written by Kamala Avila-Salmon

“We joined the ERG because we needed help, but we became the help,” she said.


This quote is from an excellent Washington post story about how tech companies are turning to their Black ERGs to save them from their racial problems. For free.

I was sent this article yesterday and after a full day-long search, I can confirm there are #NoLiesDetected. This struggle is so real. Today, I had a chance to sit in on a new D&I training at work and it was actually amazing. (If you are a Black person who has ever attended a corporate D&I training, you will understand why I was kind of surprised. These trainings generally do little to even comment on the racist order the workplace, much less seek to disrupt it.) The Black woman who led it said something early on that resonated with me deeply. She said, “Right now, companies are sitting at the intersection of Diversity & Inclusion and racial justice.” And BOY, is that true!

If you think predominantly White companies are bad at D&I (and yes, they are), they truly don’t know which way is up when it comes to racial justice. But almost overnight, racial justice jumped onto the corporate agenda nationally and it’s been messy to say the least. On the one hand, this is a NECESSARY shift. If you’re not focused on racial justice, D&I basically amounts to bringing people of color into a space that you know is harmful to them and including them in a culture where the only way they can survive is assimilation. Let me say it again- bringing Black people into a workplace that was built on White supremacy is ACTUALLY a form of abuse. It is a recipe for the proverbial “leaky funnel” of talent. Black people will come in, usually running away from the White supremacy of their last workplace, will find yours to be no better, and will leave to the next place that sounds better but probably will not be. It is in this way that D&I, as a corporate practice and a strategy for improving anything, has been broken from jump and it is why I knew I couldn’t build my new “inclusion strategy” role the way that typical D&I work is done. My friends who work in D&I say I am “disruptive” which I take as a high compliment. I don’t think I could live with myself if I colored within the toxic lines that were drawn before I arrived.

But on the other hand, there is something that might be comical if it wasn’t so dangerous, about companies and execs who have never even really been serious about D&I jumping right to trying to solve for racial justice in their organizations. Like, you fully skipped SEVERAL steps here. There are almost no major corporations who have actively measured and compensated their leaders based on their ability to build and lead diverse teams. No CEOs have ever been ousted for failing to move their terrible diversity numbers in all the years they have measured it and passionately claimed it was important. D&I is the only company priority that you can routinely fail at and face no consequences. The message has been pretty clear- helping people of color succeed at your company is not something to be expected of a leader. So it should be no surprise that in the middle of a national racial injustice crisis, we would have primarily non-Black leadership who can’t figure out how to send a staff memo explaining why Black lives mattered without help. We have never before asked them to know how to do this. They do not know how to do “racial justice” because they have never even thought about it.

So yes, OF COURSE, Black people become VVVVIPs in corporate America during this moment. I have said before that I happen to believe that Black people NEED to consulted in these matters. I have seen what happens when leaders who have no expertise in navigating race try to “lead” on this issue and it is not okay. They are often doing harm. So our counsel is needed. But here is the flip side, Black people are also exhausted. For real, WE ARE TIRED. Because holding space for people who have on some level always known we were oppressed and have never before cared and are now feeling all the feelings about both sides of that equation is a lot. So what you do when you know you are probably imposing on people who are already tired but also whose counsel you actually really, really do need yet have never earned? It’s really tough. Here’s my advice on how to navigate this.

(1) Find a person with diversity or inclusion in their title. I think it is okay to ask these people for help but make sure you are mindful of how many inbound requests they have coming in right now, be clear about your deadlines, and do everything you can do to do some of your own homework/research first. Also think about how you can properly recognize them for their work, in word and in deed.

(2) If you cannot do #1, tread very lightly. If you are working on something that requires the input of Black people and specifically Black people on your team because it is very specific to your work context and a generalist D&I opinion won’t do, be careful. Acknowledge that this isn’t their job but you would value their opinion. Provide actual room for them to say “no” if they can’t do it. If they say yes, take their input but also SEEK WAYS TO PAY THEM FOR THIS. Can you do a spot bonus? Can you reflect on all the times they have done this for you and recognize that this is showing leadership and impact beyond their role and recommend them for the PROMOTION they are probably overdue for anyway? And know that a yes to one request is NOT a “yes” to being your permanent D&I consultant. It should not be a life sentence of unpaid, invisible labor. Black people right now are TIRED and your company’s unacknowledged racism is probably one of the things making them more tired. Ask each and EVERY time you need help and be ready to accept a “no”.

(3) Some of your Black colleagues who do not work in D&I officially actually want to jump in proactively here. They are asking you to. You probably know who they are. They are the ones who have been pushing your business to be more intentional with diverse audiences and customers for years. Or the ones who have been recommending inclusion-minded initiatives or programs for the team to do from the start. These are your stars. They are trying to help you make more money because diversity is good business and inclusion is retention. LISTEN TO THESE VOICES NOW. DO WHAT THEY ARE TELLING YOU TO DO IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. And then, figure out how you can pay or promote them for the labor they are doing willingly without being asked, even when they are personally in trauma.

(4) Really make sure to reflect on why you don’t already have Black leadership on your team that you could be leveraging at this moment and make plans to fix this. Right now, you know you really need Black leaders because you think this is a “Black problem” (it is not but I will explain that at another time). But you have actually ALWAYS needed Black leaders. Seeing how valuable they are now, how good were any of your business decisions without diversity in the room all along?

Here’s one more thing I’ll leave you with. The Black people who are stepping up now to help save your company and your communications and your culture and your business have actually always been there. They have ALWAYS been leaders. Really ask yourself why you’ve never noticed them before, never worked with them before, never seen their brilliance till now. Be curious about their careers and their trajectories and their development plans beyond the ways in which they can help you now. Find out what their experiences at your company have been like (and if you need their help on diversity right now, you can be sure they have not been good) and decide what you want to do about that. Who are their advocates? Who are their sponsors? Who is blocking them? When were they last promoted? Were they fairly leveled in the company in the first place? This moment will past but their talent will still be there. If the Black “leaders” who are stepping up right now do not get TITLES and money to match the load they are taking on and SOON, how committed to racial justice and equity in the workplace are you really? Are you committed to change or just crisis management?

Article originally posted on medium.com

Building the first Facebook marketing team focused on inspiring the Facebook family of apps to develop and ship more inclusive, culturally-relevant marketing campaigns that represent our global user base and lead the industry.

Connect with Kamala on LinkedIn.

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Victoria Trabosh

Victoria Trabosh

Since 2003, I have leveraged my 40-year business career and life experience into a role as an executive coach and international speaker, author and columnist. Practicing what I preach, I have been my own agent of change during my career. It has sparked in me a passion for helping others change as well. In fact, I’ve committed my life to it.

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