For Black employees across the U.S., showing up at the physical or virtual office is often a struggle. Following the death of George Floyd and the toll of the global pandemic's outsized impact on communities of color, they are stressed. They feel burned out, and many don't feel as if their worries are shared by their colleagues and managers.
That should be at a minimum cause for concern, if companies are even aware of what’s going on with their employees. While just about everyone is feeling the toll of lockdowns, political strife and unfulfilled calls for social justice, the burdens are falling especially hard on people of color. Black women in particular are less likely to feel supported by their employers, according to a recent McKinsey study of how women are faring in the workplace.
The messages — or should we say, the messengers — that corporate America has sent aren’t necessarily helping either. Part of problem lies in the fact that many of the boldest pledges in support of the Black Lives Matter movement are coming from the whitest of companies — and such commitments have long been questioned, starting during the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests last June. One February survey suggested 80 percent of companies are solely “going through the motions” when it comes to their publicly stated diversity and inclusion commitments.
Whether such pledges are genuine or not, in any event, companies across the board will have a hard time fulfilling their commitments to ensure a more welcoming, inclusive and, yes, diverse workforce.
“Significantly increasing the numbers of Black, Latino and other underrepresented workers means not just bringing in new people, but keeping the ones you have,” Kelsey Butler wrote for Bloomberg earlier this week. “For employers, that's going to mean addressing burnout in a way they never have before.”
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Butler interviewed 12 Black employees, who largely agreed that their employers have not done enough to address the challenges Black people face day-to-day and in the workplace. It’s clear that most managers aren’t or won’t respond to such concerns voiced by their colleagues, let alone check in on how their direct reports are faring. As one career coach told Bloomberg, the ongoing toll of confronting racism piled upon the realities of the pandemic have led workers to take sabbaticals and sick leave. If they can’t quit and leave, at least they can dodge a toxic environment a few days here and there. That coping tactic hardly solves the problem, though.
In addition to changing a work culture that may not be welcoming to anyone who feels as if they are an “other,” companies hopping aboard the diversity train are already confronting one obstacle that’s long been a challenge: attrition. Another study found that Black employees will just pack up and leave a company at a higher rate than that of whites, largely because they are frustrated in their quest for professional advancement.
In their rush to follow through on 2025 pledges focused on diversity as well as their drive to recruit from a more diverse pool of talent, many companies are putting the cart in front of the horse. The more important job for many of these companies is to ensure that everyone feels welcomed — as in, they are allowed to be themselves and work free from slights, microaggressions, hostility and racism in the office.
Let’s face it: Just because it’s not being said to human resources or posted on Glassdoor doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. And the truth many businesses must face is that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers — and if a company’s management isn’t addressing such concerns, any bold promise to staff a more “diverse” workplace will remain undelivered. So, before stating your intention to hire someone who’s a person of color, it may help you to learn why those previous employees put in their two weeks’ notice in the first place.
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Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.