The corporate workplace has generally been a challenging place for women to navigate. However, this has even been more so for black women. For years, black women have dealt with racial stereotypes. From being labelled the angry black woman with ‘an attitude’, to being overlooked for well-deserving promotions and positions, not because of their incapability or lack of skills, but because of how they choose to wear their hair, their body shapes and simply put the colour of their skin.
Research shows that black women are the least likely to feel included in the workplace. And let’s not forget the gender (pay) gap, which is just the tip of the iceberg for black women.
Being the founder of Corporate Career Girl and a black woman myself, I get quite emotional speaking on this issue. With this platform, my goal is to help ‘all’ women succeed in the corporate workplace, but let’s be honest, the challenges black women face is on a whole nother level.
Luckily, the current incidents of racial violence and injustice against people of colour have sparked many conversations around allyship. Likewise, in the workplace, this conversation should not be overlooked but rather addressed in a sensitive manner. Here are five ways you can become a better ally and support your black colleagues (both women and men) at work.
1. Check in on your black colleagues
In this time where racial injustice against black people has become so predominant, the worst thing you can do is to pretend like nothing is happening. The news is filled with heavy deadlines surrounding black deaths, police brutality and protests. Checking in on your black colleagues and simply asking whether they are okay, indicates that you care and are aware about what’s happening. Showing empathy to your black colleagues is crucial. Especially when you’re working in a predominantly white workplace, where the majority will not be able to identify with the challenges that your black colleagues are facing today.
2. Don’t stay silent
If you think it’s safer not to say anything in the fear of saying something off, you’re wrong! Silence is complicity. In times like this, your black colleagues need you to speak up. Not only is this important now due to the current incidents that have occurred, but continuously. If you notice that a black colleague is facing discrimination, is being bullied or treated unfairly, don’t stay silent, but speak up. Most importantly, make sure that you don’t shy out from having these important conversations in your community and with friends and family.
3. Educate yourself
Don’t ask your black colleagues to explain complex racial issues. Make an effort to educate yourself. Do your own research, read books, try and understand the history of racial injustice and police brutality against black people. It’s important to understand that asking innocuous questions could be triggering and exhausting for your black colleagues. Essentially, supporting your black colleagues at work starts with you educating yourself and being aware of what has been happening for years.
You might also recognise that there are certain things you may need to learn or unlearn. There are some things you just can’t say to your black colleagues, even though your intentions are harmless.
4. Advocate for diversity and inclusion
Not only does workplace diversity increase creativity within a company, but it also teaches employees from different backgrounds to work together effectively. Advocating for diversity and inclusion, however, doesn’t just mean having people with different skin colour or ethnicity at work… even though that might be the first step. It’s more about ensuring accountability and enforcing diversity and inclusion practices in the workplace.
It’s about asking questions like “How many black people at work actually hold a senior or management position?”. “Is there a pattern of black colleagues constantly being overlooked for a promotion?”. Consider your company culture, for example. Are black people being dismissed, fired or labelled aggressive when they speak up? When you see things like this happening, be an advocate. Granted, it’s not an easy thing to do. However, standing together with your black colleagues does not only demonstrate your willingness to be a better ally. It will make you feel better, knowing that you stood and did the right thing.