate/lead on teaching for senior leaders and colleagues, on top of their actual day job which they were hired for, must be met with empathy and sensitivity to their wellbeing.
“It is important not to place any new burden of responsibility on internal black employees but it is paramount for them to receive the emotional support they require right now.” Petunia Thomas, June 2020
There are mental, emotional health and wellbeing factors to consider – particularly for black colleagues who, because they have shown willing, have shared their experiences of racism and micro-aggressions at work with colleagues, panels, teams and the organisation. HR, leaders and D&I practitioners and line managers need to focus their immediate action and efforts on support for them as they do, through 1:1 conversations, and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) which have black counsellors. Plus, there are self-care tips for black people experiencing trauma during this period. Remember, black employees in the main just want to be able to work in an environment that feels psychologically safe for them to be authentic. This safety enables and empowers them to share their stories more openly – whether it be via informal chats, conversations, talks, emails, focus/listening groups etc, so the more supportive, open and understanding the environment is for them, the better.
Additionally, it is important to recognise that, just as for other corporate strategic initiatives or operational plans where black staff are not specifically singled out to deliver or prepare these unless it is already part of their role in those particular departments, it is also not, in the case of black lives, the job of black colleagues and networks to suddenly be additionally pressurised into drafting corporate race action plans on behalf of their organisations over and above their current work (find out more about the `cultural tax` or `black tax`). Such work continues to be the responsibility of the leadership who are accountable for delivering these plans, albeit they may receive input and suggestions via listening groups for black colleagues, which they then use to make their corporate recommendations. Leaders can draw in black, external expertise if there is no explicit role in the organisation that already specifically and formally covers this activity.
Seven things you can do to support black employees:
And as we create and maintain empowering environments for black colleagues to share, develop and progress - and keep them safe and support them in doing so - we are making room for black talent and potential to thrive and flourish in diverse workplaces. All together we are working to create and maintain more actively inclusive cultures through behavioural and systemic change, for individual, organisational and societal growth and success for now and generations to come.
By: Petunia Thomas MBA CPCC, Independent Consultant, CEO & Director
Petunia Thomas LinkedIn
Petunia works to implement coherent, and systemic approaches with senior leaders and top teams to deliver change at the individual, interpersonal and organisational (systemic/structural) level.She facilitates Inclusive Leadership for Culture Change, Race Fluency Workshops, Black & BAME Mentoring (Reverse & Reciprocal) & Career Sponsorship Programmes, delivers a highly acclaimed Black & BAME Talent Programme, as well as helping organisations proactively implement interventions for Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting.