Since February is Black History Month, consider it your wake-up call to explore what you’re doing, personally and professionally, to support your Black colleagues. As an ally to this underserved and underrepresented community, doing your part to lift up and amplify your Black coworkers can make a significant difference. Not only in their individual careers — but as a way to illustrate the importance of racial equality and diversity. Here’s the kicker: This month is a great excuse to get started, but once the calendar rolls to March, your work isn’t done. You should continue to lift up and help your Black thought partners grow throughout the year, every year.
Here, we spoke with Black female leaders on what white allies can do right now to make an impact.
Meet the Experts
Naomi Hendrix Oyegoke is the founder, co-owner, and head chef of Rooted Vegan Cuisine.
Charlye Miller is the senior director of human resources at Sodexo Live!
Dr. Candace Steele Flippin is the author of Get Your Career in SHAPE.
Explore your implicit biases and heal them.
For starters, one of the impactful steps an ally can take is to look within themselves to find out where their implicit biases are hiding, says Naomi Hendrix Oyegoke, the founder, co-owner, and head chef of Rooted Vegan Cuisine. “In the process of learning how to overcome their biases, they will also be better able to spot it in other people and areas of their company,” she continues. “The goal is you can spot better and stop racism when you encounter it.”
Be a mentor.
If you have already made it up a rung on your career ladder, it’s time to turn around and offer a helping hand to the next woman to follow you. As leaders, it is so important to help others to grow and flourish in their career path, says Charlye Miller, the senior director of human resources at Sodexo Live! Get started passing down your wisdom and expertise by mentoring a Black colleague who seeks to follow your career path.
And remember, being a mentor is so much more than talking to someone, Miller says. “It involves listening, leading by example, and, most importantly, providing honest and candid feedback to them. Not everyone is open to being a mentee, but it can be very rewarding for both parties as you help to lift them up.”
Have an open-door policy.
Miller prides herself on having an “open door” so that she is available when a colleague needs to talk about challenges faced on the job or general career advice. “In an office environment, it is easy to fall into a habit of coming to work, staying closed up in your office, then going home,” she continues. “However, it’s important to be engaging with work colleagues to enable them to feel as though they matter and are part of the work environment.”
Offer praise directly — and to managers.
Part of building a relationship, whether professional or personal, is offering genuine feedback and praise. As Miller says, encouraging a colleague will help build their confidence and affords them to gain trust in you. For example, if a colleague is feeling down or defeated because their presentation did not go well, Miller recommends discussing the good components of their presentation instead of adding to the stress by calling out what went wrong.
Or, if you see a Black colleague excelling in their role, Oyegoke recommends going to their manager to sing their praises. “Kind words can help bridge potential gaps in these performance evaluations and aid in furthering their career,” she adds.
Help them grow.
One of the best ways to develop someone is through stretch assignments, according to Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, the author of Get Your Career in SHAPE. What does that mean? Dr. Flippin offers an example: If a Black woman on your team wants to take the next step in her career, provide her with projects to learn and grow. “Provide a safe environment with your organization for Black women to learn from mistakes and be sure to champion their successes. Encourage questions and be a sounding board,” she says.
Work to implement DEI changes.
If you are at a level within your organization where you can make fundamental, core policy changes, take a long hard look at your diversity and inclusion practices. And then, make those changes without burdening Black colleagues, Oyegoke says. “Look around and seek out areas where your organization can improve,” she says. “See where Black people are featured throughout your organization and leadership roles and where opportunities may be.”
Pass the mic.
Remember, as Dr. Flippin puts it: Visibility is a critical step in career advancement. “Make sure you are making time and space for the Black women on your team to develop their presentation skills,” she says. “Then ensure they have opportunities to present to their peers, senior management, and executive leadership.”
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