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Combating Racism at Work

Conversations about race, racial equity, and colorism are difficult. Racism in the workplace is not new. On Wednesday, June 24th, Lean In D.C. community held space for an important conversation on how you can combat racism in the workplace with Bendita Cynthia Malakia, Esq. Companies are beginning to listen to their Black employees about how systematic racism has affected their ability to perform and companies are starting to reflect on their own processes.

We started the event with a virtual “privilege walk” activity. Participants were asked to put their finger down if any of the below statements applied to them:

  1. If you’ve ever been asked, “what are you” in reference to your race.

  2. If you’ve ever been sexualized because of your race.

  3. If you’ve looked for makeup, band aid, or other personal products, but haven’t found them because of your skin tone?

  4. If you’ve ever had someone touch your hair or skin because they thought it was exotic or they have the right to.

  5. If someone’s ever commented, you are lucky because you check multiple boxes.

  6. If you ever have to consider whether your natural hair that comes out of your head is professional.

  7. If you’ve ever worried that most constructive criticism you provide would be considered angry or "spicey".

  8. If you have ever code switched.

  9. If you have ever been called articulate or told you have a command of the English language in a surprised way.

  10. If you have ever raised “race” in a women’s group or forum and were told to wait, or that it wasn’t an issue for that group to solve.

Most of what holds us back among racial and ethnic minorities are the written and unwritten rules for success, lack of mentorship, and lack of sponsorship. Minorities and women are definitively under sponsored and under mentored. They don’t always receive the right kind of informal guidance that they need to navigate the system because of all the written and unwritten rules and the interpretation of the written rules.

We need to be unashamed about race or act like it's a dirty word. If you are someone who doesn't have a lot of power in your organization or your organization has shown signs that conversations around racial equality aren't welcomed, here are some ways to press managers/leaders to continue the discussion about race or even to start that conversation.

  • Band together with others in the organization who are allies and figure how to have the conversation.

  • Approach a leader that may be an ally and well-positioned to raise the issue.

  • Create your own informal spaces where you can brainstorm together.

  • Begin with demystifying the start of the conversation. Deciding you will make it a thing, even if it becomes "your thing". That if you see something inappropriate, you will say something or raise the topic of not being fully supported by your team who isn’t talking about all aspects of your identity and how it plays a part in the overall company culture. It’s not easy to take the first step, but it’s a muscle. If you exercise it, it becomes easier.

  • Connect your objective to what your organization cares about (such as being innovative and accessing culture) could be a practical advocacy strategy.

What is allyship? It’s a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Bendita also walked us through two models., featured below

Upstander model:

Listen up: Educate yourself, learn about and believe the experiences of people with different backgrounds, recognizing there is no single story.

Show up: Support and participate in the events, activities and initiatives of people with different backgrounds that are focused on identity.

Lift up: Promote the achievements and raise the profiles of people with different backgrounds; make sure they have a seat at the table.

Speak up: Use your voice when you hear or see behaviors that aren’t inclusive; make sure (don’t assume) that people with different backgrounds have access.

ALLY model:

How you should behave in those spaces to be a true ally.

Always center the experiences of the underprivileged

Listen and learn from the oppressed

Leverage your privilege

Yield the floor

Studies show women/people of color/disabled and LGBTQ communities are less often given the benefit of the doubt during the hiring process. White, male, cisgender, and straight tend be judged for what their potential is. Some of the ways to create a more inclusive hiring and post hiring experience could be to:

  • Have standardized questions for all applications, rubrics for criteria, and how to weigh them.

  • Align on what are the behaviors that need to be demonstrated during an interview.

  • Ask for specific examples performed against the criteria.

  • Use software to remove names and descriptions that point to race/ethnicity (such as GapJumpers, Unitive)

  • Blind or performance-based interview requiring to produce a work product.

  • Even after you get that job, continue making connections by trying to build an authentic connection. Show up with the attitude you belong.

  • If you are an ally who is part of the hiring process but doesn't come from a position of power, some ways to combat that is to become an excellent question asker. Why do we not think that person fits? Ask what are the criteria being used to measure fit and break down the criteria to keep those making decisions accountable.

Oftentimes failing well and failing forward is better than having not embarked on the journey whatsoever. Bendita also provided tips for women of color in the workplace.

  • You are only a token if you are allowing yourself to further someone else’s goal.

  • If you are invited to space as a person of color, don’t choose to sit in the back, but at the table to learn, demonstrate your confidence, show what you can do, and show what your individuality/diversity brings.

  • Take opportunities that support your goals.

We look forward to having more needed conversations, like this one, with our community in the coming months!

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