On anti-racist management practices

What do I mean by anti-racist?

Anti-racism is the active opposition of the structures and actions that support and reflect racial inequities. On an individual level, that can mean using bystander intervention techniques when you see something happening that isn’t right or voting for candidates and policies that will address those inequities. It can mean talking to your family and friends – especially kids –about the racial inequities that exist around you and how to address them.

It also means examining all the systems that you’re part of and understanding how those systems’ processes have negatively impacted the most historically marginalized groups – in the US, that’s folks who are BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color). It means working to change those processes to counteract that negative impact.

Why is it a manager’s responsibility to be anti-racist?

First of all, because it’s everyone’s responsibility. More to the point, as a manager you hold structural power. This is especially true if you’re a senior leader in your company and can influence or create company policy, but it applies to anyone who’s in charge of hiring decisions, performance evaluations, giving feedback, and generally helping their team to be maximally effective at achieving their mission.

Holding structural power means you have an opportunity – and therefore the responsibility – to make sure that those structures are supporting your current and future employees equitably. (Remember: that is not the same as supporting all your employees equally.)

Anti-racism needs to be built into your everyday processes.

Moments like this one, where there’s a very high concentration of news and emotion about racial injustice, demand particular responses the way any crisis at work demands a particular response: leaders need to provide direct communication, clear expectations, and clearly outlined resources. For a jumpstart on that action, read Dr. Erin L. Thomas, head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Upwork, on immediate actions to take; also read Lara Hogan, management coach with Wherewithall, on leading through a crisis for more on what that response can and should look like.

Having a ready crisis response is important, but it’s not enough to send an all-staff email or a social media post affirming that Black Lives Matter when those lives are at the highest points of risk. You are in a position to do more to mitigate that risk.

Over the next several weeks, the focus of this blog’s posts will be on laying the groundwork for an inclusive team. This is long term, sustained work that requires attention to equity issues to be part of your process, not just something that comes up occasionally when it feels like there’s time. And it’s worth it for more than just the feeling of doing the right thing: your team will be better and more effective, and you’ll be able to have more impact toward your mission. (More on that in next week’s post)

Start with self-reflection: identify your own gaps.

Whether you’re relatively new to understanding these challenges or you consider yourself a seasoned activist, there are likely to be gaps in your awareness that could inadvertently be impacting someone on your team.

There are a number of resources available to help you identify these gaps. One of my favorites is in Karen Catlin’s Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces: in the first chapter, Catlin provides a list of fifty potential workplace privileges designed to help leaders think about obstacles that others face that they may not have considered. She encourages readers to think carefully about the privilege statements that surprise them, or that they haven’t considered before.

Once you’ve identified those gaps, it’s time to do a little homework. Within your gap areas, research who is directly impacted and advocating for the needs of those groups (individuals and organizations). Follow them on social media, read their blogs and books, listen to their podcasts – whatever makes sense for you to raise your awareness of what their main challenges are and what changes they advocate. One particular recommendation for understanding the challenges faced by Black women in the workplace is The Memo by Minda Harts (she also has a podcast if that’s your jam).

Think about how these challenges manifest in your work environment, and consider which changes you can implement to mitigate those challenges without your underrepresented team members needing to be the ones to raise the issues (often a vulnerable and risky conversation for them).

This can be an overwhelming process, especially if you’re new to identity-related issues. Don’t be scared of it! You’re not required to be an expert on every possible issue your reports could encounter, and you won’t always know what identity-related challenges they face, but you are required to continually learn and improve.

Also, remember that the path of learning about identity issues is an ongoing cycle, one that you’ll revisit constantly throughout your career. Jennifer Brown describes this cycle in detail in her book How to Be an Inclusive Leader, which I recommend if you’re looking for a way to contextualize your place along the path to better inclusivity.

Stick with it.

You’re here because you understand that structural change takes real work. Don’t give up on it. If it helps to keep you on track, subscribe to these posts via email using the widget on the right side of the page (on a desktop) or below this post (on mobile) so that you get a weekly reminder of what you can do to keep up the momentum and effect long-lasting change.

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