In the weeks and months following recent murders and injustices toward my Black community, companies and brands want to do better. Being an anti-racist company is top priority right now, and the public statements made, donations given, and pledges extended to assure that Black Lives Matter reflect this societal reckoning. But the work to be anti-racist and lead an anti-racist organization is not one and done, but an ongoing education.
That’s one sphere where diversity consultants can certainly help—and the demand as of late for exactly that has been abundant. In many ways, that is heartening, because it points to change. As a diversity consultant, I have never been asked so many questions, and I started my consulting firm, Change Cadet, over five years ago. Given this surge in curiosity, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the common questions I have been asked as a diversity consultant this month from non-Black people navigating their renewed commitment to being allies to the Black community.
Below, diversity consultant Dr. Akilah Cadet answers the top 4 questions she’s been asked this month by non-Black allies to the Black community.
1. Why does my company need to be anti-racist?
Companies that have not made both internal and external statements regarding the injustices toward Black people appear to be in support of the inequality Black people in America face. Also, it’s not hard to say Black Lives Matter, which conveys support of the equality and humanity of Black people. Basically, if nothing is said or done to become anti-racist, then companies are supporting racism and inequality, and that is not a good look.
Companies that have not made both internal and external statements regarding the injustices toward Black people appear to be in support of the inequality Black people in America face.
The power of the Black dollar and the conscious consumer is also not a component to ignore regarding the need to advocate for an anti-racist company. Black people are consumers who spend 1.3 trillion dollars a year and have a choice of where they spend their money. Same goes for conscious consumers who are usually non-Black, often white, and are mindful of where they spend their money. If companies do not have a clear commitment to anti-racism, these communities may be likely to support ones that do.
Money is needed to keep companies going. It is important for businesses to be mindful of where the money is coming from and who it may be supporting or hurting. Being an anti-racist company means changing the values, behaviors, and structures that uphold white supremacy and systemic and institutional racism.
2. Why am I uncomfortable talking to my Black employees about racial injustices?
Oh, if I could have a dollar every time I say “be uncomfortable.” White leaders need to understand that not saying anything, and acting like things are normal is hurtful to Black employees. As leaders, it can be a struggle to not be an expert in something or to have power or control of a situation. True leaders know when to ask help, hire experts, and do the work to understand what their Black team members may be going through.
As a Black woman, I grew up learning how to live in and navigate white spaces. At an early age, I learned about how the United States is built on values of white supremacy. That due to my skin color, I would be treated differently, so I would act differently to not be stereotyped as unworthy. My trajectory for success in America was determined by minimizing harm and negative actions by white people. For my life to have any value in America, I had to learn how to live in white America. Non-Black and white people need to do the same thing.
Take the time to learn the history, immerse yourself in understanding the Black community, how white people benefit from privilege, and how whiteness is viewed as the best. Be patient with yourself as you make mistakes, get sad, or feel anxious while doing the right thing. Be uncomfortable. It will contribute to making this country better.
3. We feel Black Lives Matter is a political/sensitive issue. How can we support our employees while remaining neutral?
Black Lives Matter is not a political or sensitive issue. It’s a humanity issue. I have said this countless times this month. If a company and its leaders remain neutral, I do not think the company is a healthy or safe place for Black people or allies to be. This stance means the organization’s preference is to affirm values of white supremacy. It means the company does not see the value in Black people feeling safe at work or anywhere (which, spoiler alert, means someone in leadership is racist).
For example, a large company put out a statement celebrating Juneteenth. The highest leader of the company (a white person) wanted approval of all messages of “that nature” to assure their client base wasn’t alienated (even though there is a Head of PR who is tasked with this responsibility). Here, “alienate “is a code word for “do not offend white people who may be racist but have money.” This sends a message of money matters more than Black people’s humanity and equality.
When a company stance is to “remain neutral” with politics, the situation is surely complicated to fix. To get things moving in the right direction, though, all executive leadership needs anti-racism coaching to understand their privilege and, in some cases, white privilege. This will extend to the executive board, too, if they feel the same. I always suggest leaders take my Power + Privilege workshop to understand how their individual behavior can cause harm to or provide opportunities for Black employees.
4. My leadership is not diverse, what do I do?
This will take time. Leaders like to be leaders. This means people in leadership positions do not leave at the same frequency as entry or mid-level positions, staying in their roles for years on end. It is important for a CEO or executive director to determine capacity for hiring BIPOC, not just for mid-career down, but for senior level and higher. For some companies, this may result in an immediate hire, and for others it could mean a plan to hire BIPOC leaders over the next two to three years (keep in mind the pandemic has resulted in hiring freezes). What’s most important is that companies be transparent internally and externally about their plan.
Sharing that hiring Black leaders is a goal that will take time allows the employees and consumers to hold the business accountable. Do what is possible right now, like finally giving that Black person the promotion they deserved last year. And be specific in the intended goal, because diversifying leadership can mean people of color and women. What is needed is hiring Black leaders. I cannot stress this enough. It is important to understand that if the highest level of leadership does not want to support, value, or understand the Black experience and Black lives, nothing will change.
Now is the time for companies to be proactive and not reactive. Non-Black people need to be uncomfortable, and through that discomfort learn about the history of Black people in America. Have discussions with your friends, families, and co-workers to have a better understanding about systemic and institutional racism. Or come to one of my workshops or Q+A sessions to refresh or start your path to allyship. You have the privilege to change the Black experience in America, and that’s powerful. Be uncomfortable. Do the work.
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