The past week has been an emotional time for so many people and I’ve really struggled with knowing what to do to support my friends and colleagues during this hard time.
Like many, I shared an empty black square on social media for #BlackOutTuesday to show my solidarity but then learnt that, actually; I wasn’t helping at all. Rather than just displaying an empty image that doesn’t provide any education to society, I needed to look at how to bring the conversation about race and ethnicity into the workplace.
I spotted the following video (permission obtained) made by Ryan Atkins earlier in the week and I couldn’t have worded it any better as a reflection of my own feelings on supporting #BlackLivesMatter.
It really hit home in the week that living in a small, rural village my social circle is very stereotypical of English country life – white and middle class. Perhaps it’s why it’s felt hard processing everything that’s happening as I’ve had very little exposure and this has to change. I have little control over the village but as a communicator, there is more I can do to get people talking and taking action over diversity at work.
Much of my learning this week has come from reading the experiences and thoughts of others as I’ve not really known where to begin. The four articles below have really stood out for me and I wanted to share as I believe they will be helpful for you:
Harriet Small – Now you know
Katrina Marshall – #BlackOutTuesday – What’s YOUR Story?
The PR Show – The diversity problem podcast episode.
Jennifer Ogunleye – Black Lives Matter: from one black PR to the industry.
As internal communicators, we have to talk about the subjects that people find uncomfortable such as race and ethnicity and whilst I don’t have all the answers, here are some thoughts that you might find helpful.
- Be personal and honest – Don’t be afraid as an organisation to say you haven’t got things right. Encouraging your leadership team to be open and honest, acknowledging that they need to listen and take action is a good first step.
- Provide a safe place for people to talk – Provide colleagues with a safe space in which they can talk, be heard and feel supported. Letting colleagues have a voice will help to identify the support needed and ways in which the business can start changing for the better.
- Make support opportunities known – Sit down with your HR team to identify what support the business has available to support black employees and make sure that this information is getting out to those colleagues who might need it.
- Ask for support, don’t just guess – Don’t be afraid of asking colleagues for their help to explain, draft or proof content to make sure you’re getting it right. It can feel easier to just write a message than approach a black colleague for their input, but why would you not ask as you would on any other message.
- Don’t just listen, talk – We can only make changes by talking about those subjects we find uncomfortable. Step back and ask yourself if your content reflects the diversity of your audiences? What is it that’s stopping your organisation from addressing the elephant in the room? Awkwardness? Avoidance? Reluctance? Denial? Ignorance? Diversion? Identify these and tackle them head on.
I’m still listening and talking as I want to be part of the movement that makes a genuine change, encouraging open and honest conversation in the workplace. As a gay man, I have no hesitation talking about issues of sexuality at work and I need to do the same now as #BlackLivesMatter.