This article was based on episode 143 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get access to the replay of Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo’s masterclass: How To Have Courageous Conversations when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
How does a manager build a work environment that supports people of color? Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo joined me to discuss reasons why people of color (POC) may feel uncomfortable in white-dominated workplaces and what managers can do about it. Omolara is a physician and success strategist who works with women professionals to rediscover their purpose and achieve their vision. Here, Omolara and I discuss why POC feel the need to “code switch”, how to create space in team diversity discussions for recovery, and ways to use accountability to support POC. These lessons can also be applied to other marginalized communities who fall outside of white, cisgender, hetero-normative categories.
If you’re a manager, how do you make sure your POC employees don’t feel like they need to code-switch? Additionally, how do we attend to the needs of employees who have experienced micro-traumas and unconscious bias? To create a work environment where employees feel safe being their true selves, Omolara recommends a four-pronged approach.
1. CREATE SPACES FOR MARGINALIZED INDIVIDUALS
Managers can create spaces at work that provide community and safety to POC. If you have a large organization, think about creating an employee resource group or affinity group for people to speak about vulnerable and sensitive issues.
If you have a small organization and creating a group specifically for POC or other marginalized communities doesn’t make sense, encourage your employees to connect with other community organizations or networks that gather around shared industry, race or gender. For example, Black women in tech. The simple act of having a conversation with your employees and sharing resources available or offering to connect them to appropriate community organizations shows you support them. In addition, transparency about the failures in your own workplace can give employees of color a sense of validation that you understand work isn’t fully serving them yet.
2. IN DIVERSITY TRAINING, MAKE SPACE FOR DISCOVERY AND RECOVERY
Oftentimes, discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace focus on what white people have done wrong and how to reduce unconscious bias. Rarely is there emphasis on support for those who are victims of microaggressions or bias in the workplace. Managers need to make sure DEI training and programming aren’t limited to educating white people. They need to create space and support for recovery for those who live with the trauma of these issues. Time should be spent during DEI workplace discussions on healing the actual trauma that comes from such belittling experiences.
3. OFFER LEARNING AND SUPPORT OPPORTUNITIES
Employees of color have historically been overlooked for mentorship opportunities. Yet mentorship from leaders in their field can help them feel more comfortable showing up as themselves. Omolara explains that many POC as well as other minorities spend a lot of energy code-switching. They worry that their natural or authentic way of speaking or behaving might inadvertently make their colleagues uncomfortable. This concern causes them to “code-switch” or act in ways they think white colleagues will deem as more “appropriate”. Additionally, they may alter their behavior in order to avoid negative stereotypes such as the angry black man or single black woman unable to care for her kids.
The psychological burden for people of color who feel the need to alter who they are in order to succeed means they carry the weight of two jobs at once; their actual work and the constant work of self-monitoring. Learning how to show up as they want to be, as their authentic self, can take guidance. Make sure POC have access to the support they need to thrive in their positions.
4. MEET ONE-ON-ONE TO GIVE STRATEGY AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SUCCESS
When a new employee joins an organization, it’s likely their onboarding includes a discussion of the company mission and vision. Rarely does that conversation, or any future one, include how to specifically apply the company mission and vision to the individual’s goals and dreams.
Omolara finds that is particularly true for people of color.
It’s important for managers to talk with each of their team members to learn about their personal vision, and help them align that to their role in the company. By making this a formal process, you’ll be more likely to have these discussions with people of color who might otherwise be overlooked. Have an in depth conversation about their personal development, including their values and work/life balance. Follow through with a strategy of what they can do in their position to succeed, and how it can lead to promotions and leadership opportunities that POC don’t often get.
Recognizing the struggles POC face in white-dominated workspaces is the first step in being able to support POC on your team. Take steps to create spaces for POC to connect with other employees who can relate to their struggle. Give space for their traumas to be acknowledged instead of just focusing on what white people can do better. Offer mentorship and strategy opportunities for POC to move forward and succeed. By taking a holistic approach to diversity, equity and inclusion that includes support for all people, organizations will grow stronger and everyone will benefit.
KEEP UP WITH OMOLARA
Get access to the replay of Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo’s masterclass: How To Have Courageous Conversations when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 143 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.