Black women aren’t being respected at work – here’s how HR can lead the change

A recent survey found just a third of Black women feel valued at work. The people profession has to take charge in fixing this, argues Yetunde Hofmann

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A recent survey conducted by the Gallup Centre of Black Voices highlights how Black women’s experience of a workplace differs from others, when compared to Black men or white women. Black women face a double burden of both sexism and racism. The survey found that only 33 per cent of Black women feel like a valued member of their team at work, compared to 42 per cent of white men, while 36 per cent of Black women said they felt they were treated with respect among co-workers, compared to 46 per cent of Black men. 

It’s time we change this. We need to build workplaces where every single member of staff feels they belong, can be their authentic selves and are valued and respected. Here’s what HR can do to lead change:

Have courage

Call out behaviour that even in the slightest way dehumanises a member of staff. 

Be a role model

HR holds a critical role in every organisation and it’s crucial every member of the HR team role models the behaviour you want to see across the rest of the company. 

See diversity as an imperative

Not just from the perspective of the business, but also for the HR profession and your own personal career goals. You have the power to drive change.

Put love at the centre of who you are and what you do

You might think there’s no place for love at work, but love-based leadership is key to building a workplace where everyone feels respected and valued. Love is the unconditional acceptance of all of who you are and all of who others are. Every HR professional and leader should strive to emulate and live this. 

Be a beacon of light

Talk and walk in such a way that lets your Black talent know there is hope and that you are an ally to them. 

Develop strong relationships with your Board

Especially your remuneration, audit and nomination committees. Your ESG committee chairs are also increasingly important. They can support you in influencing your executive team and CEO to take action. You can also encourage them to adapt their own ways of working and leading to improve the experience of Black women in the workplace and empower more Black women to reach the top.

Mine your diversity and inclusion data

Share this with the key decision makers and request action, outlining exactly how each issue can and should be tackled. 

Conduct a root and branch review of all your people processes

From recruitment to performance assessments to promotions to exit interviews. Engage the support of Black women in this and ask who is being sponsored to attend leadership development programmes, to join high-profile projects or strategy reviews; be prepared to state your reasons why and how things need to change. Educate your people managers on this. 

Provide a roadmap for your stakeholders of how to drive change

It’s essential you lobby each of the stakeholders you work with to drive change and show them how, follow up by holding them accountable to deliver the meaningful results needed to ensure lasting change.

Investigate why Black women are leaving your organisation

Don’t brush over issues or be afraid to ask awkward questions. It’s essential to find out why black women are leaving your organisation and what you can do to improve Black women’s experience. 

Be a supporter not an obstacle

Listen to Black women and women who identify as Black, find out what their lived experience is and invite ideas from them on what can be done. Then follow through. HR is sometimes seen as the obstacle to progress and not a supporter.

Tailor your return to work interviews

When Black women return to work, tailor your interview to them and ask specifically how to ensure they feel valued and respected. 

Diversify your own HR function

Ensure there is sufficient representation within your own team. 

Prioritise life experience and skills over academic qualifications

It’s important to attract talent into the HR team that has cultural awareness, has lived in different countries and has experienced different professions. This brings a grittiness and a realism to the HR function that is so much needed.

Ensure that your specialists all behave as inclusive leaders

It’s imperative your heads of talent, organisational development, learning, digital, employee relations etc all behave as inclusive leaders. They are role models for their teams and their behaviours set the tone for inclusion that trickles down through every level of the organisation. 

Take the time to also educate your suppliers, external trainers and business partners

See collaboration and coordination as a gift. 

Yetunde Hofmann is a board-level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of Solaris