3 ways Black people say their white co-workers and managers can support them and be an antidote to systemic racism

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden com­mit­ted the U.S. gov­ern­ment to racial by issu­ing four exec­u­tive orders on Jan. 26 that seek to curb sys­temic . In the orders, he cit­ed the killing of George Floyd in 2020, which sparked months of protests and prompt­ed many U.S. com­pa­nies to like­wise com­mit them­selves – and hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars – to help­ing Black Amer­i­cans over­come insti­tu­tion­al dis­crim­i­na­tion.

10’000 Hours/DigitalVision via Get­ty Images — The Con­ver­sa­tion

Short­ly after the protests began last year, we host­ed a pan­el that addressed this very top­ic. Held on June­teenth, the webi­nar fea­tured four Black women – includ­ing one of us – who poignant­ly their own fre­quent encoun­ters with racial bias in job inter­views, shop­ping for clothes and even work­ing with their peers.

A com­mon ques­tion we got from the pre­dom­i­nant­ly white audi­ence was some vari­a­tion on “How can I be an ally?” That is, a lot of peo­ple want­ed to know what they can do as friends, col­leagues and man­agers to sup­port African Amer­i­cans in over­com­ing ongo­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias and achiev­ing suc­cess.

This prompt­ed us – schol­ars with a keen inter­est in diver­si­ty, one white, one Black – to try to find an answer to these ques­tions of how white peo­ple can sup­port their Black col­leagues. So we inter­viewed five suc­cess­ful Black pro­fes­sion­als and the most­ly white “allies” they said were instru­men­tal to their achieve­ments to see if we could find an anti­dote to racial bias in the work­place.

Three themes stood out from this ongo­ing research, which we plan to sub­mit for peer review.

Systemic bias

Racism often seems embed­ded in the fab­ric of Black peo­ple’s every­day lives. And it’s not just being treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly by the police, which was the impe­tus for the 2020 protests.

Black peo­ple even expe­ri­ence bias from well-mean­ing school­teach­ers, neigh­bors, col­leagues and man­agers. Small acts of reck­less dis­re­gard build toward broad racial dis­par­i­ties.

There­fore, we sought to under­stand the small acts of res­olute con­nec­tion that could shift the tide toward greater jus­tice and equi­ty.

Using our own net­works, we reached out to five Black pro­fes­sion­als in a range of indus­tries – finan­cial ser­vices, pack­aged foods and sports man­age­ment – who were all in exec­u­tive roles in their orga­ni­za­tions. We asked them to think of the indi­vid­u­als who were instru­men­tal to their suc­cess and describe the spe­cif­ic sup­port these peo­ple offered to help man­age explic­it or implic­it moments of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Next, we inter­viewed the eight allies they iden­ti­fied – sev­en white, one Black.

These 13 in-depth inter­views yield­ed key pat­terns about the sim­ple ways to address racial bias that defy con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. Unlike research that relies on sur­veys to get rep­re­sen­ta­tive view­points, a qual­i­ta­tive approach allowed us to gain a rich­er, more com­pre­hen­sive under­stand­ing of the fac­tors and vari­ables in these rela­tion­ships that made them pow­er­ful.

Black lives matter protesters hold up posters. One reads 'smash racism by any means necessary. '
Black Lives Mat­ter protests tar­get­ed sys­temic racism.
AP Photo/Frank Aug­stein

Reciprocal relationships

Con­sis­tent with social exchange , we found that these rela­tion­ships worked best when there was a part­ner­ship and both par­ties ben­e­fit­ed.

Peo­ple of col­or said they did not want to be objects of pity. Even the ques­tion “What can I do?” implies a pow­er dynam­ic – some­one in pow­er reach­ing out to some­one in need.

The peo­ple of col­or we spoke to found the strongest sup­port when their allies rec­og­nized their tal­ents and them apply these tal­ents more effec­tive­ly in the work­place. And that sup­port was more authen­tic and trust­wor­thy when both par­ties ben­e­fit­ed from the rela­tion­ship and learned from each oth­er.

The Black pro­fes­sion­als we inter­viewed said that they were already per­form­ing at a high lev­el and try­ing to prove them­selves invalu­able, which made col­leagues and man­agers who ben­e­fit­ed from their efforts seek to pro­mote them in the orga­ni­za­tion. The allies like­wise said they sup­port­ed Black work­ers because they saw their tal­ent.

For exam­ple, one ally report­ed see­ing that the dom­i­nant white macho cul­ture in his orga­ni­za­tion did not appre­ci­ate his female Black col­league’s tal­ent and was lim­it­ing her suc­cess. When he moved to a new com­pa­ny, as soon as he saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty he active­ly recruit­ed her. The new role involved much more respon­si­bil­i­ty than her pre­vi­ous posi­tions, but he con­vinced her that she could do it.

