Creating a More Supportive Environment for Black Professionals

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Black professional woman shaking hands with a coworkers at meeting and other employees sitting and standing in the background.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Author’s Note: Drawing from my experiences as a Black professional, I aim to blend personal insights, professional knowledge, and relevant data in this discussion. Rather than offering an exhaustive list or attempting to represent the views of all Black employees, my focus is on presenting potential solutions and suggestions.

While conversations about racism and anti-racism have gained momentum in recent years, the detrimental effects of racism still endure for Black individuals, both within the workplace and across our broader society. In 2021, McKinsey & Company released a research report on the Black experience at work detailing inequities in opportunities, wages, leadership representation, and fairness for Black employees. Fast forward to 2023, and Indeed’s nationwide poll exposed a considerable gap between the desires of Black employees and what employers were offering. Furthermore, studies continuously show how the “emotional tax” Black employees experience in the workplace negatively impacts their health and well-being. 

Acknowledging the diversity within the Black community, it’s crucial to understand that while the above data is disheartening, not all Black individuals and experiences are homogenous; nuance and differences exist. Ultimately, it’ll be vital for leaders of organizations to ask Black employees what they need to thrive within their organizations.

In light of this, I’ll offer several key insights and suggestions for organizations to contemplate as they strive to address common issues and establish a more supportive environment for Black professionals. 

Let go of the ‘colorblind’ myth

I often hear people within organizations say, “We treat everyone equally.” While the intent of this statement may not be malicious, the impact of asserting that we treat everyone equally subconsciously absolves us of our responsibility to actively dismantle racism as an organization. Expecting to be colorblind in a society marked by racial distinctions is impractical. The narrative of Black inferiority, coupled with both subtle and explicit racism, dispels the notion of colorblindness within organizations. Ignoring differences dismisses the deep-seated impact of historical and institutional racism on Black individuals. An organization that isn’t colorblind will not only address inequities and recognize when they fall short but also celebrate racial diversity instead of ignoring it.

Hire equity-minded Black professionals for leadership positions

An equity-minded leader is characterized by a curiosity about the manifestations of inequities, an understanding of their roots, and a commitment to alleviating existing disparities. While being Black doesn’t inherently designate someone as a ‘social justice warrior’ or an exceptional leader, having Black leaders who embrace equity-minded perspectives and an intersectional lens brings distinctive insights to an organization. First, Black representation in leadership is pivotal, challenging prevailing statistics and narratives while redefining expectations of effective leadership. Second, it’s not just about “hiring Black.” We need Black leaders who understand the intersectional ways privilege and power, or their absence, manifest in the workplace so we don’t further perpetuate the same inequitable systems we’re working to dismantle. 

Respect and value Black professionals across the board

Over the years, racial allyship has been at the forefront when it comes to respecting and valuing Black people. Some of the tips that are often highlighted for allies are amplifying Black voices, mitigating racial biases, and avoiding or addressing racial verbal microaggressions in the workplace. While all of these action items are important, we also need to reflect on how we may consciously or unconsciously demonstrate disrespect through closed body language and facial expressions, distrusting Black individuals in leadership roles, or inadvertently blocking career growth by imposing impossible standards that aren’t often expected of non-Black counterparts. Whether a Black employee is part of the frontline staff or a VP, we have to be careful not to allow our unconscious biases and racist ideologies to impact the ways we respect and value the Black professionals working within our organizations. 

Extend anti-racist values to your partnerships and affiliations 

Combatting racism requires a holistic approach beyond our own organizational DEI or anti-racist goals. Supporting anti-racist values also involves assessing affiliations and ensuring alignment with ethical principles. Despite the financial challenges inherent in navigating an unequal capitalist society, consciously selecting partners or vendors, such as through supplier diversity programs, who share anti-racist values brings us closer to dismantling oppressive systems. It’s important to remember that many people or entities we personally or professionally support, collaborate, or interact with are also workplaces that hire Black people or work within Black communities. 

Find the gaps within your organization and take action

Leaders and managers play a crucial role in ongoing assessments of what’s effective and what requires improvement for Black employees. Tackling issues like pay equity gaps, micromanagement, or trust deficits necessitates proactively seeking and acting on feedback. This feedback can be gathered through engagement surveys, one-on-one conversations, or other formal or informal feedback mechanisms. Once identified, organizations should develop a comprehensive plan and leverage internal and external resources to operationalize goals, ensuring sustainability in the implementation process.