What Comes After the Listening Circles?
“It’s been a year of highs and lows.”
“What a challenging/tumultuous year!”
“When is this gonna be over??!”
Sound familiar? Well, this is just a sampling of how we’ve described 2020 and into 2021.
We have learned things about our partners, colleagues, neighbors, and friends that perhaps we didn’t want to know. At the core, I believe we have learned that our beliefs and values may not be as aligned with each other as we thought. We continue to uncover this truth as we make decisions about school, work, relationships, and the meaning of justice and accountability.
In business, we see these differences as companies decide where work happens, what it means to be an inclusive company, and how/if they should participate in social change and racial justice efforts. As if that weren’t enough, our country is making an assessment about us—our region, our state. And let’s be honest—they’re not giving us a passing score.
I’m certainly guilty of regurgitating these “2020 was a hot mess” phrases. It has been a tough 18 months. I’ve watched many of my friends mourn the loss of their parents, a sorrow and pain that was almost unbearable for already weary bodies. As a Black woman, I watched friends and family attempt an impossible balancing act: supporting our families near and far as they struggle through the ever-present racial inequities, while educating colleagues on the lived experience of Black Americans.
Many of my Black friends in the Twin Cities are the only person of color their white neighbors and colleagues know. So the questions and comments—which can mean microaggressions and bias as well as enlightenment and support—persist.
Let me be frank: Being the only Black person that “everyone” knows can be exhausting. We are tired. I am tired. But I keep moving forward and educating and learning and supporting and responding because I believe we can make meaningful change, together. I focus my efforts on those individuals and companies that are truly interested in being leaders of consequence. It’s part of my self-care strategy.
The big question I spend most of my working time helping companies, nonprofits, and individuals address is: What do we do with all we’ve learned? Here are a few nuggets to ponder.
Put your ally principles into action. The biggest barrier for those I’ve worked with is the fear of offending or making a mistake. Guess what? It is highly likely you have both offended and made a mistake already—I know I have. Sometimes the mistake is not doing anything at all. Learning is great; action is even better. Find something you can do today. You can start with close family and friends; be bold and clear about what you value and the words and actions you will tolerate in your home and those that are unacceptable.
Be courageous in choosing who you spend time with. One thing I learned in the past 18 months is that time is precious—too precious to be spending it with people who do not bring joy.
Keep an eye on your hiring process. I commend many of you for the actions you are taking to create a more inclusive and diverse organization. Time will tell who the winners are (and trust me, there will be winners and losers in the race to full inclusion and equity). Hiring targets are fine, as they give you something measurable to gauge success. Complement the hiring commitment with a focus on your culture and hiring processes. Candidate assessment can often be a hotbed of unconscious bias and tradition, which are not serving you or creating a competitive advantage. If you find yourself saying things like, “We posted on LinkedIn and no diverse candidates applied,” it’s time for a hiring process refresh.
Being the only Black person that ‘everyone’ knows can be exhausting.
Join forces. After working with several companies, I can tell you one thing for sure: Most for-profits and nonprofits are working on the same things: diverse hiring, inclusive culture, and cultural awareness training. Might I suggest, especially for those based in the Twin Cities, you find ways to work together? It was tough to recruit people of color to the (unfamiliar, wintry) Twin Cities before. Now, with the nation watching as we struggle with racial equity, it will be even tougher. And our struggle is not just about hiring people of color; I’m not sure many top-talent white candidates outside the region will be excited to join us either. This is a statewide issue, not a single-company issue. Find some collective solutions that create a more inclusive business community across companies, then focus on the unique value of your company. If one company hires great talent and they join us here in Minnesota, the talent pool for all companies increases.
Stephanie Pierce is a connector, coach, and founder of two Minneapolis-based businesses, KJP Consulting, a leadership development firm, and stephpierce.com, a community of diverse women inspiring each other to do the work they love. She also co-hosts the podcast Her Next Chapter.