4 Min ReadBusiness 02 September 2020
For many Black professionals, it's an unspoken rule never to discuss race or politics at work. But the murder of George Floyd has opened the floodgates. Suddenly, race is dominating conversations. Black people are being bombarded with questions. They're publicly sharing their pain at company town halls and team meetings, leading to more exhaustion.
Race is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, especially in "mixed company." That's why my market research team at Driven to Succeed sponsored two closed-door, tell-all Community Dialogues via Zoom to talk about race—one with Black professionals and the other with white professionals, from Director to C-Suite plus a few entrepreneurs. Our goal was to build more empathy and understanding and to take steps toward healing to help end institutional racism. There were no right or wrong answers. Just an honest dialogue and diversity of opinions.
Therefore, help, assistance, and support are insufficient to eradicate "400 years of being traumatized and terrorized" by systemic racism.
We pride ourselves on providing clients with actionable insights. Often, the most profound takeaways are tucked in the nuances of language, and this research was no different. We asked Black professionals what they thought about the term "ally," and here are some of their responses:
- "I hate the term."
- "I think it's very passive. You can sit on the sidelines and watch as an ally."
- "Not being racist does not make you an ally."
- "You think you're an ally because we're friends, but you're just a bystander."
- "Being an ally is passive. It's being a bystander and observer."
- "Partnership? Yes. Advocacy? Yes. Sponsorship? Yes. Allyship? Absolutely not. I don't want guilty white people who feel like they're our savior coming to our rescue. Because then it becomes about making them feel good instead of addressing and correcting the systemic inequities Black people have experienced."
- "When you can't tell me anything you've done specifically in support of Black people, you are NOT an ally."
Merriam-Webster defines ally as "one that is associated with another as a helper: a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle." No wonder why Black professionals bristled at the term, especially when they concluded that "racism was not created by Black people, and we can't fix it." Therefore, help, assistance, and support are insufficient to eradicate "400 years of being traumatized and terrorized" by systemic racism.
Creating a level playing field for Black professionals requires the same type of intentional, persistent effort, advocacy, and most importantly, action.
As one of our respondents shared, "I shouldn't have to have an ally. I'm a human being just like anyone else. I'm a human being, I have the same rights as everyone else. I shouldn't need an ID to vote. I shouldn't need a pass to be allowed to go to the swimming pool." Yet the United States has sanctioned discrimination against African Americans through laws and policies including, but not limited to, kidnapping and 300 years of enslavement, torture, rape and brutality, mandatory segregation, lynching, bans on interracial marriage, redlining, mass incarceration, and more, as Robin DiAngelo, PhD shares in her best-selling book, White Fragility.
Many hard-working immigrants who have pulled themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps don't understand why Black people can't do the same. This preceding list merely scratched the surface about why Black people don't have the same starting point in life or work.
Black professionals don't want allies, they want advocates. They told us that "advocate" is active. It requires intentional action to right wrongs and change the course. Advocacy means "moving from the sidelines to the frontlines," because Black people alone cannot eradicate racism. As another respondent shared, "Historically, Black people have had to work hard for everything we've achieved. That being said, we can't achieve and accomplish everything we want to alone. We're not always in the rooms making the policy changes, or hiring decisions, and if we are, there's usually only one of us. And that one person has to always be thoughtful about what we say, and how we say it, so as not to offend others." Some white professionals admitted they've been passive and really like the new advocate language.
We pride ourselves on providing clients with actionable insights. Often, the most profound takeaways are tucked in the nuances of language, and this research was no different.
Based on our whitepaper 50 Ways to Be a More Inclusive Leader, here are 5 steps leaders can take to advocate for African American professionals:
- Educate yourself on the history of systemic racism against African Americans. This will lead to more understanding, empathy, and the courage to recognize and speak up against bias.
- Sponsor Black co-workers by putting their name in the hat, especially in operational roles where they get the most valued experience in their field or industry.
- Provide developmental feedback with both positive and constructive commentary throughout the year, not just during performance reviews. Generic feedback about personality traits do a disservice to employees.
- Recognize Black colleagues for their contributions and tangible accomplishments. Share the spotlight so they can shine. As a bonus, you'll likely build more followership along the way.
- Create equity in both pay and representation at every level, from entry level to the C-Suite and Boardroom.
The 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment is a reminder that transformational change is anything but passive. Women's suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, organized, marched, petitioned, lobbied, picketed, and practiced civil disobedience. Ultimately, this led to policy change guaranteeing and protecting women's constitutional right to vote. Creating a level playing field for Black professionals requires the same type of intentional, persistent effort, advocacy, and most importantly, action.
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Help! My Friend Is a No Show
Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.
Dear Sadsies,I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.
I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!
- The Armchair Psychologist