She told us that his ongo­ing sup­port in the posi­tion encour­aged her con­tin­ued suc­cess. The rela­tion­ship focused on tal­ent, not pity, and ben­e­fit­ed both par­ties.

Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations

These rela­tion­ships were not care­ful or guard­ed; they were straight­for­ward and hon­est.

Past research has found that white super­vi­sors often avoid giv­ing crit­i­cal feed­back to Black sub­or­di­nates and peers out of a fear of being viewed as biased. Yet it can be more biased to say noth­ing. Avoid­ing dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions can impede a young pro­fes­sion­al’s upward mobil­i­ty.

Peo­ple of col­or need advice from more expe­ri­enced indi­vid­u­als on how to suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gate racism traps that may exist in the work­place. They might be unaware that some of their actions or approach­es are being per­ceived neg­a­tive­ly in the office. These dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions can strength­en rela­tion­ships.

For exam­ple, an ally observed that although it was dif­fi­cult, she con­sid­ered it a man­age­r­i­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to tell her Black col­league that he was not meet­ing her expec­ta­tions. Anoth­er ally report­ed explain­ing to a junior Black col­league that prov­ing you are right to a super­vi­sor may not always be ben­e­fi­cial if it harms your long-term career prospects.

These dif­fi­cult but hon­est con­ver­sa­tions helped shape the per­son of col­or’s con­duct and laid the foun­da­tion for life­long trust­ing con­nec­tions.

Connect outside of work

, it made a big to the peo­ple of col­or we inter­viewed when an ally tried to get to know them bet­ter as a per­son, not only in terms of work.

Peo­ple are more pro­duc­tive at work when they feel that col­leagues see them with nuance – with unique pas­sions, tal­ents and inter­ests – rather than pigeon­hol­ing or stereo­typ­ing them based on race or gen­der. It also becomes a lot eas­i­er to cham­pi­on and advo­cate for some­one you know well.

But as a result of real or per­ceived racial bar­ri­ers, Black pro­fes­sion­als often report feel­ing anx­ious dur­ing work-relat­ed social engage­ments, in part because they say they don’t under­stand the rules. Black and white pro­fes­sion­als also tend to move in dif­fer­ent social cir­cles out­side of work.

Our inter­vie­wees said a key anti­dote to this came when allies made an effort to con­nect out­side of work. Whether over a cup of cof­fee or a home-cooked meal, these social encoun­ters allowed rela­tion­ships to flour­ish and stereo­types to dimin­ish.

One white ally we inter­viewed report­ed real­iz­ing that she often had white col­leagues to her home for din­ner but had nev­er invit­ed a Black col­league. So when dis­cussing her vaca­tion plans – a sev­en-day char­tered Alaskan fish­ing trip – with a Black woman who worked in the same office, she dis­cov­ered her co-work­er’s hus­band loved fish­ing and invit­ed them on the trip, where they bond­ed and formed a friend­ship.

this does­n’t require becom­ing friends. It only means clos­ing the “psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance” that can sep­a­rate peo­ple along racial lines at work.

Kamala harris takes the oath of office for vice president on jan. 20.
Kamala Har­ris became the first Black U.S. vice pres­i­dent.
Greg Nash/ Pho­to via AP

A simple antidote

Black peo­ple in the U.S. are faced with a world that can make them feel both empow­ered and vul­ner­a­ble. Recent scenes at the U.S. Capi­tol just two weeks apart sum up this jar­ring nar­ra­tive.

On Jan. 20, Kamala Har­ris took the oath of office on the Capi­tol steps as the first Black vice pres­i­dent – and only hours lat­er swore in the first Black sen­a­tor from Geor­gia. Con­trast that with images exact­ly two weeks ear­li­er of white suprema­cists storm­ing that very same build­ing.

Amer­i­cans face great chal­lenges on the road to a more inclu­sive soci­ety. To be sure, address­ing insti­tu­tion­al racism requires sys­tem­at­ic inter­ven­tions by com­pa­nies and sub­stan­tial pol­i­cy changes by the gov­ern­ment. But our research sug­gests they also could use some­thing sim­pler from their col­leagues, man­agers and oth­ers in their lives: gen­uine rela­tion­ships.

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This arti­cle is repub­lished from The Con­ver­sa­tion, a non­prof­it news site ded­i­cat­ed to shar­ing ideas from aca­d­e­m­ic experts. It was writ­ten by: Jen­nifer R. Joe, Uni­ver­si­ty of Delaware and Wendy K. Smith, Uni­ver­si­ty of Delaware.

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The authors do not work for, con­sult, own shares in or receive fund­ing from any com­pa­ny or orga­ni­za­tion that would from this arti­cle, and have dis­closed no rel­e­vant affil­i­a­tions beyond their aca­d­e­m­ic appoint­ment.

: count. Gif? Distributor=entrepreneur&from=www. Entrepreneur

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