Leadership’s responsibility to take action against racism.

Last week I wrote about decluttering your company’s emotional closet. With the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changing our lives practically overnight, we are collectively on emotional overload.

There's a day of reckoning that comes when we need to open that closet door wide and make the time to sort it all out. This pandemic is opening that door — and all of the things we've been stuffing inside are tumbling out. It all comes down to facing the question of: What gets to stay and what needs to go?

Who would have thought that just a week later, all of that would be a distant memory? The door was opened wide and racism came tumbling out. It’s clear that racism needs to go. Period.

It's been a long-standing business and leadership philosophy to separate our work life from our personal life. Leave your personal life at the door. Over the last several years, the line of personal and work has gotten more and more blurred. Now that many of us aren’t leaving our homes but for a daily walk, that line doesn’t exist. Let’s get really clear about this fact: There is no longer a line or separation of personal and work lives.

Stacking all of that on top of 9 consecutive days of protesting the injustice of a black man named George Floyd’s murder in by a police officer (at the time of this writing). Protests that swept the nation and now the globe that have resulted in more violence and more death, protests that might have occurred right outside the apartment of one of your team members.

That emotional closet is bursting at the seams; grief, fear, sadness, despair, anger, frustration, righteousness with moments of beauty and joy woven in between these heart-wrenching waves.

A recent HBR article called it out the best, “The psychological impact of these public events — and the way it carries over into the workplace — cannot be overstated. Research shows that how organizations respond to large-scale, diversity-related events that receive significant media attention can either help employees feel psychologically safe or contribute to racial identity threat and mistrust of institutions of authority. Without adequate support, minority employees are likely to perceive their environments as more interpersonally and institutionally biased against them.”

The data shows that it is essential that leaders are addressing this current moment in our society with their teams. We can no longer ignore the impact that social issues have on our people. The days of ignoring social issues inside the walls of work are gone. If you aren’t motivated to address this issue because it’s the correct thing to do, consider that if you don’t, it may have a significant negative impact on your business and your bottom line.

Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s talk about action steps. Put on your humility pants and let’s review what not to do and some tips to help you do this well. This may be the most Crunchy Conversation that you’ve ever had to have. Being uncomfortable is no excuse for silence or inaction.

Leaders need to create an emotionally safe work environment for everyone and specifically must find ways to connect with their Black and Brown employees on these issues.

Here are some tips and a framework to have productive conversations:

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t be silent in addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Silence is part of the problem that needs to be corrected. (plus, we’ve already covered this so this one should be easy.)

  2. Don’t focus on the looting and violence that has occurred. There are multiple news reports that have been able to determine that some of the destruction is actually being caused by white supremacists groups. Focusing on this takes away from the true focus -- Black people are being killed simply for the color of their skin and we’ve been tolerating it for 400 years.

  3. Don’t blow smoke. People know when your message is true and authentic and when you are just going through the motions. That also means that you need to put action to your words. Empty promises and platitudes are no longer acceptable.

  4. Don’t rely on your Black or Brown employees to educate you or justify their hurt.

  5. Don’t ask your Black or Brown employees or leaders to lead justice initiatives, comfort others, or advocate for colleagues. That is a burden they do not need to carry.

The Do’s

  1. Put yourself in the shoes of Black and Brown team members and consider what they might want or need to hear.

  2. Affirm their right to safety and personhood and help them feel protected by having a safe place to fully show up. Affirmation can be words as well as a safe space for employees to share. Go beyond the automatic How are you? to a more thoughtful inquiry that can open the door to genuine conversations and connections on a deep, human level. This is where the magic, healing, and transformation happens.

  3. LISTEN. Listen to learn and understand, not to respond. Do not make this about you.

  4. It’s vital to acknowledge any harm they might have encountered either in or out of the workplace. This includes committing to lifelong learning about racism, aggression, microaggressions, and doing your part to eradicate it.

  5. Do be empathetic and give your employees the space to be disengaged, angry, afraid, or any other emotion. This includes extending various types of support such as mental health, coaching, extra time off, facilitated employee groups, etc. This is the time to really ramp up your compassion skills.

  6. Do seek out support from your Human Resources or Diversity and Inclusion departments or trusted professionals.

  7. Do take steps to educate yourself and fully understand the events using data from reliable sources. Go beyond what you might see on social media.

This is not a one and done conversation. It’s going to be a continued conversation and evolution.

Statements from the top are good. Real conversations are better. Even so, it's just a start.

It’s also important to emphasize that anyone, at any level of the company can take steps to demonstrate greater compassion and initiate action that provides the needed support and promote racial justice for Black workers as well as others who are marginalized. Don’t let your leadership’s lack of response stop you from speaking up about the needs. Be the spark that lights the flame of change.

What’s needed now is opportunities for reflection, conversation, growth, development, impact, and progress. The question is, what action will you take in your organization?

If you need support in preparing for conversations or need a facilitator for employee-only conversations, please reach out to me to see how I can support you and your team.

Additionally, I’m hosting a Becoming Anti-Racist Study Group for those looking to humbly come together and learn.

In service to our greatness,


Additional resources to educate yourself on racism from HBR:

  1. How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

  2. Race, Work and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience

  3. Talking about Race” from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Check out my other recent posts:

Declutter Your Company’s Emotional Closet

Unattended Wounds Keep Us Lost in Grief

The One Skill Every Modern Leader Needs in 2020


Aubrey Armes is a woman on a mission: To change how business is done.

Passionate about doing business differently, Aubrey brings her 20 years of Leadership, Human Resources, and Professional Coaching experience to the modern business leader.

She's giving leadership teams the right tools and teaching them "how to" elicit high performance, from their teams and themselves. Aubrey takes the disengaged and mediocre and transforms them in to energized, high-performing, collaborative teams. Her approach helps leaders and teams achieve radical results through compassionate accountability and create company cultures where everyone can thrive.



#humanresources #grief #emotionalsafety #wholepersonapproach #relationships #leadershiptips #emotionalintelligence #crunchyconversations #antiracist

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