Not only are we as HR professionals managing the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are managing what some have called the “pandemic within a pandemic”. This is the racial and social injustice pandemic that has inundated our nation since the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. As an African American woman, these events have left me emotionally wounded … As a Human Resources professional, these events have triggered a calling within to do more. Yet, there is the relentless question of “What can Lil’ ole me in Jonesboro, Arkansas do?”
As I mentioned in a previous blog, in 2019 I led the charge in creating my organization’s first affinity group LEAAP which stands for Leading and Emerging African American Professionals. The mission of LEAAP is to provide Christ-like mentorship, networking, and community involvement experiences to recruit, retain, connect, and increase the visibility and professional development of African American employees within St. Bernards. This January in partnership with Arkansas State University we held our LEAAPing into Diversity & Inclusion conference which was the first of its kind for the Northeast Arkansas region. We had nearly 200 participants who were educated on what implicit bias is, how we acquired it, and why it matters. Along with thought-provoking group discussion and breakout sessions for professionals in education, healthcare, and business, the much-needed conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion matters was started.
And this is a conversation that must continue as the Black Lives Matter and racial injustice movements have rightfully taken center stage in our news and social media as well as in our workplaces. In my workplace, my affinity group lobbied to have a 9 minute moment of silence in honor of George Floyd as well as hold a virtual healing space meeting for our employees with Pastoral Care and EAP present. In this meeting, we implored those on the call to share their feelings regarding recent events and how they are coping with their feelings. We asked if talking about race is uncomfortable and why. We also asked what support they felt that they needed, and to share their thoughts on the future. It was a revelation hearing our employee’s feelings and experiences, and even freeing for me in a sense to share how I was coping and strategies that I had implemented. This involved my disengaging from the media for a while, and re-watching a beloved comedy series, Park & Recreation. My affinity group had the full support of our senior leadership team in our efforts, and our CEO also released a statement regarding the recent events.
During this time I received a letter from a white peer that read, “As your colleague and friend, I can’t express how thankful I am to serve this community alongside you. You bring a perspective, passion, and wisdom that is needed and appreciated. If I have ever used my status, privilege, or color of my skin in a way that would indicate I am better or of more importance than you, I am sorry. As my colleague, I ask that you call me out on it and we use both our strengths and weaknesses to bring about the change needed. I see you. I hear you. I mourn with you. I am better because of you.” This letter undeniably brought tears to my eyes and a sense of hope in the midst of my disengagement and hopelessness.
In addition to activities at my workplace, I have furthermore been encouraged to express my feelings and initiatives that my organization has undertaken in my SHRM Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC) meetings. We have devoted our last few meetings to this topic, and I have never felt more encouraged and supported by SHRM and my fellow YPAC teammates.
As you may know, SHRM proudly shared their call to action to drive racism and social injustice out of America’s workplaces in the Together Forward@Work platform on August 3, 2020. The platform includes a significant body of online resources, tools, and research which includes the “Journey to Equity and Inclusion” and “Start a Conversation” as well as an opportunity for us to get involved in the “I Pledge” campaign. Research showed that nearly one-quarter of HR professionals affirmed that racial discrimination is evident in their place of work. For black professionals, that number rises to almost half. Furthermore, thirty-two percent of HR professionals do not feel safe voicing their opinions about racial injustice issues in the workplace. When broken out by race, nearly half of black HR professionals report feeling unsafe while only 28 percent of white HR professionals agree. This is striking for several reasons; most notably because if we as an HR body do not feel comfortable voicing our opinions how can we ensure that our workplace is comfortable and encouraged to do the same. How can we confidently drive DEI training and policies and wholeheartedly tackle and embrace this societal and workplace issue?
I encourage you all to take a deep dive into this platform as well as the Overcoming Workplace Bias platform. I used the Tips for Diffusing Workplace Tensions to draft communication to our leaders and employees around the same time as our healing space meeting and moment of silence.
I by no means am a DEI expert which is why I welcome and am grateful for SHRM’s initiatives. I plan on taking the month of August to devote to boosting my DEI skills, and then training my workforce this fall. I even pushed to attend SHRM’s Inclusion 2020 virtually in October and was granted the opportunity last week. I hurriedly and happily registered as I know the information garnered from this conference will more so increase my DEI competencies and strengthen the delivery and substance of my training.
I would love to hear your thoughts surrounding this movement that has rocked and forever changed our society. As well as initiatives that you have done or are planning on taking to combat the racial inequities that persist in our nation and our workplaces. As Johnny C. Taylor, SHRM President & CEO stated this is our time to “guide our workplaces into a new era of honesty, respect, understanding, and inclusion.”