- Diversity and inclusion experts suggest companies address racism with authenticity and transparency.
- They should also be dedicated to creating safe spaces where Black employees’ voices can be amplified.
- Finally, their action plan to create a inclusive company culture should go beyond the here and now.
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It wasn’t that long ago that companies remained silent about acknowledging systemic racism.
Tiara Budd-Ramos, currently a diversity and inclusion and talent and culture manager for a national media company, recalled how blatantly loud the silence was around her public relations agency during the Trayvon Martin trials.
“I didn’t have anyone to talk to about how I was feeling about the trial. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about how I felt about police brutality,” she said.
But with the 2020 deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, companies from almost every sector and their leaders have taken a stand, participating in #BlackoutTuesday, posting on social media or their company blogs, and sending emails to their employees in solidarity with what’s happening. They pledge to support and stand with the Black community — but is a PR statement enough?
NextRoll, the San Francisco-based company that provides advertising technology for businesses, is rolling out plans to make an impact beyond a statement. The ad and marketing tech company is known for its work with ecommerce clients like Untuckit, Bonobos, and TeePublic. The company’s CEO recently released an email to the entire company acknowledging what was happening and voicing his solidarity, and a similar message was shared across all its social channels: “We stand with our Black Rollers. We stand against all forms of racism. We stand as a unified Roller community.”
Claudia Villanueva, senior diversity and inclusion program manager at NextRoll, shared that the company brought in a diversity and inclusion expert on Wednesday to help create a dialogue on how the company can move forward.
“We have set up a resource center on our intranet for employees to educate themselves and each other on what it means to be anti-racist and support the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said.
The company has also partnered with RollDeep, its Black employee resource group, to amplify and support Black employees, and the group will nominate where the company’s monetary donation contributions go.
“We have since donated $25,000 across the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. Our employee resource groups have stepped in strongly as allies and are donating $2,500 of their collective funds toward the Black Lives Matter movement,” Villanueva said.
Lead with authenticity and transparency
Budd-Ramos believes companies should show up for their Black employees by leading with authenticity and transparency.
“They have to be fine with being uncomfortable because we’ve been uncomfortable for years,” she said.
From straightening their hair to shortening their names so that they’re easier to pronounce, Black employees have been conforming for years to be accepted in the workplace.
“I think Black employees want to see that you are trying, that you are not also putting only the onus on us,” Budd-Ramos said.
One way NextRoll is leading with authenticity and transparency is by understanding that employees need time to grieve. “We’ve kept flexible schedules and promoted work-life balance to ensure employees could attend peaceful protests and moved our all-company town hall so Rollers could attend the live streaming of the George Floyd service,” Villanueva said.
Amplify Black employee voices
Unrest happens when a group of people feels voiceless. When they feel like they aren’t being heard, they take action.
Villanueva said that companies are going to need to continue to understand the importance of amplifying Black voices to understand how systemic inequities are impacting the Black work experience for the long haul.
“One of the biggest things these incidents have shown us as a society is the system is broken, so providing that space to be heard within the company is key,” she said.
One way to amplify your Black employees is by creating safe spaces for them to voice their opinions and concerns — this can be a council or group where members of a community can meet, discuss workplace grievances or policies, and celebrate their culture or shared experiences. Safe spaces can also look like a company culture that promotes inclusivity and opens the door to voice grievances without repercussions, and with resources that offer support and professional development.
Ultimately, people want to feel supported, heard, and allowed to show up at work authentically without biases and repercussions that will halt their growth or terminate their employment.
Villanueva also suggested creating training programs to promote allyship and unconscious bias so that others within the company can help lift Black voices. NextRoll offers ally skills and unconscious bias training. “We will be publishing more training in the coming weeks for Rollers to continue to learn about how these topics impact the workplace experience,” she said.
Lastly, she advised having a strong commitment to adding diverse representation in leadership positions. Part of Villanueva’s job is to support and partner with employee resource groups to ensure alignment across the company’s strategic objectives, creating hiring strategies targeting underrepresented talent and building equitable development programs for marginalized communities.
“The biggest commitment of them all is committing to challenging the status quo and questioning their current programs and policies. This can be done through diversity and inclusion (D&I) councils representative of individuals across the organization from different backgrounds who are tasked to review and promote D&I programs and policies,” she said.
Create an action plan that goes beyond the news cycle
“How are we moving past the news cycle? Are we still going to be talking about this two weeks from now? What does this look like six months down the line?” Budd-Ramos asked.
These questions should be asked as companies plan to support their Black employees past the immediate outrage. For Black employees, racial inequality is still an issue with or without a headline.
“Don’t just have this be something that is put on by the leadership team, check a box, or take a stance to compete with your competitors. Actually listen to your employees and talk to them about what they want to see and how they feel and go from there,” Budd-Ramos said. You can do this by having dialogues through town hall meetings or intimate conversations with senior leaders and Black employees that go beyond just this week or month. Host events with guest speakers to talk about race or bring in mental health or wellness experts to help Black employees cope.
“Being able to hear from a therapist or a psychologist on how we can release the tension in our bodies — I know people who’ve been having violent dreams, and they can’t cope with it, so a safe space where we can have a dialogue and not feel alone is important,” she said.
Diversity, inclusion, and equity is going to matter more for companies, and funding, support, and resources will be vital in promoting company-wide efforts to amplify Black employees.
“Cultural humility and competence is a muscle that needs to be built, and that can only happen with an organization’s commitment over time,” said Villanueva.
This article was originally published on Insider June 9, 2020.