We have already lived through a century in the first six months of 2020! We have endured a global pandemic requiring us to collectively change our habits. In the midst of pandemic, we have seen worldwide demonstrations confronting structural racism (including protests in all 50 U.S. states) after the tragic murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and too many others).
In response, and as a sign of support, many businesses and organizations have issued statements in support of #blacklivesmatter. Some statements are quite restrained, while others seek impactful change. But what can—and more importantly should—employers and managers do to support their employees at such a time?
First, check in on your employees, especially as many offices remain remote and employees continue to work from home. This is an important time to listen and to provide your team an opportunity to share how they are feeling about the workplace, and perhaps about the world more generally. Some companies have scheduled virtual forums or town halls to share their stories of racial discrimination. Other managers are simply calling their employees to talk and attempt to understand what their employees are experiencing, and to help make sure employees don’t feel isolated.
Second, consider providing your employees with some time away to take care of their mental health. Some companies are affording time off for employees who need to attend to their mental health. At times, bereavement leave can be used for this purpose. Other offices have closed their doors for a short time period simply to allow employees to have a mental break. This time off can offer employees the opportunity to protest for racial justice and get involved in reform movements. If your company offers employee assistance programs or counseling benefits, remind your employees of these as well. (More information on supporting employees’ mental health can be found here.)
Finally, take concrete action. Companies have committed financial donations (including up to nine figures) and formed partnerships with organizations to fight racial injustice. Businesses have also committed to conducting internal audits to push progress in inclusion and diversity. Some of these planned policies include unconscious bias training for managers, new mentorship and development programs, creating an Inclusion Advisory Board, working to attract and develop under-represented job candidates (which includes increasing recruitment from historically Black colleges and universities), and continuing the dialogue to understand how employees feel.
This is a moment that requires empathy, understanding, and transparent action to move towards inclusion. Employees want to know what concrete steps their employers will take towards confronting structural racism in employment.