3 Effective Approaches to Managing Across Racial Differences

More and more, companies and organizations are hiring Chief Diversity Officers, building out their strategies to retain diverse talent, and acknowledging the importance of developing teams that are comprised of individuals from different backgrounds. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where scrolling through the headshots of the leadership team on a company’s website and realizing that they’re all white men actually makes you scratch your head and wonder how they missed the boat. But it’s not enough to prioritize diversity hiring efforts. Truthfully, diversity efforts without well thought out and executed inclusion efforts can cause more harm than good to minority employees who end up feeling tokenized and isolated.

Managing across lines of racial difference isn’t just about white managers overseeing their minority direct reports, though. It’s also about the increasing number of Black managers who lead teams of white employees. Without either party developing a true understanding and comfort level with nuanced cultural differences, preferences and norms, employees on both ends can feel like they’re not being developed, supported or invested in the ways that they need to be, leaving no one happy. Here are a few tips for building stronger manager relationships  with this in mind:

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Learning to Play the Game to Change the Game

This week, I’ve had the privilege of attending the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 46th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Here, I’m surrounded by inspiring, Black change-agents who are all working tirelessly to eradicate the social and systemic injustices that plague our community.  For a few days, we don’t feel like minorities. We look around rooms full of positional power, and we see ourselves. For a few days, we don’t have to justify our feelings or make a case for our perspectives; we don’t have to code switch or rework our standpoints so they fit within the unspoken dominant expectation. For a few days, we are surrounded by a sea of raw, authentic, beautiful Blackness. And it feels good.

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3 Characteristics of Inclusive Workplaces

Being Black in a profession that requires specialized training and/or credentialing is a complex and inevitably isolating experience. Despite companies and organizations ramping up diversity efforts in recent years, the white-collar workforce is still overwhelming white. 8 out of every 10 lawyers are white; 80.8% of social scientists are white; 78.2% of education professionals are white; nearly three-quarters of business professionals are white; over 70% of healthcare professionals, engineers, and physical scientists are white. The list goes on and on.

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3 Reasons Why We Shouldn’t Taken Tokenism Lightly

Tokenism is a silent, ugly beast. While it may come across as gentle, harmless, and well-intentioned, it has the unique ability to protect oppressors from their own behaviors while forcing the oppressed into silent accord.  While it is definitely necessary for companies to strategically recruit and cultivate minorities into their workplaces, it is extremely harmful when People of Color are used and maneuvered to depict a setting that is simply untrue. Without being accompanied by serious efforts to elevate the perspectives, voices, and norms of everyone (and not just the dominant group), tokenism easily results in isolation and disempowerment.

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4 Norms to be Aware of In Your Workplace

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As minority professionals, it is extremely important for us to critically assess the environments that we work in. Organizational culture is something that isn’t always discussed in great depth in the Black community, though it should be, considering that we make up only 11% of the professional workforce. Statistically speaking, we work for organizations whose priorities, missions, and objectives were all developed by white people–and therefore represent white people. Our cultural norms are developed and sustained through environmental influences. They determine the way we communicate, the way we process, the way we socialize, and the way we react, in addition to influencing our preferences, tastes, and biases. Because Black people are underrepresented in the workplace–from Corporate America, to the nonprofit sector, to medicine and everything in between–we tend to be forced to adapt to the dominant [white] culture in order to meet the [white determined] bar for success.

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Navigating Invisible Power Structures at Work

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There are three types of power that commonly exclude yet disproportionately impact employees of color. They are:

  1. Positional Power — influence that is assigned to a particular role or office
  2. Institutional Power — influence that is systematically assigned to a specific racial group in order to gain exclusive privilege and access
  3. Relational Power — influence that is granted as a result of close relationships with those who have positional or institutional power, typically established through a shared identity marker.

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3 Important Mindsets to Develop Early in Your Career

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When you’re young, life unravels in such a predictable sequence. Once you finish 1st grade, you go to 2nd. Then 3rd. Then 4th. Then…(yeah, exactly, predictable sequence). But something strange happens once you become an adult. It’s like someone forgot to write the rest of the chapters. The pages are either blank, illegible, or written in an unfamiliar language. It’s now up to you to figure out how to navigate the rest. All of those years that you thought were “preparing you for the rest of your life” somehow seem irrelevant and unrelated to the overwhelming task at hand. What’s even more perplexing for Black professionals in particular is that we tend to enter work forces that weren’t designed to include us, let alone elevate us. In our predominately white sectors, we walk a fine line between proudly embracing who we are and trying to figure out what we need to know or change about ourselves in order to rise to the top. Minorities represent only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Now, within that minority population, what percent of those CEOs are Black? 0.8%. Not even one percent! 

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