Sandra’s story seems familiar and I feel have heard it many times. She wrote that her eyes got teary and hands shook as she typed her resignation letter. She knew that she might not be able to get another high paying tech executive position quickly, and it may seem to others that she failed, but she had to do it as it was impacting her mental health and, ultimately, family life. “I was suffocating, and I could not survive in a toxic environment anymore. I felt so lonely as I was the only Black woman executive in our team with 10 white males and one white woman. I was under constant pressure to work harder and prove that I belong here. I felt I was invisible and not valued.” She overheard comments that she did not deserve it but got the job because she was a Black woman. She did not get the same level of respect and authority as her colleagues. Some of my colleagues’ actions were very subtle, and some activities were prominent, but she could not speak to anyone. She did have few allies, but the expectation was to keep her chin up and move on.
Toxic workplaces did cost businesses $223 billion over the last five years per 2018 data. Racial discrimination and harassment remain pervasive throughout the workplace, with 40% to 76% of ethnic minority employees experiencing at least one unwanted race-based behavior within a 12- to 24-month period. Thus, employee engagement and satisfaction decline drastically resulting in higher turnover.
In 2018, Black women represented only 1.3% of senior management and executive roles of S&P 500 firms, 2.2% of Fortune 500 boards of directors. Only four Black male CEO in the Fortune 500 and there is not a single Black female CEO. Similar pattern exists in mid-management and senior leadership across the corporate world. Many companies are able to recruit diverse talent but struggle with retention and promotion due to various reasons. A handful of companies have identified that discrimination and inequalities are deep-rooted in corporate culture and have established formal diversity and inclusion program. However, only 42% of Fortune 500 companies have designated diversity leaders, and many diversity leaders believe that they are not empowered and can drive the change. Regardless, employees must be honored, valued, respected, and rewarded in an inclusive workplace. On the other side of the spectrum, Cedars-Sinai is committed to be a diverse, inclusive organization where everyone feels like they belong. Diversity and Inclusion Director Nicole Mitchell says, “Belonging is the ultimate level we’re trying to reach as an organization. We may be letting everyone at the table speak, but are we actually listening to them?”
I was shocked to read a corporate message expressing their support of the Black community who had recently recognized health care heroes with a picture of all white professionals! In a difficult time like this, Black employees are hurt and tired. They no more need a press release, social media posts, leadership lectures and false hopes. Employees will hold leaders accountable for their commitment and demand change. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. They are only ready to listen to your genuine thoughts and actionable plan. Be prepared to answer questions like this — Are you going to give your time, treasure and talent for education, health, employment, housing, childcare programs? Will you support a bill that is in favor Black agenda? Will you be an ally of minority employees, be their mentor, support their advancement and speak for them if you see injustice at work? Any other ideas to uplift the community?
And then there is hope. Cummins and Lilly have jointly committed to use their voice to speak up, provide financial support and resource to Black-led groups and support minority-owned businesses. Anthem had pledged $50 Million grant for racial injustice and health inequalities program. TechPoint is committed to a list of action-oriented goals, including intentional effort to increase Black representation on their board. Roche Diagnostics’ Diversity and Inclusion Director Christine Krull says that they have provided mental health resources to their employees. They are organizing an intimate and open discussion with African American Business Resource Group members and senior leader with a goal to not to solve the problem or search for the root cause, but rather to build connection and community.
The racial injustice has no place —in the workplace or outside the workplace.
Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems leading business and technology consulting practice and tech editor for Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.