Like many allies, I have been disturbed by the murder of unarmed black men and women, and unsure of what I can do for the black people I know and love. I humbly offer this blog post for white people who may work in leadership positions, and want to support their black colleagues. I don’t know if these simple acts are the right steps, and am open to hearing other ideas. I share because my team members expressed gratitude for the gesture. I recognize that the structure may not be applicable for all work settings. Please comment with other approaches.
I got a promotion a couple of weeks ago, and am leading a team with several women of color. Yesterday, we had our first meeting as a whole team. For me, it was an opportunity to set the tone for how we will work together in a rigorous work environment that has only intensified with the global pandemic. There is so much work to be done, and yet–there’s a world of hurt happening.
Step One: STOP.
Our meeting came after the fourth hour of meetings for many of us. I started by saying, “We will start in five minutes. Use the bathroom, get some water, step outside, stretch and breathe. Take a minute to care for yourself, then come back so we can get started.” It’s only five minutes, I know. But it set us up well for what’s next.
Step Two: ACKNOWLEDGE.
When we all rejoined, I acknowledged that we are living in painful times, and that communities and individuals are being traumatized by televised murders resulting from systemic racism, and that there is a lot of pain that some of us may be carrying. That it may be difficult to participate in live zoom meetings on video screens all day.
Step Three: CONNECT.
I then asked our team to share how they are engaging in self-care, or new habits they are considering adapting to nurture themselves during these trying times. Team members shared their new walking habits, and podcasts they were listening to. It also provided a space for all who wanted to speak about the impact of the racially-charged murders, their concerns for their children and spouses, their insomnia. I let them know that I would be following up to ask them about their new habits. I thanked them for sharing and being vulnerable.
Step Four: REINFORCE.
To underscore the importance of their health and the weight of these issues, I reminded them of their sick days and vacation days. I explained that those benefits are (thankfully) available to them. I let them know that it’s ok to not turn their videos on if it feels harder on some days. I let them know that it is absolutely critical that they take care of themselves and their families to be able to do the work we do. I made it okay to call in sick-and-tired.
Step Five: COMMIT.
I let my team know that I am committed to addressing these issues individually as well organizationally, in any way I can (hiring, promotions, field engagement, programming, policy decisions), and that I am open and available to their thoughts on ways I can do this better.
These five steps are such a minimal gesture, addressing a huge, systemic issue that will take so many of us, and require pushing for accountability for decades. I didn’t make a dent in that with my words yesterday. However, I created a small space in a focused workplace that rarely ventures into feelings, to let them know that they matter, that we are with them and support them.
In case you weren’t sure: BLACK LIVES MATTER.