Black Lives Matter: How You Can Lead the Change Within Your Organization

There have been protests and civil upheavals against institutionalized racism and police brutality in several countries around the world following the worldwide spread of viral videos that capture the unlawful death of an unarmed black man; George Floyd; in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States on May/25/2020 while in police custody.

We’ve seen reasonably large protests and civil unrests against racism, inequality, oppression of people of colour, and police brutality held over several consecutive days in several countries including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and of course, in nearly 100 cities in the United States alone.

Recently, we received news that the Minnesota Attorney General; Keith Ellison; has issued warrants that all four police officers involved in the death of George Floyd have now been arrested and charged. The news also indicates that the charge brought against Derek Chauvin; the ex-officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes; has been elevated to felony second-degree murder.

Also, I’ve noticed that leaders and heads of several businesses and organizations; Chief Executive Officers, chairpersons, presidents, and founders; have taken to social media platforms to express support and solidarity for the black community and people of colour, on behalf of their respective organizations.

Needless to say, right now there are truckload of messages posted by senior executives and business leaders on several social media platforms, expressing solidarity for people of colour in the wake of the protests against racism.

Whilst all that may seem like a good idea, unfortunately they do not go far enough and do not offer any measurable or quantifiable significance to black and minority ethnic people.

These messages all seem more like marketing activities, not intended or expected to make any change to the lives of affected black people.

He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

— Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid that within the next few weeks or so; when all the social media hype about the protests against racism is cooled off and when the cameras have moved on to the next highly-rated story; nearly all these companies and businesses, whether deliberately or unwittingly, will certainly most likely fall back to the same practices that encourage and promote systemic racism within their respective workplaces.

It’s just not enough to simply publish statements on social media expressing support and solidarity for black people.

It’s just not enough to only do that with is legal; legal does not equate to justice. It’s just not enough to simply have a diversity and inclusion policy in order to meet legislation requirements and never proactively follow through its implementation.

It’s just not enough to use diversity and inclusion policies to simply hire black people at your organisation but yet fail to establish environments where they feel included, valued, and a part of.

Systemic/structural racism often flies ever so carefully under the radar of the legal framework. It’s human, it’s culture, it’s society, it’s prejudice, it’s hurting black people; and these include your black colleagues at work.

Black lives matter does not attempt to minimize, diminish, or lessen the value of any other life. Of course, we all know that all lives matter. Black lives do not matter more than any other life, and they certainly do not matter less than any other life. What Black lives matter simply says is that BLACK LIVES MATTER EQUALLY AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS EQUAL TO ANY OTHER HUMAN LIFE!

We ask for no favours on the basis of the colour of our skin. All we ask of you is that you please get your knee off our necks.

Are the protests and unrests unfolding in several countries and regions around the world prompting you; as a leader; to reappraise your organisation’s policies, inherent silence culture, and lack of actions against racism?

Does your organization conduct recruitment campaigns at colleges and universities? If yes, what percent of people you decide to hire through such drives are people of colour?

Does your organization have racial diversity in its boardroom and executive leadership team? Clearly, the operative key-phrase here is “racial diversity”.

Whilst concerted efforts to hire more white females into senior positions within your organization; so that you could place a checkmark in the “diversity” checkbox; is all well and good, it is not racial diversity and you certainly do know that already. Where, for example, does the better-qualified, well-trained, and well-experienced professional woman of colour fit into this somewhat askew strategy?

Societal and organizational change does not happen overnight. We can’t wait for institutions to change. We must start it ourselves, as individuals, by taking a deep and honest look within ourselves to discover our own biases and moral conflicts.

Does your organization have a diversity & inclusion advisory board, headed by a person of colour?

Does your organization organize and deliver regular organization-wide training on racial diversity, (implicit and explicit forms of) racism, and micro-aggressions?

Do you recognize and acknowledge that implicit racial biases may exist in the hiring practices within your organization?

Are you willing and prepared to be a proactive catalyst for the critical change so urgently needed to address systemic racism that is affecting every fabric of our society, even much so within your organization?

Sometimes you have to state simple obvious truths to remind those who have lost sight of them.

Yes, I certainly do agree that these are difficult questions to answer, and they sometimes cause unease when raised amongst peers. But these are just some of the questions that we all need to honestly and resolutely answer, if we want to see change happen.

If you don’t see colour, you don’t see me. And if you don’t see me, you cannot possibly see the abuse I get because of the colour of my skin.

We’ve all read stories and watched video clips wherein Amy Cooper, the head of Insurance Investments department at Franklin Templeton, demonstrated blatant racism against a bird-watcher in Central Park, New York.

It’s good to learn that Amy Cooper was fired by her employers on the grounds of racism, after they had carried out their internal review of the event.

Could you possibly imagine the adverse impacts she could possibly have had on people of colour who had to report to her at work?

Unfortunately, there are quite a few more heads of departments, senior managers, and supervisors; just like Amy Cooper; who demonstrate either implicit or explicit racism at their respective organizations.

How would you respond to similar matters if and when such matters are brought to your attention at your workplace?

As a true leader, you cannot express solidarity for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and yet refuse to take objective and necessary actions when there are reports of racism in your organization.

As a true leader, this is your chance to make the needed change within your organization and, by extension, in the society as well. Solidarity messages are all well and good, but now is the time to take actions.

solidarity against racism

Conversations and decisions about racial diversity in the boardroom and in the executive leadership team meetings in your organization should no longer be parenthetical.

As a true leader, you must get truly involved and engaged in the fight against racism and discrimination against people of colour.

As a true leader, you must take firm actions that go above and beyond marketing gimmicks, social media fevers, pretend-empathy, and superficial compassion.

We are all counting on you!

The most difficult people to wake up from sleep are those pretending to be asleep.

— African Wisdom