Monday August 3, 2020
I’m old enough that I remember 1968. I wasn’t old enough then to grasp what was going on in the world. As an elementary school kid, it was just the way the world was when I was growing up, complete with constant nightly news about race riots, police brutality, tear gas, national guard… sound familiar?
There was a great opportunity to address issues by seeking understanding. A lot of that was missed. Some well-meaning people used the political process to pass laws attempting to right the obvious wrongs. More compliance to laws may have resulted, but hearts probably weren’t changed all that much. And here we are 52 years later. Two generations have passed.
Today, well-meaning business leaders are saying things to sound supportive. Some may feel like they have to. Some have difficulty finding the right path through acknowledging injustice without bringing up the history of what their ancestors did or didn’t do, completely missing the point. Some are trying to navigate support for those who have been marginalized without alienating others, which may be next to impossible.
Say “Black Lives Matter” and someone wants to chime in, “all lives matter” as if it’s not possible to speak affirmation to one group without being dismissive to others. Say “Black Lives Matter” and you can end up in a discussion about the concept as opposed to the organization that supports some things that some who like the concept won’t support.
Here are some ideas that may help:
- Listen. There’s a time to be silent and there’s a time to speak. Too many people are talking and not enough are listening. Take time to hear stories. Don’t assume you know why. It is possible to listen without being patronizing...without making someone feel like the token minority you want a photoshoot with. This really is not about a PR moment. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
- Learn. To do so, you may need to get outside your comfort zone. In Denver, there is this wonderful eye-opening experience you can take advantage of for free. It’s called the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library - part of the Denver Public Library System. There are similar institutions in cities all over the U.S. There is a history you weren’t taught in school.
- Go. I joke that if you want a multicultural experience in the city I live in, you have to be intentional about it. Where I’m originally from you could walk across the street. Even in more homogenous areas like where I live now, there are presentations and events on historical topics that can enlighten - provided you don’t make it into a PR event. Better yet, attend dinners and family events put on by societies for Blacks in different professions, for Black women, for Black families. When my family has done that, we’ve been the only white people there. I could say it gave us an idea of what it feels like to be a minority but that wouldn’t be true. We were treated with honor.
- Actions Speak Louder Than Words. The conventional thing to do would be to make some corporate statement supportive of Blacks, denouncing injustice. Do Better! With a longer-term view, get creative about solving issues in unique ways that your organization can do because of the industry you’re in. Find distinct ways to share your great story and success with some young impressionable minds who could be next-gen creative geniuses waiting to be engaged. That may not get the flash of a PR event or a carefully-crafted statement, but it will make a much larger and lasting impact.
- Use Your Culture. Frame discussions with your team around who your organization is, rather than what everyone else is saying. If yours is a driven, competitive, high-octane culture, your actions should look that blatant. If yours is a laid back, casual culture, your actions should look that peaceful. Share how your values compel you to do whatever you choose to do. That’s way more powerful than making a statement because everyone else is. Prevailing practice isn’t the same as best practice. Create your own best practice. Your culture should make what you do stand out from what others merely say.
- Use Your Team. In emotionally-charged times, it’s easy to say some well-meaning things and have them taken in ways you may not have imagined. You can avoid some unintended consequences by engaging others in whatever direction you take. Better than that, you will hear ideas you haven’t thought of - and your people may take your ideas to a level you hadn’t considered. A big plus is that when you engage your people in solutions, you send a message that you value them as more than an asset or a commodity. You value them for their contribution to success and impact that you couldn’t have without them.
- Be Considerate. An African-American family member tells me that there's this thing she calls "Racial Fatigue." Here's how she describes it: "African Americans are now being hyper-focused on now and it is overwhelming; people who dislike the population are as activated as those who are trying to be advocates. Additionally, the one, two or few African Americans in one's circle are often sought out by anyone who is not African American to be the "expert" on any and all things African American. They are now inundated with inquiries about hair, food, clothes, movies, music, child-rearing practices, how to make them feel more included/comfortable within their organization, church, neighborhood, etc., what their opinions are about the programs, policies, procedures, and regulations that are being considered (on their behalf), ad nauseam. Additionally, they are often asked to sit on any and all committees, to represent the African American perspective, instead of their area of expertise and or knowledge. This is a daunting, and shortsighted, task. My only other thought relates to the generational differences that may exist. In watching some of the stuff unfold, there are younger generations, of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, wanting to aggressively go after the issues and push change to happen now. I know that many in my, as well as my mom's generations, strongly feel their approach is too aggressive. Employers, community leaders, etc., will need to consider that in organizing groups and employees to work on these issues." Ask; don't assume.
Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
At Open Door, we believe that your organizational culture - whether it’s formed by intention or default - drives everything. We help you cultivate a culture that can carry the vision that's worth pouring your life into.