After George Floyd verdict, ‘it’s all about support right now’

HR experts share how employers can help Black workers this week and beyond.
By: | April 21, 2021 • 2 min read
(Image: Adobe)

Nicole Johnson of Mathison

In a swiftly delivered verdict Tuesday, a jury in Minneapolis found Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges he faced related to the killing of George Floyd last spring—a long-awaited decision that is sure to be felt throughout workplaces and that will demand a response from business leaders.

While many corporations have stepped up over the last year to support the Black Lives Matter movement, now is the time for employers to put those words into action—particularly in providing support to their Black employees, experts say.

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“As leaders navigating this moment, it’s important to know that our Black employees experience a certain kind of pain in their workplaces as they navigate the intersectionality of their identities, social aggressions, systemic oppression and the ongoing pressure of their workstreams and expectations,” says Nicole Johnson, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Mathison. “We must allow time and space for our colleagues to process this historical moment—to grieve, mourn, heal, find joy and resume. We must allow for them to thrive.”

Internal messaging about the verdict is more important than external, adds Kimberly Lee Minor, CEO/CMO of consulting firm Bumbershoot, and “it is all about support right now.” Minor shared a client message she crafted that acknowledged that the verdict highlighted a “charged situation and will have an effect on all of us. We would like to offer you the ability to decompress as necessary. Suspend meetings if you need and please take care of yourselves. We know that team members will need time to process this, and leadership will do our best to support you.”

Explicit support for employees of color shouldn’t subside in the weeks after the trial, adds Johnson. “Our action as leaders should reflect empathy and cultural competency on every day and in every aspect of our leadership,” she says.

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See also: DEI after George Floyd

While communicating to employees in the coming days is key, so too is letting them communicate to you, says Josh Saterman, managing partner, CEO and founder of Saterman Connect.

“Leaders can create safe spaces for your workplace, workforce and marketplace by starting with listening,” he says. “You have permission to ask questions. Ask your Black and African American colleagues how you can support them. Ask colleagues to share how they are feeling.”

Business leaders can bring in resources and advocates, internal or external, to facilitate conversations, and also should leverage the strength of employee resource groups and diversity councils.

Create awareness of the reality of racial injustice—lean into the uncomfortable, Saterman adds.

“Through listening to others and learning from their stories, people build relationships and create bridges and connections versus walls,” he says. “HR leaders can reinforce building relationships, breaking down silos and enhancing communication by expecting their leaders to lead by example. During this time, setting an example looks like listening, creating awareness and building bridges to open up hearts and minds.”

Learn more about “How Benefits Can Address Racial Inequity,” a panel discussion taking place May 12 during HRE‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. Register for the free, virtual event here.

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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