I see many of my white colleagues and friends in the industry showing up and standing up on social media, which is the first step in this fight. They are committed to educating themselves and those around them — but often our social media is an echo chamber of folks who espouse the same values as we do.
That being said, my white friends are also taking real action. They are calling and writing their legislators, making donations, and marching our streets, using their bodies to protect their Black brothers and sisters. They are influencing policy and seeing change, like the Minneapolis City Council pledge to dismantle the city’s Police Department.
But where my friends, both white and Black, are having more difficulty, is in changing their companies. Especially those working for larger agencies, where it seems like all of the power is in the hands of the few — often wealthy, straight, white men — wonder how those at the bottom might have influence at the top beyond calling out these brands’ responses (and lack thereof).
Of course, it starts with the obvious, with standing up for your fellow employees no matter how small the micro-aggressions may be, no matter who is in the room and who you might be standing up to. The silent people around you may not even realize they’re doing something wrong. Educate them. By speaking up, you not only amplify the voice of the person you’re advocating for but invite others to use their voices and be cognizant of similar situations going forward.
Be aware of who is being left out of meetings. We have the privilege to not notice this, and so we must make an effort to stay vigilant. When you see your colleague being forgotten or purposefully left out, tell the person leading the meeting, “It would really help me to make progress on this project if X was on the call and talked about what they’re doing with Y.” It’s simple but powerful.
Schedule one-on-ones with people of color in your agency, even if they’re not part of your team. Learn how your work interconnects with theirs and how you might advocate for them despite not working together directly. Be a mentor and a sponsor, and if they are at the same level as you, be a safe space and a sounding board. Publicly celebrate and champion their work.
If you’re not in a position to change someone’s salary or title, talk about your own salary/title and the history of your compensation to normalize and encourage transparent conversations around pay. Give your Black colleagues the ammunition they need to negotiate their salaries and level the playing field. It’s uncomfortable, but you may uncover some even more uncomfortable truths.
If you manage a team, even a small one, incorporate diversity metrics into performance reviews for your team. If not, push for your manager to do so. Even if it’s not recognized by your company as a whole, it makes for a more inclusive environment and sets an example for other teams. Do each of you actively contribute to a positive and inclusive culture beyond just showing up for tacos in the breakroom during Cinco de Mayo?
Find ways to train your team around bias, even if you don’t have the resources to bring in a trainer. Discussions on racism and bias need to happen without a Black person in the room, and if you do bring in a Black person, you need to compensate them. Even if there are no people of color on your team, make it a priority to talk about these issues. Offer to host a regular discussion to share resources and education. And after you educate yourselves, find specific ways you can take action.
Offer your help to Black employee/business resource groups and your D&I teams — but be specific. Don’t broadly ask “what do you need?” Instead say something like, “I’m happy to work with your team to take on the IT logistics of the next roundtable you’re planning.” If you’re part of another ERG, find ways to mobilize those groups to help. Working Mothers’ ERGs might share resources on how they are talking to their children and influencing their kids’ schools around systemic racism and LGBTQIA+ BRGs might work to support organizations that protect Black trans people.
This all takes a lot of thought and awareness, I know. But our Black friends, family, and coworkers have to live with the awareness of racial injustice every moment of every day. That means we have to be doing all of the above every day, for the rest of our days.