Are You Having Race Discussions At Work?

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Open Bars may be my new favorite thing. 😲

A new monthly feature for our “Friends of Factor 8” Community, this private executive-only forum is a place to learn from peers and share best practices. Last month we talked about COVID selling and back to work plans, this month we tackled race conversations.

So you know, light stuff.

Here’s the background: I had no plans to have these conversations nor make any statement. After talking with some brave black women on my team, I went the opposite direction. Sure enough, many leaders who joined us felt the same way.

“Who am I to say something?”

“My team actually isn’t that diverse, there’s no need.”

“It’s uncomfortable and I’ll be perceived as saying something just to say something… and what about the backlash?”

Most of us in our session were in or near this camp. Several, however, were doing more and shared what worked (and what didn’t) with the rest of us. Hope it’s helpful to you as well:

1. Ask what employees need (several wanted time to protest, process, heal)
2. Make a public team statement – you are giving your employees a voice. Get their input.
3. Do follow-up in private. People process differently and may want to talk.
4. Ask team members to share what they’ve done to take a stand or get involved.
5. Try cameras off during discussions (there are many different sides and everyone is entitled to their emotions without judgement).
6. Push for diversity in hiring – try an “HBCU = historically black colleges and universities”
7. Ask about diversity in the organization: “Why don’t we have any black / women / LGBTQ employees/leaders?”
8. Encourage education: “13th” on Netflix and read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo

I’ve personally done most on this list and frankly I’m really enjoying the education. To be clear, most of the learning is hitting me right between the eyes, but the vulnerability and openness to get it wrong, be taught, and be ENCOURAGED by the black community is pretty awesome. I invite you to try the same. Just start with openness and the desire to learn with authenticity and you’ll be fine…

Final advice we received: This problem wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight. Learning about our individual biases and unintentional racism (yeah, I said it. I found some I didn’t know I had) is how we make change in our own lives, families, companies, and communities.

I also find myself wanting to do more. If you could have walked with MLK, wouldn’t you have? If we all lean in two or three steps past comfortable we are joining another virtual march. Let’s make a bigger movement this time. I’m looking for leaders with suggestions. What else can we do? For now, I will keep self-educating.

Next Open Bar: Religion. JUST KIDDING! By popular demand we’re talking about virtual learning and coaching best practices. I have to admit looking forward to a trip back into my comfort zone. Email me personally at if you want an invite.

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