• Pamela Neferkara

Everyone: Continue to Speak Up!

Here we are with the dog days of summer upon us. Scorching days, breezy nights, just like every year….hold up! It’s not every year, is it? Time continues to march on, but along the way, let’s not take our eyes off of the prize.

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled “How to Speak Up” with people of color in mind. Having often been the only woman/African-American/single parent in the room, I wanted to offer some advice on how to engage in a corporate setting regarding the social justice issues that have been front and center this summer. Protests may have waned and occupations such as in Seattle may have been disbanded, but across the Zoom dotted landscape of corporate America, there is still work to be done

Cartoon by Will McPhail

But whose work is it? I’ve had many conversations with friends and colleagues who are not black and to them I con

tinue to emphasize the need for everyone to speak up. In the same way that the Me, Too movement demonstrated that it is not the responsibility of women to solve the issue of sexual harassment, the Black Lives Matter movement is hopefully showing others that it’s not up to black people to solve issues of racism. In a corporate setting, this is even more important because when there is only one black person in the room and they are the one to speak up, they are often viewed as unobjective. And, by labeling their concern as personal, it can sometimes lead a company to avoid addressing the issue.

However, the last few weeks have taught us that racism isn’t personal. It’s not about one group of people; it’s about all of us. The health pandemic has clearly shown just how interconnected and complex our world has become. So, in the same way that one person in China contracts a virus and that virus can go on to infect the entire world, we have been witness to how one person’s racism can infect entire systems.

Now is the most critical time to raise your voices and keep pushing for change. 

How many of you work at a company that launched a campaign featuring somber black and white imagery or published a list of “diversity initiatives”? Do you work at a company that announced large donations to outside organizations? Is anyone thinking about what comes next? 

Now is the time to ask questions such as:

//How are we translating our external messages to internal action?

//Do we have the right diversity professionals in our organization or on retainer to help steer us in the right direction?

//In addition to donations, have we asked organizations how else we can help? What other resources have we offered?

How many of you work at a company that hurriedly formed a “diversity committee” a couple months ago? Is that committee still active? Have any recommendations been implemented? Or, are you seeing initiatives that seemed to have had broad support become watered down over time?

Now is the time to ask questions such as:

//What were our objectives in forming a diversity committee or action team?

//Are the members senior enough to affect real change?

//What’s the timeline for implementation?

//How will we evaluate success?

//When do we expect to see results?

Are you lucky enough to work for a company that actually made some organizational changes and promoted people of color? If the answer is yes, what other systemic changes are underway to insure the longevity and success of that person in their new role? Remember, if a leadership team was not diverse in the past, then you can bet that the systems, processes and policies that are in place were created for the people who have historically been on that team, not those of the future. 

Now is time to ask questions such as:

//What cultural changes are we implementing along with promoting more people of color?

//How are we examining our performance review process to insure it is equitable and without bias?

//What steps are we taking for executive support such as coaching for the newly promoted as well as their teams and leaders?

//Are diversity goals built into everyone’s performance expectations?

Now is the time to ask these questions and keep asking until the answers are satisfactory.

What the protests and social unrest have created is the POTENTIAL for change. REAL change takes time, steadfastness and commitment.

This is why we need everyone to speak up, to be vigilant and to continue to hold ourselves and our companies accountable today and into the future. 

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