How do you find your leadership voice in the face of racial injustice?

Over the past 6 weeks, we have been in conversation with thousands of Black, Indigenous and People of Color as well as managers and leaders. We have shared in trauma-filled spaces with other Black folks. We have facilitated sessions for allies–those who are trying to act to end injustice–even though that injustice that has (arguably) not had a direct negative impact on them. We’ve also coached managers and leaders who are committed to action but cautious about their own level of understanding and not wanting to misstep. 

The question that has come up over and over when talking with managers and leaders boils down to this: 

How do we find our leadership voice in the face of racial injustice? 

My first suggestion is not to begin with what you will say. Many leaders immediately believe that we have to say something, do something, fix it. Trust me, 400 years of racial injustice is not going to be undone by the great speech you make now or ever. This is a call to action, for sure, but your first action should be reflection. Your leadership voice begins with your internal work. 

This is the moment to ask yourself the tough questions. Go deep, and know that some of the answers will be difficult for you to face. Face them anyway. Looking away is not an option, and focusing only on a quick fix or surface-level change is not what is being called for right now; this is about dismantling systems of oppression. 

As you reflect exactly what “dismantling systems of oppression” means for you personally, consider these: 

  • Identify the ways in which you have–whether or not you feel that you have personally perpetuated any injustice–either enabled its ongoing existence or benefited from its presence. 
  • Ask yourself: Why now? Have you cared about racial injustice and actively been working to end it before 6 weeks ago? If not, it's going to be tricky for people to fully believe you now. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say or do anything. Just know that this is going to be a commitment over time. Put one foot in front of the other, and don’t stop. 
  • Step forward and listen. Share space without centering yourself, how you're feeling, your needs. Of course, you have feelings and needs, but this is your moment to focus on others’ lived experiences. 
  • Don't ask Black people to teach you how to be anti-racist. That's your work. We (Black people) have spent our entire lives figuring out–with varying degrees of success–show to navigate in White-dominated spaces. It's complicated; there are secret codes, barriers, and access granted or denied. It's your turn now, to do your own learning and unlearning. 

If you haven’t yet spoken up, reflect before you do. This is the time to get it right. Everyone’s watching and making decisions about your leadership authenticity. Their commitment to you, and your company’s brand, is based in many ways on what you do right now. I’m not saying to slow down, just be intentional and make sure that you’re bringing forward more than just a well-articulated script.

I would be remiss to end this post without mentioning that leaders, managers–and all of us–have a lot of learning to do. Whatever else, don’t get so bogged down by the enormity of the work to be done that you do nothing. If you want help getting started, let us know. We have a variety of resources to support your personal learning journey, your organization’s anti-racism and EDI strategy, or provide executive advice to your leadership team.

Let’s get started.

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