Race: We Need to Talk About it at Work

I tried hard not to write about race and the Charleston incident in this blog. With so much media attention and news, I worried it would be repetitive to wax on and on about it on this platform – a blog about organizations and the people in them. But I am compelled to offer this blog today, as I think the relevance to discussions at work is huge.

My company has all white employees. 95% of our clients have senior teams that are white. This is not bad, it just is. As a result, it is easy to see the recent shooting as disconnected from my world, instead viewing it objectively as an issue about gun control, mental illness, an aberration of one man, and other elements that I could easily use to stifle any conversation.

We have to examine and own stereotypes and prejudices. Every single one of us has them. It will be tough.”

Brené Brown

I feel called upon to use my privilege as a way to raise-up conversation about race at work, where so many of us spend so much time.

In boardrooms, coffee stations, water coolers, lunchtime walks, meetings, hallways, and 1:1 “touch-bases,” let’s inquire and share about this incident as a means for prevention of even one more killing.

White people can and should talk about this incident with one another and across difference, not because we can solve the systemic problems today, but because not talking about itperpetuates the culture of shame and ignorance that breeds and fosters the kind of fear and hatred that causes these things to happen in our country.

It is in America that the crime occurred, and it is in America that the racism which drove the crime sprouted. There are so many questions that we can discuss to courageously dig in:

  • What is your perspective on this incident?
  • What feelings does it engender in you?
  • What systemic forces do you think contributed to the racism that prompted this incident?
  • What privilege do you hold that is unearned? What do you not have to think about or navigate that people of other races do?
  • Why should we care about this incident?

Our time at work shapes our beliefs, builds our social connections, and feeds our sense of self-worth. While we work, let’s talk: about race and work. A helpful tool when we engage with people at work about race is to practice empathy. I love Theresa Wiseman’s 4 attributes of empathy:

  1. Perspective taking
  2. Stay out of judgement
  3. Recognizing emotion
  4. Naming emotion

These conversations won’t likely generate hard actionable solutions, but will elevate our collective consciousness and connections on the subject of race.

70% of the 70+ shooting massacres in the last 20 years in the USA were committed by white men; the group who also runs most of our large and small companies in this country. The incidents are becoming more frequent, not less.

It is tempting to disassociate ourselves from this event and view it as happening somewhere else, to some other people. The white culture I grew up in and live in every day must talk about these things, about race and racism. It is part of our collective story and it matters. We must resist the temptation to disassociate, and begin to see ourselves as part of the culture and organized systems, past and present, that must be interrupted for material change to happen.

Jim Morris