How to Make Black History Month Matter: Become a Better Ally to Your Black Colleagues

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In order to strengthen the workplace and address diversity and inclusion goals, you must become a better ally to your Black colleagues. Part of the Black History Month 2022 Series.

How to Make Black History Month Matter: Become a Better Ally to Your Black Colleagues

During Black History Month, there is much focus on the achievements and future possibilities of the Black community. But these achievements and possibilities do not occur in a vacuum. Impacted by well-intentioned (and sometimes bad-intentioned) people who want to help, their efforts don’t match their intentions.

Because Black people are less likely to report to other Black people in the workplace, they must rely on their colleagues to create an environment where they can thrive and succeed.

Last year, I addressed ways to move from diversity statements to diversity actions in the workplace. This year, I am encouraging people who are not Black to become better allies in the workplace. If you do not self-identify as Black, consider this post directed at you.


Change Starts With You (and Me)

It can sound trite to say that during Black History Month, you should focus on yourself. But to create real change that positively impacts our work environments, we do need to focus on what we can do. In other words, it’s not enough to say you celebrate Black excellence and joy – what are you doing to create an environment where it is happening where you work RIGHT NOW?

I have used these same methods when identifying ways I can create a more just and equitable workplace, as a cisgender man, able-bodied with a terminal degree in an exempt professional role, who was born in the US and has built a certain level of social capital. Frequently, I looked at myself and what I needed to do in order to change. I learned to speak up and speak out for other communities negatively impacted by ‘-isms’ in the workplace.

By focusing on what you can change – yourself and your ability to be an ally – you open the workplace to possibilities that allow for more Black excellence and joy!


As a reminder: Ally is a Verb – buy your favorite product online today!

Five Ways to Create Change In Yourself

Below are five ways you can start to become a better ally to your Black peers in the workplace. This starts the process – continue to find and share ways that helped you change!

Start By Knowing the Facts

From Ella F. Washington in The Muse: “One of the most frustrating parts of the racial justice rhetoric of 2020 was the collective sense of unawareness of the plight of Black men and women in the workplace. [S]o many well-intentioned allies have not taken advantage of the plethora of resources available to get familiar with the facts. This includes research reports and academic studies that have come out over the years…that illuminate the workplace experiences of Black employees and, in some cases, Black women specifically.

“For example, a report from McKinsey & Company lays out the five common challenges Black employees face in the private sector, including high attrition rates, a broken rung between entry-level and managerial jobs, and a lack of sponsorship and allyship. Lean In’s report found that Black women’s success is often discounted and attributed to factors such as affirmative action or random chance instead of hard work.

“To be an ally to Black women, you first need to take the time to understand the data so that you have a strong foundation to build on. But remember that while intellectual understanding is great, the real work of allyship is in seeking out opportunities for action. It’s not enough to internalize your learnings and do nothing. It’s also not enough to wait until bias is explicitly presented in front of you. Instead, you must proactively look for ways to support Black women. Uncover inequities in your organization’s processes (formal and informal), policies, and culture.”

White silence is violence. Photo by Tharaneesan Nadarajah on Scopio.
We can no longer sit silent hoping that change will occur in our communities. Photo by Tharaneesan Nadarajah on Scopio

Discuss Your Salary with Your Coworkers

From Danielle Campoamor in Woman’s Day: “Experts believe that employees discussing their salaries with one another can combat pay inequity, as reported by The New York Times. And due to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, it’s illegal for private-sector employers to keep their employees from discussing their salaries.

“As coworkers of color prepare to ask for a raise or discuss their compensation, share your salary. And help them be better prepared to demand what they deserve.”

Let’s Talk About Racial Microaggressions In The Workplace

From Dwana Young from the NJ Resiliency Coalition: “Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to marginalized individuals and groups.”

The “micro” in microaggression refers to person-to-person interactions, while “macro” refers to systemic racism. Systemic racism includes social structure and institutions.

“Racial microaggressions are constant stings and barbs. They negatively impact job satisfaction, self-esteem, and mental health issues of your black employees. They can also impact physical health.

“Racial microaggressions include white employees assuming that a black employee is of a lesser employment status, asking a black coworker to get you a cup of coffee or copies, asking a black woman if you can touch her hair, requesting a white supervisor because you think a black supervisor “isn’t a good fit,” asking a black employee how they got their job, commenting to a black coworker that he is “so articulate,” or referring to a black employee as “you people.”

Don’t automatically expect your Black coworkers to talk to you about race.

From Patia Braithwaite in Self Magazine: “It’s encouraging that you want to support your Black colleagues in the workplace, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect they’ll want you to emotionally support them. If your Black colleague doesn’t regularly talk to you about personal problems (think a spat with their partner, issues with in-laws, or even a frustrating traffic jam), you might not be the person they’re going to turn to when it comes to racism, Cummings says. And that’s fine. Luckily, there are other ways to lend support that doesn’t require your Black colleague to do any emotional labor, which we’ll explore on this list. If you’re close with your coworker, it’s fine to broach the subject delicately. But remember that everyone is different, and the invitation to talk might not be well-received.”

Photo by Javier Sanchez Mingorance on Scopio.
We must create connections with our Black peers, recognizing their individual humanity while recognizing the collective impact of racism on their lives on a daily basis. Photo by Javier Sanchez Mingorance on Scopio.

See the Black Folks are More than Black Folks

From Jennifer Joe and Wendy Smith, in The Conversation: “People are more productive at work when they feel that colleagues see them with nuance – with unique passions, talents, and interests – rather than pigeonholing or stereotyping them based on race or gender. It also becomes a lot easier to champion and advocate for someone you know well.”


Resources

Harvard Business Review: How to Be a Better Ally to Your Black Colleagues

Culture Amp: One Black Employee’s Answer to “How Can I help?”

Fair Play Talks: How to Be an ‘Actionable’ Ally to Black Colleagues at Work

Better Up: 5 Powerful Steps to Becoming a Better Ally

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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