As our Country enters into the third week of the Black Lives Matter Movement ignited by back-to-back acts of police brutality on unarmed black people it remains a magnified movement today. The recent loss of the life of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, has quickly escalated into the renewal of raising our consciousness for the need to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism. A movement that is long overdue, wouldn’t you agree? As leaders today, we have a duty to incorporate daily practices that both addresses and supports the Black Lives Matter movement for the long haul.
Black Lives Have Always Mattered: As a leader, ask yourself “Will I be a Participant, Bystander or a Hinderance?"
First, let’s address the elephant in the room; where are our Black leaders in the workplace amongst the civil unrest? According to the Harvard Business Review, while the number of black people graduating from college and graduate school are increasing, the number of Blacks in management and senior level positions are almost non-existent, representing only 3.9% of senior management. “As of today, there are only three black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and not one of them is a woman.” In spite of the increased number of Blacks who are college educated, Blacks continue to be underrepresented in managerial positions in every aspect of the workplace across America. This is a problem. A major problem, especially when workplaces are advocating for Diversity & Inclusion. The very leaders we need to be the face of these efforts do not even have a seat at the table.
Moreover, historically--a large number of black leadership and employees have been showing up to work subdued for a long time to just have a taste of the “American Dream”. Many of us, as means of survival, have been falling in line and playing a role. Many of us have been silenced, concealing, overcoming, and overcompensating for too long. Our voices and feelings are stifled because we are going into workplaces where we are not welcomed to show up as our most authentic self. This is extremely traumatizing to say the least. According to the Depression Project, the impacts of racism on Black mental health ranges from feeling disconnected, decreased hope, increased “survival mode” mentality, decreased trust, depression, anxiety, and feelings of powerlessness. The most important job we have as a human being is to BE our most authentic selves; it is our birthright. However, many Black individuals do not have that luxury 40 hours of the week. Most are diminishing the best parts of themselves for 40 hours of the week because the systems set in place do not allow for their range of authenticity. Many Black leaders and employees have been dying a slow internal death up until this time.
The time has come for more non-Black leaders to step up, speak up, and stand with us on a daily basis. This movement requires non-Black leaders to be ”all-in” participants. This movement requires non-Black leaders to be on the frontlines, not just when we are faced with injustices, but to prohibit the injustice in the first place. As a protestor, I have been a witness to all the magic that happens when non-Blacks stand with us. It has been nothing less than radical solidarity, kindness, compassion, and love. It is possible. However, protesting is only the first step, the real transformation takes place when non-Blacks take this same level of energy into their everyday lives. With that being said, this time of healing and transformation calls for Radical Leadership from non-Black and Black leaders. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines radical as “favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions. c : associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change. d : advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs the radical right.” My definition is: Do the right thing everyday, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Do the right thing before the injustice occurs. Do the right thing when no is watching. Do the right thing even when it is unpopular. This is neither extreme nor profound, but it is a radical act in and of itself.
Here is my Call to Action for Daily Radical Leadership in the workplace for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Call to Action: Non-Black Radical Leadership
1. Research Everything you need to know about systemic racism and how to best assist the Black Community can be found on the internet. If you ask Black people to do any additional labor pertaining to this movement at this time and they agree, it is a gift.
2. Check Your Privilege “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Non-Blacks please do the work of navigating your own racial biases. This is work you must do amongst your communities without the assistance of black people. Black people are still doing their work of generational healing, this part is solely on you.
3. Call it Out It is imperative to create a safe space for ongoing constructive and productive conversations about race at work. As a leader, if you have not yet had the courageous conversation or at least checked-in with your Black employees, ask yourself; why?
4. Value My Experiences Because of Our Differences Our experiences in the world are different and this is a great thing, one might even view it as a form of privilege. Allowing yourself to see another’s perspective promotes out-of-the box thinking, creative and productive solutions while promoting a more inclusive work environment.
5. Offer Unconditional Support If you are fortunate enough to have a Black person on the leadership team, please support them. Do not undermine their knowledge, expertise, ideas, feelings and/or experiences
6. Compensate Black Pay livable and equitable wages to Black and Brown leadership and employees.
7. Hire Black Rework your hiring and screening processes to hire more Black people on the team. Not because they are Black, but because there are more than enough Black qualified candidates for the position.
