Widespread workplace discussions of racial discrimination are relatively new, following decades where shying away from race, politics and religion at work were the norm. But as many people saw following racial justice movements in the summer of 2020, workers now expect their organizational leaders to speak up on any issues affecting marginalized communities. Workplaces aiming to be inclusive have a responsibility to acknowledge any and all violence against marginalized communities and the trauma workers may be feeling.
Our jobs are so connected with our identity, it would be a gross misunderstanding if employers think they don’t have a responsibility to have these conversations. This can look like an all-hands meeting acknowledging news headlines and a firm denouncement of any and all violence, a one-on-one meeting with impacted workers offering support or allowing time off, or allowing workers to have conversations about what’s happening in real life and being honest about how it can impact their ability to do their job.
Face The History of Trauma
Marginalized communities are by definition, people or groups that have been treated as insignificant in relation to the societal norm. In other words, the communities that are labeled: weird, scare, hateful, or useless by the majority group. When news of violence against a specific marginalized community occurs, it’s important to acknowledge that there is a history of violence behind this single act. Communities aren’t pushed to the fringes of society overnight and often the extent of the discrimination permeates the workforce including hiring rate, pay inequality, promotional opportunities, etc. By the time a violent act makes headlines, it has probably happened hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.
Actively Support Your Workers
After news of violence against a specific community, it’s common to want to show sympathy to impacted workers. Often, this will include asking the worker an open-ended question like — “how are you feeling?” or “is there anything I can do for you?” — but this can create an emotional burden for the recipient in their response.
Instead, you might acknowledge that the news is distressing, and then offer to take a meeting off their plate, extend a deadline or pitch in on a project. Let the person impacted dictate how they want to do their work and at the same time be explicit in your offer of support based on what they need.
The simplest thing managers and owners can do for their non-white or LGBTQ+ employees is to use their privilege to acknowledge the recent news of violence, and give space for impacted individuals to process, grieve and heal. Allow workers to use mental health days, sick or vacation days exhausting all paid options before allowing non-paid leave.
Do the Research
As an employer, or even a human being, you are not going to know everything about everyone’s culture. What you can do, is take time to educate yourself on matters that are important to your workers.
Locate nonprofits that are run-by and catered to specific marginalized communities and align your business with their values. Support both financially and physically by giving your time or allowing workers time to volunteer for these nonprofits