By La’Fanique Reed
Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.” Beginning my career during a time where Diversity & Inclusion is a hot topic has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing to see that corporations finally have an active interest in creating a better workplace for underrepresented groups, but the disconnect between the organization’s goals and specific actions taken toward creating an equitable workspace is glaring. Diversity and Inclusion is an investment, and when it comes time to allocate resources toward D&I, the glass is always less than half-empty.
After a traumatizing weekend of protests, riots, and war on civilians, Black Americans had to put on their happy face and return to work Monday morning. Social Media has been flooded with work experiences and actions, or lack there-of, that employers have taken to let minorities know that they are valued. It angered me to read that a manager sent a work-related email on Sunday and finished the email with “I hope you’ve been able to enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend.” The days of avoidance are over. Employees are taking note of how companies are responding, or not, to issues that directly affect minorities.
Here are 5 actions of inclusion that companies can take to make minorities feel valued at work:
Address employees when issues of injustice take place that receive national attention and outcry
An inclusive workplace cannot be fostered if issues that directly affect employees are not acknowledged. It is imperative to issue a statement of empathy to employees regarding the situation. When addressing employees, take a clear stance and call the injustice by its name: racism, police brutality, homophobia, xenophobia, or whatever the unjust behavior is. It would be even better for a company to follow up with a plan of specific actions that will be taken to improve relations not only at work but also in the communities the company serves.
Rename “Sick Time/Day” to Wellness Day
This simple change shifts the perspective from taking time off because of illness to taking time off to improve wellbeing. When making this change, be clear to specify that the intent promotes physical and mental wellness. Latinx employees may not be sick after a weekend of ICE raids, but they are not well. Black employees may not feel sick after seeing another Black person killed by the police, but they are not well. The LGBTQ community may not be sick after another Trans person is slain, but they are not well. Americans aren’t sick after another mass shooting, but WE are not doing well. Referring to action number 1, when addressing employees, take it a step further to encourage taking time off to focus on their wellbeing after traumatic events.
While a mentor can help mold minorities into a high-performing employee. Sponsors are needed to use their seat at the table to speak minority employees’ names and accomplishments so that a seat is eventually created for them at that very table. Senior leadership should be able to identify minority employees that they want to sponsor and see that they are promoted and recognized.
Have open dialogue
Address the elephant in the room, period. Engage with and provide the platform for minority employees to sit with white employees to hold brutally honest conversations. Create a space so that employees feel comfortable to address issues without retribution. If employers are unsure where to start or what to say, start with a book or podcast discussion. The Memo, by Minda Harts is a great book that addresses common issues that women of color face in corporate environments.
Offer healthcare plans that cover therapy sessions
It has been proven that Black people can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after watching someone take their last breath at the hands of police officers on national tv. It is traumatic to have family members locked in cages at the border. It is traumatic to know that a synagogue or mosque was targeted while worshipers were in prayer. It is traumatic to see videos of Americans fleeing during a mass shooting. It cannot be expected for employees to show up and bring their best self, whilst combatting trauma. Therapy is expensive and it is a luxury that, more than often, only white people can afford. Employers should ensure that their healthcare plans make therapy sessions affordable, and when addressing minority employees regarding traumatic events, convey that their healthcare plans cover therapy, if needed.
The first four actions can be taken with absolutely no added costs to companies. As for number five, it is time to allocate resources to D&I and fill the cups until they run over. These five actions will not only make minority employees feel valued, but it will improve the overall wellbeing of your employees.