8. Promote Black Typically people who are promoted look like those in leadership. It is more comfortable to groom someone who looks like you to take over your role, however, I encourage you to get to know your Black employee as a person. Take time to know their dreams, goals, background, skill set and so on, as we need to continue to diversify the playing field in order to increase the number of Black people at the table.
9. Amplify Black Voices Take the time to listen and hear out your Black colleagues. They live this experience each day, give them the proper platform to express their concerns and ideas for change. If they put an idea out there, please give them the credit they deserve. Thank them for having the courage to put it out there because they probably thought it over one million times and talked to a number of people before bringing the idea to the table.
10. Listen To Those Next Up Yes, that means the Millennials and Gen Z. These two generations are more colorful in every way possible then previous generations. Millennials and Gen Z are heading this change. We are on the frontlines demanding a change our ancestors worked for. We are extremely grateful for the paths the leaders before us have carved out, but now it is time for the baton of leadership to be passed. Leave the stigmas at the door and hear them out.
11. Don’t Assume You Understand Because You Don’t Being Black in America is a unique experience.
12. It is Okay It is okay not to know and admit that you don’t know. It is okay to admit when you are wrong. It is okay to not always be on the frontline. If someone who is Black/POC is a better fit for the position, speaking engagement, etc, pass it on over.
13. Long Game The long game entails a moment-by-moment, day-by-day reflective ritual of Awareness, Intention, and Practice.
Awareness Am I a participant, bystander or a hindrance? What is my legacy? How do I want to be remembered during this time? Am I aware of my own racial biases? Do I call out microaggressions? Do I know what microaggressions are? Am I engaging with everyone equally?
Intention What programs and/policies can you implement now that Millennials and Gen Z can carry on?
What are your policies against microaggressions?
What are your retention efforts?
What community outreach programs does your company support?
What are family paid leave guidelines?
What mental health assistance programs do you provide?
Do you have a mentorship or sponsorship program for equal promotions?
Practice Repeat, practice makes progress!
14. Accountability This is my favorite one. Let’s hold ourselves and each other in compassionate accountability in order to bear witness to the necessary transformation. A movement without accountability is a waste of energy.
15. Be Kind to Yourself and Others Healing is an ugly and painful process. However, on the other side of that is a beautiful transformation waiting to emerge. The transformation occurring right now has been generations of pain and trauma rearing its ugly head revealing the suffering of Black people. Please be gentle with yourself and others as we are better together.
16. Be Diligent and Strategic Keep your foot on the gas and apply pressure accordingly!
17. Respect is Given, Trust is Earned Trust is a luxury. Please keep this in mind as you’re putting forth efforts to make your presence and stance known in the space of BLM. Black people have been bearing this cross for a long time, we are both optimistic and skeptical. A moment of activism is not good enough, this a conscious day-by-day effort of dismantling white supremacy. Consistency and follow-through is everything!
Call to Action: Black Radical Leadership
1. Keep Going Black leaders this is your time to shine! We need your voices now more than ever. I know you are tired, but your team and the next generation of leaders are depending on you to continuously challenge the status quo.
2. Be Well Take care of yourself on all levels. We have been taught to feel guilty about radical self-care, but to endure the road ahead self-care is non-negotiable. Keep your mind and heart guarded, but open.
If you don’t take any of the above into consideration, I hope at the very least you take time to reflect my question of “Will I be a Participant, Bystander or a Hinderance?”
While, my mind is heavy, my heart is grateful for this transformation. Honestly, I (we) have been praying for this movement for a long time. During my time in the EML program, I was grieving. I was grieving not just the shedding of my old self, but for the entire Black community as we witnessed a number of Black lives that were lost during my time in the EML program. It affected me tremendously. Sadly, we are still grieving. In the midst of our cries and protests, black people are still being unjustly murdered and racially profiled. We carry this grief, outrage, numbness, and lingered hope with us everyday.
I am grateful to Carol, Rosana, Clarissa and the entire EML Community for holding space!
In Radical Solidarity, Compassion, and Love.
Zenobia R. Gaither
Layla Sayadd- “Me and White Supremacy.”