by Cheryl Fields Tyler — Founder and CEO of Blue Beyond Consulting
As our Nation erupts in protests, we find ourselves — yet again — on the brink of a reckoning. The tragic and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are once again exposing the horrific results of systemic bias, prejudice, and racism against Black people in our country.
Are we finally going to step up and take on the hard, deep, sustained work of eradicating racism?
The vast majority of Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. embrace diversity and inclusion. We know that our companies and our communities are immeasurably enriched by diversity, and many organizations are making strides to increase representation, strengthen inclusion, and build cultures of belonging.
But that is not enough. What are we doing as business leaders — especially as white business leaders — to use our power and privilege to build a deeper understanding of racism and fight for racial justice in an active and sustained way?
Here are some things we can do — starting now:
Speak up – to your colleagues, your friends, your family, and to those in your circle with influence. Systemic bias and racism is real and is causing immeasurable harm to Black people. As a leader, you may be afraid of saying the wrong thing or offending someone — just know that your silence may be well-intended, but when people’s lives are quite literally at stake, silence it is not neutral. If you don’t know what to say, say that — but make sure the people around you know you are committed to listen, learn, understand, and act in the fight for racial justice.
Listen – seek out the voices of your Black colleagues and invite them to share their experience and perspective, listen deeply with an open heart and mind, and ask what you can do to support them. At the same time, give space for people to opt-out of sharing their feelings, since some of our Black colleagues may need a respite from it all and don’t need to be put on the spot to “represent their race”. If you need a place to start, seek out the myriad of Black voices online sharing their experience — here are just a few:
Learn – educate yourself and deepen your understanding. Listen more, engage deeply, and question your own assumptions. Here are just a few of the resources I have found helpful:
Engage – host discussions with your colleagues, start a book club or podcast discussion group, identify advocates for racial equity and follow them on social media, seek out Black people’s stories in media, movies, documentaries, tv, books, poetry, music, and art and share them with your family and friends, advocate for more awareness/training/and conversation about these issues in your own workplace, and make sure the children in your life learn about racism in our country and how we need to work together to overcome it.
Act – look within your organization and assess what more you can do to fight racism and advance racial justice. Support anti-racism political candidates — and VOTE. Support Black causes, businesses, and advocacy organizations — and suggest your company and others in your circle of influence do the same. Educate yourself about which companies are investing their advertising dollars on racist websites and promoting white supremacist views and withdraw your support from those companies – and let them know why you are doing so. These and many additional great suggestions are summarized in the Medium article above.
Sustain – join (or start) your local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, volunteer to help with your company’s D&I activities, keep listening, keep learning, and keep using your voice, your power, your money, and your privilege as a leader to fight racism.
Are there other injustices we must fight? Absolutely — we must use our voices and our power to fight for the rights of all people: LGBTQI, indigenous people, Jewish people, people of color, women, low-income people, and immigrants. But the painful truth is this: the distinctly American system of racist beliefs, laws, policies, and habits that underlie the appalling injustices now in the spotlight remains an everyday experience for Black people — perpetuating incalculable harm to those who must live within this reality every day. If we can work hard together to heal the deepest, oldest wounds, it will help us learn to heal the other ones.
Now is the time to step up. Don’t squander the power granted to you as a leader. Use it. Be a part of the solution in the fight for racial justice.
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions for resources, organizations, and actions business leaders can take to fight for racial justice. Thank you in advance for your input!