Meeting the Moment of Leadership

Our nation is at a monumental inflection point. Unrest, unbearable pain, suffering, and our oldest unresolved issue continue because we haven’t had the courage to face one of the nation’s most uncomfortable truths–racism exists and it’s especially acute for Black people in America.

And while the protests seem to have subsided, the tension simmers beneath the surface. Most leaders have not yet had to seriously contend with and have actively avoided conversations centered on race, often opting to talk about less contentious subjects that don’t create discomfort.

However, we are now at the point of no return and it’s time to embrace the uncomfortable. Racism is an issue that can no longer be ignored.

Leaders face an outsize role in ensuring that all organizational actions are proportional to the magnitude of what’s happening. HR professionals in particular are on the front lines in ensuring that their employees are fully supported and heard. As leaders attempt to face the unknown, here are some actions to consider when attempting to effectively meet the moment.

Acknowledge, don’t ignore 

Ignoring what’s going on in the country will no longer cut it. HR leaders have to create supportive spaces for conversation, reconciliation, and understanding.

There will need to be greater and sustained conversations on race. In fact, HR professionals and organizational leaders should center on race and not shy away from the conversation.

The subsequent dialogue and actions must go beyond performative optics, and HR leaders should be developing multi-decade plans within their companies as to what they’ll do to address systemic inequities within the workplace.

Use this time to hear employees. Conduct town halls, focus groups, employee resource group listening sessions, and pulse surveys to understand exactly what employees are feeling and respond in-kind with actionable solutions to address what you hear.

Be timely

HR leaders can’t kick the can on reacting to what’s gripping our country, because the reality is that what happens outside the doors of your business will eventually make its way inside.

Staff, particularly Black employees, are looking for commitments and, more important, demonstrable actions to show that race and racism are top of mind. Poor internal signals from companies, such as late or ineffectual company actions and lukewarm statements (or none at all) and ignoring the obvious, will be viewed as a lack of commitment and will further exacerbate strife, because the issue is not at the forefront.

Take meaningful actions

Many organizations have put out statements stating they support Black people or BLM, but statements are meaningless if they aren’t met with corresponding actions. There needs to be congruence internally and externally, so that organizations don’t have a “see/say” issue, saying one thing externally but doing nothing internally.

Leaders need to be bold and act. That means concentrating all people-centric efforts on identifying systemic inequality issues in the workplace. HR leaders have a host of tools to use in improving the workplace experiences of Black people in very tangible ways.

By examining outcomes relating to the employee life cycle and then reversing the flow of the employee journey and mapping where Black staff face obstacles, you can reverse engineer the problem to implement restorative measures that mitigate the negative outcome.

Harness data to recognize certain outcomes, to define the possible reasons why these outcomes occur, and then build solutions to support the thesis. Then, if you’re correct, the outcomes should improve the experience not only for Blacks but for all the underrepresented people within your company based on the data.

Old actions with new vigilance

Look at the employee journey and compare underrepresented groups against others. Most human beings move at a similar clip, so if certain groups aren’t moving forward, it’s safe to conclude that the system is the inhibitor of equality.

Examine the entire employee life cycle and apply a racial lens specific to Blacks to understand where racism comes in and when it creates or perpetuates inequity.

Specifically, look at:

  • Performance-review processes
  • Evaluating exit interviews
  • The talent-acquisition strategy
  • Training and development (figure out who gets those opportunities and why)
  • Creating job ladders and clear requirements as to what’s required to get promoted
  • Data analytics to understand inclusion and belonging scores 
  • Getting macro in terms of the year-over-year of Black experiences (and underrepresented people)

Keep the same energy

The urgency and energy we felt a few weeks ago must be maintained. It’s easy to try to brush what’s happening under the rug and heave a sigh of relief that it’s over. It’s not over, and ignoring the obvious is not the solution.

Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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