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5 Ways Companies Can Support Their Employees of Color

Kham Msiska
Kham Msiska

The last few weeks have been challenging to say the least. Not only are we in the middle of a pandemic and economic downturn, but recent events have brought an age-old struggle to the forefront of the hearts and minds of a large part of the world. Unequivocally, we’ve witnessed the extent to which the black community has been disproportionately impacted by systemic racism, and more specifically, police brutality.

This has people of all races and nationalities willing to do more and asking themselves “What can I do to support?” and “How can I be part of the change?”. Post after post on social media highlights books, podcasts, documentaries, and articles to help educate about the black community and how everyone can be better allies. It can be overwhelming to know the right path forward, which looks different for an individual versus an organization.

While I have addressed the former in one-on-one discussions with friends and colleagues, I have been observing organizations looking to step up and support their black stakeholders (employees, customers, and broader communities) as well. Some of these efforts have been successful, while others have not. 

Prior to joining Emplify, I worked at Salesforce in Chicago; a city where 30% of the population is black or African American, and yet, in the technology industry, that number is closer to 3.5%. This disparity was consistently top of mind and drove me to a cause that’s become one of my biggest passions—increasing diversity in tech. During my tenure, I became a leader within an employee resource group both in Chicago and at the global company level. Through this experience, I got to gain a great appreciation of what it’s like to be at the intersection between an organization, its employees, and the broader community. 

Therefore, I’d like to share some thoughts on how organizations can do a better job of supporting the black community during this time and going forward. There are a lot of HR and Diversity and Inclusion practitioners weighing in on this topic, so I am sharing these thoughts from the perspective of a stakeholder.

  1. Act. While I believe the academic aspect of diversity is important, at times I’ve seen too many people over-intellectualize and never get to action. In efforts to tackle diversity and inclusion challenges, the first instinct tends to be looking at studies, watching TED Talks, and reading articles. While education is important in an individual’s journey,  if there was ever a time to set aside the intellectual exercise and lead with heart, it’s now. What action can you take today to show solidarity with the black community?
    1. Share your stance as a leadership team
    2. Donate to a cause moving the agenda forward (or match employee donations)
    3. Use your position to create space for the conversation
  2. Listen. As an organization, one of the best things you can do right now is step back and listen. Give your employees the opportunity to share their experiences and have a voice. Reach out to the people of color within your organization and listen. If your organization is large enough, you probably have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). If that’s the case, that’s a great place to start, since they serve as a great connector between the organization, employees and the broader community. If not, connect directly with employees and start the conversation.
  3. Be Consistent. Consistency between words and actions has always been important, and even more so now. We have seen prominent organizations publish statements on this issue and erode trust because their past or current practices don’t support the public message. Now, this does not mean you should remain silent if you don’t have a strong track record of action; but rather, be open about your own shortcomings (see point #4 below). Just because there may not be a strong history of action doesn’t mean you can’t start. 
  4. Be Authentic. As leaders, be authentic and open about where you are today and the progress you want to make, both as individual leaders and the organization as a whole. If your past efforts have missed the mark, be open about it and work to correct it now. If you have not made any strides in the past, there is no better time to start than now. Either way, being open about past successes and failures will go a long way in building trust.

Commit to Change. While the current situation was triggered by police brutality, this has sparked a broader conversation around diversity and inclusion. Overall, we know that we need to, and can do better. For example, organizations are examining the lack of diversity within their own teams. Venture capital firms are confronting the statistic that only 1% of venture funding goes to start-ups with founders of color.

Therefore, as you connect with your stakeholders of color, begin to define what change you would like to see in the world, and your role in bringing about that change. Set targets around the improvements you would like to make, share them with all your stakeholders, and commit to making progress on them going forward. Finally, measure the progress you are making. In the same way we view business performance, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

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