How to Navigate the Racial Divide at Work

The other day, I hosted a LinkedIn Live to discuss the racial divide and how we can all show up as better humans in these turbulent times – particularly in the face of people who are demanding less talk and more action. 

As an African-American woman, I believe we MUST continue to have these discussions, because they need to remain top of mind. We have to remember that this is not just another news cycle. This is a reality for so many.

Here are some of our top takeaways:

Use the influence that you already have

When we talk about talking and then walking, we need to remember that what we’re essentially doing is using the sphere of influence that we have – whether that’s a big circle or a small circle – to get the word out and drive action. You have more influence than you might think. Start where you are with what you have.

Stay committed for the long haul

Solving the centuries long issue of the racial divide in this country and worldwide is not as simple as flipping a switch. That switch does not exist, and so we have to be prepared to stay committed to having antiracist conversations and taking antiracist action for the long haul. 

Small steps taken repeatedly will help move us forward. Start with one person at a time, one ripple at a time – and don’t be discouraged if change doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like. 

Cultivate meaningful relationships that will help you grow

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have meaningful relationships in your life that will enrich and empower you and help you grow. When you build those kinds of relationships with people who are different from you, it’s in the conversations that you share that will help bring about change – especially when you can challenge one another to see something from a different perspective, perhaps uncovering some unconscious biases you didn’t know you had in the process.

Being intentional in the way you have these conversations with people and the way you search out people who have different perspectives than you do is also important, because that’s where professional growth really happens – not when you’re talking to the people who agree with you all the time. 

Surround yourself with people who are willing to deliver uncomfortable feedback

When you surround yourself with people who are willing to give you feedback that might be uncomfortable for you to hear, you can practice being curious and considering where you might need to change your approach or outlook. Without those outside perspectives, you might never expose the areas in which you need to grow. 

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is imperative in order to gain a new understanding about yourself, or another person’s experience. We cannot have meaningful dialog if we’re not willing to see another person’s perspective. Consider how you might rise above your cynicism or any preconceptions and find the courage to have uncomfortable conversations in which to invite more understanding.

When you know better, do better

Maya Angelo once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” In order to do better, we have to know better. What that means is we each have our own challenges, belief systems, our and models of the way the world “should” work – and that’s uncomfortable because we all want to believe we’re right. But that’s the challenge for each of us – to educate ourselves about other people’s experiences and challenges in order for us to grow and change our corner of the world.

Leave room for hope 

Consider how you can be less of a historian and more of a visionary. How might you cultivate a greater sense of optimism about the future? And how might you uplift and encourage others for the road ahead so that we have the energy to move forward and continue to do the work that’s necessary to heal the divide between us? Leaving room for hope gives us the strength we need to advocate for change and the faith we need to stay the course.

Understanding is the key to healing the racial divide, and the responsibility belongs to all of us.

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