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  • Hallie Moberg Brauer

Tips for conversations about racism in the workplace

March 19,2021

Hallie Moberg Brauer

Associate Consultant

ADR Consulting Group LLC.


If you have been following the news this week, you may have seen the heated exchange between Sharon Osbourne, and Sheryl Underwood on CBS’s The Talk. A conversation about racism in a wider context quickly led to a hostile work environment for Sheryl Underwood, and she is certainly not alone in facing overt and more covert forms of racism in the workplace. 


Conversations about race can and must be held in organizations to enable them to truly embody the goals of anti-racism work. Had more actions been taken and constructive conversations and actions been taken in advance of Sharon Osbourne’s outburst, perhaps the ramifications of the incident could have been avoided. Today, we have a few tips for how to approach conversations about racism in the workplace.

 

Within your organization and team, one of the first steps is simply open the conversation. It is essential to acknowledge the injustices that exist and are happening in our world. Initiating a respectful and open conversation is essential to creating an anti-racist workplace. 


As a leader or an HR professional who may be initiating the conversation, we have a few tips for you as you open the space for conversation with your employees. 

  • First, be authentic. This may look different for each leader based on the personal identities they hold, but what employees are looking for is genuine interest in how they are, what they are feeling, and what support they might need. Be present and genuine, and as a leader, don’t be afraid to admit when you are out of your depth, and find the resources your employees need to enable the conversation to continue.

  • Discuss, not debate. Be sure from the onset of the conversation that the goals of the conversation are clear, listen to others' experiences, and create action plans and outcomes that can improve the workplace experience for all. This is not a place where experiences are to be debated, where people are left to feel invalidated. Comments that are unproductive can’t be tolerated, and only well intentioned questions should be asked for clarity.

  • Don’t conflate or compare experiences. During the conversation, employees need to listen to each other actively, and try their best not to compare their own experiences with others’ experiences. This can often serve to minimize challenging experiences of many employees. Encourage each participant to listen with an open mind, without trying to put themselves into the story. This can be hard for many, but setting this goal from the beginning can really enable more productive conversations to happen.

  • Create avenues for feedback. Give time and space for feedback from all employees about how the conversation went, and how it could be improved in the future, as well as the efficacy of the process. Avenues for genuine feedback will encourage authentic participation of all involved as well.


If you feel ready to start the conversation, we would recommend perhaps choosing a framework from which to build off of in your team or organization. There are many to choose from, but one we like is the BRAVE framework, developed by Enrica Ruggs of the University of Memphis and Derek Avery of the University of Houston. Their simple framework for having conversations about race may serve you and your team well. The framework is as follows:


BRAVE Framework

  • Build the intention, focus and safety needed to have honest conversations about race.

  • Respect the sensitivity of the topic while challenging people to go beyond superficial.

  • Acknowledge the uncomfortable realities of the past and present.

  • Validate the experiences of your marginalized employees.

  • Emphasize how your organization is prioritizing goals and metrics around racial equity.


Thinking through the conversation you want to have with your team through this framework can help it to be as productive as possible. 


Finally, it is essential after all conversations to follow up. When you have the first conversation, be sure to have the follow up pieces already in place. After challenging conversations employees may need resource groups to relate to each other in, and to share deeper going forward. It can be beneficial to have professional development sessions around anti-racism practices and organizational growth around these ideals. And it’s important to have avenues for employees to follow if a racially charged incident happens in the workplace. Before you start the conversation, be ready to continue it in the most supportive ways.


And remember, if you do not feel equipped to have these conversations unsupported, ADR Consulting Group, LLC. with our wide array of services is here to support you along the way.  



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