This Has To Stop. It’s Time To Speak Out…And Take Action!

by Alan Collins

I don’t know about you…but I’m not okay.

I’m crushed and frustrated by this continuing war against black people.

I will call this thing what it is — pure racism.

In the last month:

When does this crap stop?

Sadly, this isn’t new. This has been going on for decades. Technology has just brought it out into the open for all to see.

If you’re like me, you may be trying to process all this pain and anguish and what your role can be to fight racism and racial injustice.

Clearly, we DON’T need:

We DO need to start treating each other with decency & respect.

We DO need everyone of ALL RACES to speak out and have more authentic, uncomfortable conversations with each other…for the sake of our black brothers & sisters and for the sake of our humanity.

We DO need to check in with our black relatives, friends and colleagues…and others who have been marginalized…to find out if they’re okay.

But that’s not all.

We’re HR professionals and leaders.  We help lead the people agenda in our organizations. So, we need to think more deeply about what kind of meaningful action we need to take within our own workplaces, with our own people – no matter how small – to combat racism.

Along these lines, here are some of initial thoughts…

1.  Support your team members.

We should allow our team members and employees to take some time off to help clean up their communities, donate blood to those affected by violence or participate peacefully protests if they choose to.

Everyone can help and many want to help in their own way. We should give our people the space to contribute in ways that are comfortable for them.

2. Don’t be silent, share with others in your organization your own grief. 

Now is NOT the time to stay quiet. Talk with your colleagues in a heartfelt way.  How have you been personally feeling about recent events? Be willing to be vulnerable. If you need to vent, vent.

If this is uncomfortable, first seek out supportive colleagues where you don’t have to worry about perfecting your message. Discuss the recent deaths, the Black Lives Matter movement and racial equality. Doing this is especially important if you’ve felt the frustrated and traumatized by the recent events.

3. Hold your sphere of influence accountable. 

Yes, I know, it’s easier to look away and to decide that this is a problem for someone else.

But that’s wrong, it’s actually a problem for all of us.

It’s time to step up.

4. Use your voice to have some uncomfortable talks with your business leaders. 

Make no mistake about it, if you want to see real change, recognize that it begins at the top.

Engage your leaders in discussions about what barriers exist for black people in your organization.

Dig into the tough questions. For example:

In what areas, does racism exist in your organization?

Are you proud of the African-American representation in leadership roles at all levels of your company? If you are, great. If not, what steps can be taken right now to remove obstacles to hiring, leadership development and promotional opportunities?

What can be done to build an more inclusive culture?

How can we hold leaders in the organization more accountable for doing all this?

These are critical questions. And while talk is GOOD, concrete actions are BETTER…and accountability by leaders is the HOLY GRAIL.

Speaking of actions and accountability, that leads me to this…

5. When you see a cause you can join, join it.

6.  Treating people right will never fail you.

When in doubt, try simply follow the golden rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Changing hearts and minds I believe gets us closer to the ultimate answer to our racial issues.  This means creating or seeking out opportunities to get to know each other better. But this is challenging given how polarizing our society is right now.

Nevertheless, in today’s crazy world, time-tested values like authenticity, integrity, empathy and compassion are the only real currencies in life — and will carry you far in your career in HR.

7. Educate yourself.

Even though I’ve been black all my life, I don’t pretend to have all the answers or that it’s easy doing any of what I’ve recommended here.

Personally, I need to take more action and become a lot more educated about both black and white issues.

I operate in my own little comfortable bubble and have my own blind spots, assumptions and biases about racism. And, I find myself having strange tensions in some black-white situations that I don’t quite understand.

To help me raise my game and enhance my own education, I’ve ordered two books — So You Want To Talk About Race. and White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.

Check them out. You might find them helpful too.

We all have a lot of work to do.

And frankly, I wish I had more answers.

But I’m speaking out.

Now is the time to take action.

We can all start by acting as true leaders… 

Because this has to stop!

#BlackLivesMatter
#IWillNoLongerBeSilent

* * *

Got comments?  Frustrations? Additional suggestions?  Speak out and feel free to add your comments below

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals.   He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

10 Responses to “This Has To Stop. It’s Time To Speak Out…And Take Action!”

  1. David Tran Says:

    Alan,

    I got three of your books and really enjoying the read – thank you!

    On #BLM, D&I Initiatives for HR folks need to include measures that fosters FREEDOM in the workplace. When divergent, polarizing, and even incendiary perspectives are constructively expressed, THAT is when diversity will flourish in the workplace. How can business leaders advance real lasting social challenges? By calling for national revamp of PTO and work hours to achieve real work/life balances where employees participate in civic duties to toward a social cause. The talking and expressing about the issues of our time limits our potential for real change. Longing for things to return to normal is not what we want.

    Thank you for your dedication and continued service to our profession!

    David

  2. Alan Says:

    David, Thanks for your support & feedback about the books – I’m thrilled you’re enjoying them. Thanks also for taking the time to weigh in on #BLM and D&I with such a thoughtful response. I couldn’t agree with you more. Constructive candor, being straight with people and driving such discussions and most importantly actionable change are crucial in addressing our challenges. None of us can no longer be satisfied maintaining the status quo or giving lip service to the concerns of black people and other marginalized groups. We all have work to do. Be well and stay safe. Alan.

