How to Talk About Race in the Workplace

/ August 12, 2021 August 12, 2021

As a follow up to our recent webinar, we’ve highlighted the key points in the blog post below:

1. The challenge in talking about racial issues and why we should have them anyway

  • Trauma – News of violence and discrimination is traumatic, particularly for those in the BIPOC communities who experience it at a higher rate than others.
  • Racial/Cultural Perspectives – When people of various races, backgrounds and experiences enter the conversation, layers of difference can add even more tension to the dialogue
  • Fear – Fear of saying the wrong thing or asking an inappropriate question often keeps people from wanting to engage in a discussion about race and inequality
  • How should organizations handle it? Thoughtful dialogue – Thoughtful dialogue can acknowledge the difference of perspectives while inviting and activating empathy. It won’t solve systemic racism overnight, but it helps set the tone at your organization, and ensure that your people are heard and understood. A few ways to create these safe forums:
    • Reading circles
    • Small group facilitations
    • EE town hall/one-on-one sessions
    • Employee resource groups

2. How to engage as an ally

For those that don’t identify as a member of the BIPOC or LGBTQ communities, how can they properly engage without overstepping boundaries?

  • Recognize and understand your privilege – It might be uncomfortable for some to acknowledge that they have an advantage, even if unintentional, but it’s necessary to better understanding their peers and ensuring equitable outcomes in society. A few ways of privilege include:
    • Race
    • Class
    • Gender
    • Ability
    • Sexual orientation
  • Intersectionality – Intersectionality describes all of the ways in which an individual may be disadvantaged. For employees that are a part of multiple disadvantaged groups, they face a unique set of challenges.
  • Acknowledge your privilege in conversation – To avoid additional harm, preface your statements with the aspects of your identity in which you have privilege (ex. Cisgender, White Male)
  • Do your own homework – Understand your own experience. If you’re confused or unsure, do some research to prepare yourself for the conversation and how your background shapes what you might bring to the discussion
  • Check in and speak up – Silence can be complicit, so speak up even if you are afraid. Understand that the people you choose to engage with, may just not want to engage with you, even if your intention isn’t to cause harm. Difficult conversations can be uncomfortable and triggering for BIPOC employees- it’s exhausting.

3. Steps for starting A difficult conversation about race

  • Acknowledge the difficulty
  • Respectful curiosity – Ask open questions to better understand the other person’s perspective but do so respectfully and compassionately
  • Collaborative problem-solving – The goal of these conversations isn’t necessarily to “solve racism” but to figure out a realistic goal that works for everyone.
  • Activate change

4. The role in having intentional dialogue about race and equity

  • Raise it, Model it, Support it – Leaders, particularly the C-suite, are those that drive the organization and are often the face of the company. Changing an inclusive organizational culture requires leaders to foster an environment that encourages learning and respect, even in difficult conversations. Leaders should share life experiences to build trust with their teams and bring them back to a human level, which in turn encourages other employees to share their own experiences.

Talking about race can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it is essential to instilling an inclusive and welcoming workplace culture. If your organization is interested in additional DEI support or training, fill out the form below to connect with our experts:

To watch the full webinar recording and additional Q&A session with our Director of DEI, Jai McBride Calloway, click here.