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Eight Ways You Can Support Racially Diverse Colleagues at Your Workplace

Eight Ways You Can Support Racially Diverse Colleagues at Your Workplace

Recent traumatizing acts of systemic racism have unleashed a barrage of global emotions and protests. People of all communities have stepped up to express outrage in solidarity with the black community, which is already overwhelmed with frustration and exhaustion.

Allyship increasingly plays a key role in supporting marginalized groups that are continuously short-changed by justice. Here are eight ways white allies can offer actionable support.

[Related: Don't Think Race is an Issue at Your Company? Think Again.]

Be transparent and authentic.

During vulnerable times, it’s more important for you to demonstrate empathy than caution. Many well-intentioned and sincere white colleagues are conflicted about what to do and afraid to say the wrong things.

But at this point in time, people will appreciate genuineness more than anything. Don't wait too long to express your concern, even if you’re uncertain and still trying to understand the situation.

Reach out to staff members, be as transparent as you can, and share what you know while being honest about what you haven’t done yet or don’t know. And if there's any miscommunication, be quick to rectify and apologize – people will acknowledge authenticity more than a half-hearted cover-up.

Understand that not everyone will open up, despite your best intentions. Individuals have different grief coping mechanisms, so if they don't wish to engage yet, give them space and time.

Be aware.

Educate yourself on the issues racially diverse colleagues face and believe them without dismissing or getting defensive if a racial injustice is highlighted. Recognizing privilege is crucial in understanding how unequal access to power and resources have impacted communities. Having a Black person in your circle is not a guarantee that you are antiracist.

Moreover, give employees opportunities to communicate grievances. Nearly 50% of people revealed they lack avenues to communicate barriers encountered at work. Minority ethnic groups who frequently face external bias and discrimination often develop internal barriers, which impact their sense of self-worth. Oftentimes, this leads to changing their behavior to fit in; an example is code switching.

The more you know, the easier it will be to help colleagues feel more comfortable.

Communicate.

Seek ways to bridge the gap by identifying shared interests and common bonds. Get to know them as people. Ask about their families and hobbies.

Deep down, we're all human beings and have similar ambitions with our own fears, dreams, and experiences. You may even take time to understand cultural practices; open communication is key to dissolving barriers, which can foster authentic relationships.

Sometimes microaggressions arise simply because we aren’t aware of them. No matter how well-intentioned you are, acknowledge that you may not be fully aware of cultural nuances and risk coming across as ignorant or condescending. The last thing you want to do is deliver unintended slights or microaggressions, so be aware of what inappropriate communication sounds like.

Avoid stereotyping and generalizing.

The racially diverse groups you work with might not fit the stereotypes society defines for that group, so never assume anything. Also, avoid clustering communities. There are certain terminologies used to describe marginalized groups in many workplaces, but whatever the term, understand that while nearly all marginalized communities have experienced prejudice at some point, certain challenges may be unique to specific ethnicities.

A black colleague’s experience may be very different from that of an Asian colleague; hence it’s important not to generalize, cluster, digress, or dilute the barriers respective communities face. Moreover, some people can experience multiple disadvantages due to gender, faith, race, ability, socioeconomic background, and/or orientation. Take, for example, a Black Muslim woman who may experience prejudice based on her skin color, gender, and faith.

[Related: Addressing Stereotypes Directed at You (With Positivity Instead of Shame)]

Show empathy.

As human beings, we have a natural tendency to judge and form internal biases, but we can “unlearn” harmful tendencies and behaviors. Using an NLP lens, you can appreciate that each individual has their own unique map of the world shaped by their lived experiences.

Identify your triggers and keep them in check. Ask yourself if there are any precipitating factors clouding your judgement. If you're already frustrated about one thing or have had a bad experience with a certain person or the group they represent, that triggered response can make you angrier that much faster. Are you walking along any historical emotional tracks and unable to view a situation dispassionately?

Question the following negative limiting beliefs:

  • Emotional reasoning: Assuming your negative emotions (and those of the majority) are proof of the way things really are.
  • Personalization/blame: Holding someone personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under their control.
  • Mental filter: Picking out a single negative detail and dwelling on it.
  • Magnification: Exaggerating a personal flaw, a small negative experience, or the abilities of someone else.
  • Labelling: Resorting to simplistic and negative labels to define behavior.

Act as a micro-sponsor.

Many minorities experience racism at work. Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty because you're white, use your privilege to advocate and speak up for undermined colleagues who deserve recognition for their accomplishments.

White colleagues can engage in what is popularly called “amplification” — a powerful strategy for addressing unconscious bias. You can tactfully interject on behalf of colleagues by engaging them in conversations and giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions.

Call out inequality.

Understand that silence is complicit. Supportive allies can no longer be oblivious to the challenges marginalized communities face in the workplace; they need to increasingly participate in equality discussions.

If you witness racism, bias, or microaggressions on the job, intervene and call the behavior out instead of remaining an apathetic bystander. If you don’t feel equipped to do it on your own, rally support or share the matter with relevant personnel.

Networks provide opportunities for colleagues to be vulnerable and vent their frustrations in a safe space. Engage with team members via these networks, find out their challenges, attend meetings, and demonstrate support.

Be an Advocate and Mentor.

Advocate for a fair system that offers equal opportunity for everyone. During a crisis, marginalised groups are twice as likely to be more vulnerable. It’s important to advocate for these colleagues and offer them the mentorship they need during challenging times. You can also help them gain the perspective and secure new connections they need to take on larger roles, access power and advance their careers. Also, it's important to make a conscious effort to hire a diverse pool of executive coaches for your team members.

As I shared in my book, it’s not much fun being the only ‘type’ in the room, whether it’s due to our gender, faith, ethnicity or any other characteristic; the experience can be isolating. But if you are willing to take the first few steps towards conscious inclusion, in the long run these efforts will help bring all communities together to achieve common goals. 

[Related: The Power of Being the Only Woman in the Room]

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Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker, and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap, and breaking the glass ceiling. She's the Founder of Advancing Your Potential and International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. You can buy her book here.


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Community Discussion
Karen Edwards

Thank you, Hira! I am actively educating myself on how I can be an ally to others and this is an excellent starting point. Thank you for sharing.

July 27, 2020