Leader in the workplace representing the importance of talking about race in the workplace.

How to Talk About Race with Employees

This post is not entitled "How to Talk About Race TO Employees." It's never a voice from on high disseminating information. Like anything important, it's a two-way conversation; you have to say something, and you have to listen. But it can be daunting to broach any sensitive subject in the workplace. This post is a jumping off point, including some steps leaders can take, plus a framework for providing smart, thoughtful internal communication to their employees around the subject of race and racism in the workplace.

The recent incidents affecting Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper and George Floyd make the subject of race impossible to ignore. And while these acts of racism and violence did not happen in the workplace, it's a reminder that racism still happens in the workplace too. In spite of employers increasing investment in diversity and inclusion, a Glassdoor survey reveals that 61 percent, or about three in five U.S. employees have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on age, race, gender or LGBTQ identity in the workplace. The 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Study was conducted online by The Harris Poll among over 1,100 U.S. employees and revealed the prevalence of discrimination at work. 42 percent of employed adults in the U.S. have experienced or witnessed racism in the workplace; the highest percentage of the four countries surveyed.

Given that discrimination and racism still happen in the workplace, here are some tips to consider to be a great ally to combat racism.

  • Set an example. Demonstrate your support and solidarity by speaking up and acting up when you hear insensitive, derogatory remarks or when you see racist, bigoted behavior. Acting ethically and in a morally sound fashion includes a responsibility to speak up and act up when we see injustice.
  • Make connections. Reach out to your black friends and colleagues. Show them that you are aware of what's going on.
  • Listen more, talk less. You don't have to say something all the time or post something on social media to prove how aware you are about these issues.
  • Be informed. Remember that being an ally requires you to educate yourself about the experiences of others differently situated. Try following people of color on social media to learn about their perspectives and experiences.

Here are some things you may want to consider avoiding:

  • Don't sensationalize. If you do post about a racial incident on social media, don't use pictures or videos of the incident. This risks desensitizing us to violence against black people, and can traumatize those who see it on your feed.
  • Face reality. Be sensitive and aware that Black people have been aware of systemic oppression and violence for hundreds of years; do not be surprised if your expressing surprise at these horrible events makes others feel belittled.
  • Honor differences. A person's skin color is part of who they are and carries with it a long history and a particular experience in today's world. Be sensitive and aware of this basic fact in all relevant contexts. These are just some of the tips you can leverage to help be an ally at work, as well as someone to help stop any racism that may be going on in your workplace.

Related: Diversity & Inclusion Research Roundup: Top Studies You Need to Know

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Learn more about Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.