The relationship between a boss and employee is one that, like any healthy relationship, should be supported through a policy of open communication and understanding.However, even if you have a stellar relationship with your boss, having to talk to your boss about race and inequity can be a challenging experience.These past few weeks, we’ve been diving into the importance and necessity of diversity, equity, and inclusion as many industries commit to dismantling racism and unconscious bias in their workforce. I’ve talked extensively about practical tips for navigating backlash to inclusion training, personal testimonials about making effective change happen, and even drawing on my own experience as a Latinx business owner seeing the impact of diversity on creating inclusive workplaces, firsthand.And today, my intention is to remind you that the power to create antiracist change, dismantle existing systemic barriers, and foster an inclusive work environment is within all of us.It’s no secret that power dynamics significantly impact the decision to have frank and effective conversations with superiors, but conversations about race and equity in the workplace are crucial for fostering a truly inclusive work environment. Change comes about when people finally recognize the impact that legacy policies and procedures have on the marginalized employees of today.In today’s blog post, we’ll explore effective strategies for initiating and navigating discussions on racial bias and racial equity with your boss, fostering understanding, and driving positive change within your organization.
How do I prepare to talk to my boss about race?
Before walking into the room, it is critical to be well-prepared. Having a real conversation about race in the workplace can be daunting, but preparing extensively beforehand will make all the difference.Renowned activist and author Y Vonne Hutchinson’s work, which you can read about infull in her book “How to Talk To Your Boss About Race: Speaking Up Without Getting Shut Down,” recommends that the first step should be one of self reflection and understanding how your personal experiences matter in this conversation. Her experiences working with powerful leaders, political leaders, and tech giants are a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking for a clear and accessible guide to talking about racism with a superior.Knowing how your racial identity factors into your workplace interactions and career history, as well as understanding that not everyone of your same identity will experience the same degree of discomfort are key things to reflect on before having this conversation.In short, knowing ourselves allows us to better advocate for others.It is also important to know your audience. Many individuals fear reporting discriminatory interactions, and may be hesitant to push leadership towards addressing racism head on. Before you talk to your boss about race, think about how these power dynamics have shaped your relationship with company leaders.
For starters, I recommend asking yourself these crucial questions:
How has my personal experience shaped my view of diversity, equity and inclusion?
What concrete goals do I hope to accomplish in this conversation? What does change look like to me?
How does my view of the issue reflect the voices of others who are both members of, or members of another racial or ethnic group in my workplace?
Are my superiors open to conversations about being actively anti racist?
From there, we develop a strategy. Gather information and resources to support your points that you intend to address with management.It is also important to recognize and document what work, if any, has already been done to address racial equity before you talk to your boss. Speak with your colleagues who may feel similarly, and maintain a strong support system, especially if you anticipate navigating backlash. It is critical to have backup when you talk to your boss about race.Understand the relevant policies, initiatives, or data within the organization or industry related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identify areas that are both working and lacking. Being well-prepared only makes effective conversations more powerful, especially when our goal is to create antiracist change.
How do I start the conversation with my boss about race?
Now is the big event — you’ve gathered data, ironed out what you plan to address, and have scheduled a meeting. While it is important to address racism head on, remaining strategic, calm, and speaking with intention will make the conversation stay on target.
Start with open-ended questions that foster a dialogue:
Asking about your superior’s own journey within the company, and how they feel the company has changed with the times are effective ways of starting the conversation with intention. You may be surprised to find some common ground with your boss about race and issues of representation in the company.
Practice active listening and maintain empathy:
Be open to your superior’s perspectives and listen to what they have to say. Practice patience, and remember that you are not here to be combative or place blame — recognize that change happens from education, and real anti racist action happens when we take time to listen, and dismantle individual problematic viewpoints and misinformation.
Share your personal experiences:
Be honest about your feelings surrounding your everyday experiences in the workplace when you talk to your boss about race, and how others may feel similarly impacted. It may be helpful to acknowledge which internal resources you felt have been effective, as well as pointing out those that are not.If you feel comfortable, address how certain power dynamics or fears of backlash have prevented you or others from addressing these issues in the past. When you talk to your boss, frank and effective conversations should remain grounded in honesty.
Present any data you’ve gathered:
Support your personal view with recent information, such as industry-specific statistics that highlight race-specific inequities, and how companies have addressed these. Effective conversations will often include a mix of personal and data-driven observations.
Offer solutions and suggestions for improvement:
This is where you prep work comes into play. Go over the solutions you’ve thought of, and what change looks like to you. These solutions should push leadership to take constructive action, whether that means altering certain policies, or instituting new training for employees.
Collaborate with your boss to implement initiatives or strategies discussed during the conversation. Offer support and resources to facilitate positive change, and highlight strategies that have been implemented by other companies for nearly a decade.
Follow up with enthusiasm and patience:
Do not let your passion falter after you talk to your boss, but recognize the importance of patience. Antiracist change is not something that an overnight fix can address; it is a process, and it is by no means a perfect one. Real anti racist action happens in stages, and evolves as the workplace does.
Keep having the conversation:
It is rare that any lasting change comes about from a single conversation, so remember that you will most likely be having these conversations more frequently. These next discussions should focus on progress, addressing whether or not certain changes have been effective, as well as an opportunity to gather documentation, which is especially useful for navigating backlash.
The choice to talk to your boss about race through frank and effective conversations is an important step towards fostering an inclusive workplace culture.By approaching these discussions with empathy, preparation, and a focus on constructive solutions, you can contribute to meaningful change and promote equity and fairness within your organization.Remember, these conversations are ongoing, and continuous dialogue is key to creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected.
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