Be flexible about deadlines and personal days

Another crucial piece of advice to managers: Don’t expect business as usual in the wake of the verdict, even though the not-guilty finding many were fearing did not materialize. “Many people are just not going to be up to working [after the verdict] or making deadlines,” says Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychology professor at Kent State University who researches anxiety among Black people and race-related stress.

Leaders should figure out ways to let Black employees know that they can take time off without seeming to mandate it—whereas one person may want to take a personal day, another might want to throw themselves into work. Consider their individual personalities and do your best to figure out what gestures of support might be most meaningful.

Avoid unstructured group conversations

In the wake of Floyd’s death last summer, many organizations held company-wide meetings on the topic of racial justice. One lesson to emerge from this period is that unstructured conversations have potential to go awry, as was the case with a LinkedIn town hall that turned into an opportunity for some white employees to make dismissive remarks about the problem of racial inequality and police violence.

The best way to avoid such scenarios, Carter says, is to “be very thoughtful about what the end goal is” before setting up any group discussions. Without structure and an agenda, “what you can end up doing is throwing people to a room, having a conversation folks aren’t ready for, and doing more harm.”

Companies should consider setting up multiple forums for employees to process the verdict, suggests Neal-Barnett. First and foremost, she says, it’s “vitally important” that companies provide conversational spaces specifically for Black employees, where they can feel safe in sharing their thoughts and feelings with one another without having to navigate white people’s reactions. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Neal-Barnett also recommends that employers “bring in a skilled expert in racial trauma to help them process what they are experiencing and feeling.”

She adds that it may be useful to have DEI facilitators hold separate conversations both for other non-white employees (such as Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos), and for white employees. “We can’t build allyship, we can’t address bias, unless we understand how people are viewing [racism],” Neal-Barnett says.

A good facilitator can lead the conversation so that white employees openly share their views, then help them think through their responses more deeply from an anti-racist perspective. In any case, it’s important not to put the burden of anti-racist education on Black employees, or to force Black people into conversations in which there’s a risk of their colleagues saying ignorant or inadvertently harmful things.

Tie words to action

Writing in Quartz in 2020, author Nadia Owusu offered four questions that company leaders can ask themselves in the service of anti-racism, starting with: “How have our programs, products, and services left out or harmed communities of color in the past?”

No matter what goals companies have already set for themselves in the pursuit of racial equality, the Chauvin verdict is an opportune time to revisit that question, and to remember that there remains a lot of work ahead in dismantling racism. As Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison said in his remarks Tuesday, “The work of our generation is to say goodbye to old practices that don’t serve us anymore.”

Internal and external messaging will be crucial in this moment, but “[s]tatements are worthless without action,” Neal-Barnett says. The words should be accompanied, she says, by “a commitment to racial justice and a commitment to understanding that racism is a public health crisis, and making steps to reduce that.”

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