Companies need to understand that this is a watershed moment not just in America, but globally.
The brutal public killing of George Floyd and the subsequent struggle to secure charges against all the officers involved, despite the video evidence, demonstrates the systemic and institutionalized issues we are up against in terms of racism, justice and equality.
Companies have to respond by first accepting that this societal problem is also a serious business problem. They have to acknowledge the long history behind our current issues and then commit to dismantling systemic racism within their organizations.
Unless a company has black people adequately represented in their executive leadership teams and on their boards, they have to also accept they are part of the problem and make a commitment to change -- quickly.
The first action companies should take is to start addressing their entire staff. Racist employees and leaders exist within organizations, and their influence leads to negative practices in the workplace.
Your organization's commitment to rooting out racism, and the strategies that will be undertaken, should be communicated to all employees. Racist staff should be effectively put on notice and a zero tolerance policy not just be enacted but also enforced. Collaboration is key, but attention should be paid to not 'othering' black employees. It's a delicate balance but definitely achievable.
At this precise moment I will say black people, particularly in the U.S., have been traumatized by what they witnessed. A public killing at the hands of law enforcement has left many, including myself, overwhelmed by grief and apprehension and fearful for our safety, as well as the safety of our families and loved ones.
Acknowledging that backdrop -- against which black employees are still rallying and showing up for their work commitments -- along with a call of support from leadership would go a long way. In addition, practical assistance such as access to wellness resources would also be helpful. Let your black employees feel supported right now but not 'othered.'
Partnerships, donations, advocacy work, internships and political lobbying are all great ways to show your support for your employees. They are good starts because systemic racism is a multilayered issue that requires a multilayered approach.
But I would add that a proactive approach to hiring black executive team members and board members is critical. Let HR or your recruiters know you will reject non-diverse candidate lists.
Being silent is being complicit, and is no longer acceptable. Today, and every day, leaders and companies must do the hard work and have challenging conversations. The prism at which all organizations should approach this from is that this is not just about your black staff but about dismantling a system.
Finally, do not burden black employees to do the work for you. Unless they are part of the diversity and inclusion team, it is not the responsibility of black employees to help companies navigate this. There are many organizations and consultants that can provide inclusion and conscious bias training to help companies significantly reduce racism in the workplace.