  3. ValtheHRGal Says:

    Hi Alan, many thanks for allowing space in your newsletter for this discussion. As a black woman, and DC native (the “stuff” is hitting the fan here) my spirit has been heartened by the number of business leaders and organizations who have been vocal in the past few days about the need to not only commiserate and sympathize, but to take action to stop the systemic racism that continues to tear our country apart. We simply must come together on a grassroots level to make the legal, political and institutional changes necessary to stop the marginalization of groups and to achieve a shared and collective consciousness to do and be better. This is an election year folks. Let’s elect the right people and hold them accountable to necessary change to heal our country. #weareinthistogether

  4. Alan Says:

    ValtheHRGal, thank you! Your comments are right on the money. I too have been encouraged by those who have chosen not to stay silent, not to stay on the sidelines, but instead have chosen to MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD. It’s crucial now that we follow our voices with TAKING ACTION. Meaningful concrete actions. Not matter how big or small. We need to hold OURSELVES and all of our leaders accountable — our business leaders, our community leaders and yes, our political leaders. Finally, if you can do nothing else – Vote! #weareinthistogether

  5. Leanne Morris Says:

    Alan, thanks for continuing an authentic and constructive dialogue on this. Sitting in Switzerland as a white woman of privilege this could all seem quite remote, but after so much time travelling, working and living in the US I am acutely aware of the disconnect between black and white that seems to be getting worse and worse (or maybe we are finally getting real visibility thanks to camera phones and social media).
    Once again, my family have been talking about another needless death and this is literally keeping me awake at night. I feel sick that it could so easily be my nephew or a friend’s husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son or daughter that I’m next seeing on the US news.
    I don’t have an answer. I do know that we’ve ALL got to be accountable for addressing EVERY instance of racism.
    And Americans have to use their right to vote – imagine if every HR professional made a personal effort to educate disadvantaged neighbors and communities on why this is important, and could help mobility challenged folks to the polling booths.
    I love the USA and have many dear American friends (black and white and yellow and brown), but it is NOT the land of the free.
    We still have black HR professionals who are told they’re equally valued whilst working shoulder to shoulder with white colleagues, but never get an invite to join them at lunch. HR professionals who are awesome in their field, but who feel alone and insecure as the only black person on the leadership team. HR professionals who have no role models of their “own” so miss that inspiration, and struggle to be an effective role model to black employees coming up through the ranks. Professionals within HR who feel compelled to ruin their natural hair for something more fitting to white “corporate”. And don’t get me started on companies who brag of their D&I initiatives, but think a “token” black hire in middle management is good enough. And you can insert Hispanic or Chinese or any other non white for these hypocrisies too.
    I rage that for too long, law enforcement has not been about protecting or serving the people (which should automatically be of all races and colors because the last time I checked, all non whites were legitimate human beings). It really is about force.
    With my rant over, I wonder if “whites” have discomfort on the race discussion, because they are uncertain of causing offence with their labels – when to use Black vs African American vs people of color, etc, etc. I observed this dilemma in Australia when the Aborigines did great work in moving white Australians away from ethnic slurs, but then created confusion as the politically correct descriptor kept changing to the point where whites avoided referencing them for fear of being accused as racist?

  6. Alan Says:

    Leanne, it is so great getting your perspectives from Switzerland, especially since you’ve lived abroad and in the US. You’ve done an impressive job putting your finger on a number of the issues facing both blacks and whites in America – both in our families and in our corporations.

    You’re right we have to get comfortable with the brutally candid discussions about race and we have to get beyond our rage and listen to each other…and really hear each out. I also agree with your point that D&I initiatives are fine, but meaningful change won’t happen until people’s hearts and minds change. Our actions need to include how we capture the heart and the mind.

    Thanks again. Please stay safe.

  7. Gail Sanderson Says:

    Thank you, Alan, for your frank and sincere words. As a former HR Manager and a current consultant in the field, I have worked with executives to have them recognize their bias. Some will work with me and HR and some continue to ignore our advice, since they are in a more “senior” role. I believe that human resources MUST play a role in educating management with the tough conversations. It’s hard and thankless but it is OUR JOB. To win a war, you must have MANY dedicated soldiers.

  8. Alan Says:

    Gail, absolutely! As a HR pros, we have an obligation to drive the tough discussions with our leaders. I don’t pretend this is easy to do and that it doesn’t come without risk. It definitely does! But we don’t need to have all the answers, it just requires courage to ask the right questions and hang in there until we can get commitments – and then hold them accountable to their commitments. This is REAL work that HR leaders can do. And, these are the kinds of actions that can transform our organizations and dramatically transform how we deal with race. Thanks again for your comments. Be well.

  9. Kate Chukwu Says:

    This is really thought provoking, I have learnt something and would really need to change my perspective about people who don’t appear like I would have loved them to appear. The truth is you cannot judge one based on their present look because you have no idea where they are coming from.

    Thanks Alan

  10. Alan Says:

    Kate, thanks so much for your perspective. I couldn’t agree more. We all have a lot of work to do in this area if we going to get our arms around racism and wrestle it to the ground. However, I believe our journey will bring us all much closer together in the future. Be well and stay safe.

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