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Black professionals want you to be an active advocate at work, not a passive ally

(Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash)

In light of the current civil rights movement, companies across the country are looking at what they can do make their staff more diverse and to make sure there are people of color in top positions. But if a company is run by mostly or all white people, they might be looking for guidance.

Kristin Harper is CEO of Driven To Succeed, a leadership development company. She’s done marketing and brand management for global brands like Crest and Hershey’s Kisses and, given the nature of this story, I will mention that Harper is African American. Shortly after George Floyd’s death she assembled two groups of business leaders.

“It was a group of Black professionals from director through C-suite within corporate America,” Harper said. “Then we had a separate group, a community dialogue with white professionals, more senior leaders. The goal of these meetings was to understand how they perceive and experience race within corporate America. The thing about race is that it’s been a taboo subject, but it needs to be discussed in order to drive change. So the objective and goal was to eradicate systemic racism so that people can bring their full selves to work, and businesses and organizations can really thrive.”

Harper took the findings from these conversations and created a report for business leaders that is available for free on her website. In it, you can read what the Black professionals she spoke with want in their workplaces.

“They want to drop the word ‘ally’ and replace it with the word ‘advocate,'” she said. “Ally is passive, advocate is active. One of the things they said is, ‘Your tears, guilt, and apologies are irritating.’ So it goes back to action and advocacy, not just empathy, support, and allyship.”

That action could include sponsoring Black coworkers by putting their name in the hat for a promotion, publicly recognizing Black colleagues, intentionally partnering with a Black coworker on a project, and making an effort to recruit more people of color, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

“Recruiting at places like historically Black colleges and universities, you have a National Association of Black Accountants, you have a National Association of Black Journalists — NABJ is perfect for your organization — so I say fish where the fish are,” she said. “Partner with the African American student associations in your local colleges and universities.”

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Harper took the feedback she gathered from the group of Black professionals and presented it at the other meeting.

“Among the white professionals, it was very, very uncomfortable. We asked the Black professionals, ‘What do you want whites to know?,’ and they were very candid. Things like, ‘We’ve been traumatized and terrorized for 400 years,’ ‘Discrimination happens to Black people you know, even the Black people who are your colleagues and senior leaders,'” Harper said. “There was this visible tension and discomfort that white professionals felt. Once we got to the question around what you want corporate America to do, the mood and the energy totally changed among the white professionals. They said it was motivating, and positive, and exciting and tangible.”

“And so what I would leave you with as a final thought is that it’s easy to want to have a checklist. But I would urge you to be patient,” Harper added. “It’s a process to establish trust among African Americans. There have been so many years of trauma that there is a natural skepticism and distrust. My advice would be to take intentional action, but to be patient because this is not going to happen overnight. But with persistent intentional action, we can make a difference.”

To find Kristin Harper’s report or watch her free webinar, click here.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal,” featuring celebrities like Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rainn Wilson, and Greta Gerwig. Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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