Violinist Elijah McClain’s deadly encounter with Aurora, CO police, Christian Cooper’s experience while birding in Central Park, and George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis officer have sparked a change in the conversations I’m having with clients and friends. These events and the worldwide awakening to issues of bias and discrimination have highlighted a need for many of us to do more at the personal and professional levels.
In these conversations, many leaders have expressed struggling with how to react or engage in dialogue on this topic, if at all. For many, these are new waters that will require personal reflection and self-awareness before being able to broaden the scope to others. It’s one thing to process your reaction to the situation, so when confronted with processing it through the lens of your, organization, community, team, and your Black employees and friends it can feel overwhelming.
Unfortunately, too many white leaders lack personal or professional relationships that could help them work through this topic with the necessary levels of insight, honesty, and compassion. So when we connect, I am finding white leaders and friends stuck, in one of three areas as they process these events:
1 The first is the Awakening where they are coming to realize the frequency and capriciousness manner in which systems of oppression and bias are applied to Black lives. They are seeing how their privilege allows them to navigate and go about their lives in ways that most Black and brown people can’t. And they are recognizing past misdeeds or acts of unintentional bias. This is often a very personal reflection and an opportunity to develop greater empathy for those around you.
2 What comes next is where many are stuck, the Response. Should I respond? What would I say? What can I do? How can I contribute to the dialogue? The fear of getting it “wrong” has many paralyzed at this phase. Your Black and brown employees want to hear directly from you about the conversations and commitments you’re making at the individual and organizational levels. This response requires a level of awareness and cultural competence that many leaders simply don’t currently possess or have access to.
As a result, some leaders are reacting like ostriches, burying their heads in the sand hoping that this trouble will pass them by. I just don’t see this happening. Our collective conscience on the ways systems and individuals negate the potential of Black and other marginalized groups are too high to be ignored any longer. We have entered into an era of moral (individual) and ethical (societal) imperatives where a failure to respond will only foment disaster. Leaders must find people, not just books and podcasts, that can help them raise their cultural knowledge to develop an informed response.
3 The final and most important reaction is real Action. This is what your Black and marginalized employees, friends, and neighbors want most of all. Action informed by empathy and dialogue. Defining actions requires awareness and knowledge about the issues impacting marginalized groups to develop effective strategies to address them. Leaders need to identify what changes they can make to the culture, hiring processes, policies, networking events, product features, etc. to improve the experience of their diverse customer, employee, and professional networks.
What is evident is, that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, most leaders lack a sounding board or diverse network that can help them process what they’re seeing, hearing, and reading. This much is obvious, most executive education and leadership development programs don’t address inclusion and diversity as directly nor at the level of depth that they need to. That alone would make broader and more in-depth leadership development and coaching a great start.
If you want to talk about navigating the waters of diversity and change, reach-out for a cost-free coaching session to explore how you can achieve better outcomes for yourself and your team.