How to make work a place for Black employees to thrive

Guest Author(s): LaFawn Davis | VP of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging | Indeed + Roz Francuz-Harris

A chat with LaFawn Davis and Roz Francuz-Harris, Director of Talent Acquisition at Warner Media, as they discuss how to build a workplace where Black employees thrive.

Movements, like social justice reform and politics, don’t escape the workplace. So what can people in tech do?

How do we make the workplace a place where Black employees can thrive?

People cannot have a sense of feeling like they belong if everything about them is politicized. What’s happening right now and what has been happening is not political. Black lives are not political.

So the first thing a company can do is not ignore what’s happening. You cannot stick your head in the sand and think all this is going to blow over in a couple of weeks and we’re going to go back to normal. Your Black employees are hurting. They’re in pain and you have a responsibility to recognize the pain that your employees are going through.

Your employees are your greatest asset so why wouldn’t you want to take care of them?

When you're in a smaller setting, what should employees be demanding, especially Black employees, of their companies?

To start, make sure it is a demand! For too long, we’ve asked nicely: “Could you, please, kind of pay attention to what’s happening?” Demanding that your company be better is never wrong.

It’s great that brands and companies stand in solidarity. It’s great that they’ve made statements on Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s great that they’ve had 45-minute Zoom meetings. Your employees actually want companies to make those statements and have those meetings. Sometimes the things that companies are doing are at the demand of their Black employees. We need you to show that you care. We need you to show that you stand with us.

However, the hope is that it’s not performative, but that when this moment passes, companies are still a part of the movement for Black lives. Demand long-term systemic change, not just the billboard or just the Instagram post or just some T-shirts they may have bought for everyone.

But demand long-term change.

We need policy change. We need you to actually look inside your systems and dismantle the bias and the barriers that have been built within it.

Companies may feel as though they did not build biased systems intentionally. It’s not about blame. It’s about action. It’s understanding where you are and how you got there.

  • Are you removing bias in your hiring processes?
  • Are you looking at networks that are different than yours?
  • Are you actually making sure you’re hiring people with non-traditional backgrounds that don’t look exactly like what you already have on your teams and in your offices?
  • Are you looking at how you promote people? Are you dismantling the myth of meritocracy in tech?
  • Are you also making sure people get opportunities for growth?
  • Are you taking a look at all the different types of employees, including contingent workers and those in lower-paid positions? Are you making sure they are growing throughout the organization, as well?
  • If you only hire black people in one part of your organization, leaving you with unimpressive percentages in other parts, then are you really providing an equitable experience?

For all the Black people that are interviewing, add the following question to your repertoire of questions you are asking companies:

How are you ensuring equity for underrepresented and under-served communities?

Sometimes we focus on equality, which is the end state. However, we cannot get to equality without equity, which is about intention. We’re not all starting from the same place. One of the greatest gifts right now, especially for our allies, is self-reflection — understanding the place of privilege and power you come from.

For companies, this means actually doing something to right the privilege and power dynamics within.

  • How are you ensuring growth in your organization?
  • How are you ensuring retention of your Black employees?
  • What does your leadership team look like and why is that so?
  • What programs do you have in place?
  • What benchmarks do you have in place?
  • How are you ensuring accountability? Do you release numbers internally? Externally?
  • Are you actually measuring along the way?
  • Are you being authentic? If something doesn’t work, be open and let people know and that you’ll try something else in hopes that it does work.‍

As a potential employee, you may not have the best understanding of a company’s culture, but you can ask the hard questions. Although you may not be in a diversity role, you can still help by pressing companies to make change.

Racial battle fatigue: we're not just sensitive and emotional and stressed.

Thinking about and dealing with racism is tough. As Black people, we’ve had to learn to survive. Survival mentality is never a good thing. You can’t thrive. You can’t grow. You are constantly thinking about how to survive.

The best thing that companies can do is to try to understand that when someone is going through racism, all the isms, and all the phobias, it’s really emotionally draining. Your morale goes down. Your sense of belonging goes down. Your productivity and capacity go down. You start existentially questioning how can this world be so cruel.‍

That's why, Black people, rest.

We’re fighting every day and you don’t need to also carry on your shoulders the task of educating everybody else on your lived experiences. You can choose to do so, and that’s okay, but you don’t have to.

It is emotionally laborious to understand the nuances of racism. It is not just that someone said a bad thing or committed a heinous action. This is deeply rooted, especially in this country.

The phrase “All men are created equal” is a lie. The same men that wrote that were the same men that owned slaves. Those same men did not mean women. “All men are created equal” was meant for a certain type of man.

As white people start to know and understand what racism is, it is fatiguing. You have to live through that uncomfortableness. You have to get in there and sit with it.

Allies, this is your time to shine.

Harness that anti-racism energy past next month and next year. We need you to dismantle the systems that are put in place in companies and society. You maybe did not build them. However, you actively enjoy and benefit from them today. So sit with it. Remember, self-reflection is the biggest gift you have right now.