Being Black in traditional work environments seems to have always been difficult. Honestly, I have had the privilege of mostly working with and for Black people for my adult life. But I recognize that now that the world is waking up to what we have been saying for decades, many are uncertain of how to navigate their new “woke” workspaces. Pulling from conversations with some friends, colleagues, and mentors, here are some tips that may be a good place to start.
Connecting helps you to remember that you are not alone in your work and your experiences. Especially in this time, it is important to find other Black people to connect with, in your department, in your office, or in your industry so that you can share and strategize together. If you do not have any Black coworkers, be sure to talk to friends or family that may be able to empathize with your experience. Regardless of how you do it, connections are important to establish and maintain right now.
Find a Mentor
Mentors are knowledgeable about your industry and your capabilities and can help you to outline an individualized plan of action for how you navigate your workspace. Mentors may not always be in your organization, but can often guide you in the best ways to engage productively and take care of yourself at work.
Set and Maintain Boundaries
Unless it is a previously stated part of your job, it is not your responsibility to chair the new diversity and inclusion committee or plan the race-related events. Now is the time for non-Black “allies” to do this work. If you feel led and have the capacity to participate and offer suggestions, by all means, do so. But also feel free to say no.
Request a meeting with your supervisor on a monthly or quarterly basis to discuss your work, goals, and experiences. Use this time not only to ensure your expectations and work product are aligned and on track, but also to talk honestly about the ways your company could better support its Black employees. Be mindful of how receptive your boss is (or is not) to what you share and be aware of how your organization is reacting to, and supporting the needs of, Black employees.
Write down the things you are experiencing. This will help you to process it and may also be useful if you need to refer back to specific instances and interactions in later conversations.