We can't go back to the way things were. Here's how we move forward.
I'm grateful that we are now in a place in society where we can actually dive deeper into race.
It's at the core of business. It's at the core of everything.
Here’s a quick story from my life, about the stories we tell ourselves.
I was out for a run, and I saw a blonde woman running towards me, without a mask.
I always keep my mask around my neck when I run so I can easily pull it up when I pass someone. I don’t like running with a mask on, but I want to make sure the people around me feel safe.
So, I saw this woman running without a mask, and I started thinking. Why isn’t she wearing a mask? Why do some people find it so difficult to wear a mask?
As we got closer, I reached down to grab my mask, to show her just how easy it is to be considerate of other people.
That’s when I realized I don't have my own mask on.
It was a quick moment, but it made me realize something important: we always believe what our minds are telling us.
The challenge I have for myself is to be aware of the narrative I’m weaving about other people.
How the Narrative Plays Out in Corporate America
I spent three decades in corporate America in Human Resources. Don't cringe, I know that that's not a popular function to be in, but I spent three decades in it. I was able to do quite a bit of good for people in that role.
In 2012, I was taken down by my friend. That’s a story I tell in detail in my book, which you can preorder here.
I have done a lot of reflection and thinking over the years now about why we as women have to take each other down. I have paid attention to trends in my career about the impact to Brown and Black people in corporate America.
What percentage of Brown or Black people do you see in leadership positions?
Or is the number so small that you aren’t counting percentages?
Why are we now at a place where -- post George Floyd -- we're saying Black Lives Matter? Why didn't they matter before? What is your organization doing to address race inside of Corporate America?
The State of Your Heart
The insight into your organization, if it is not diverse, has everything to do with the state of the heart. The heart is the core of your business. And when these issues matter, you don't have to have diversity officers or program managers or look at recruiting efforts.
None of those are the issue. It's in the heart.
What Stories Are You Telling Yourself About Other People?
Society has done a phenomenal job of portraying White people to be superior and Black people to be inferior. It's up to us to start to tackle this perception, this heart condition, this bias, this hatred, this notion that Brown and Black people are not qualified or not good enough.
There is a conversation that's being had behind the scenes. Say there's a Black woman and a White woman and they work for the same supervisor. When that Black woman isn't around, there are whispers of things like, “Hmmm, she sure seems angry today. Hmm. Wonder what's going on with her.”
Those subtle seeds of doubt, planted throughout the year, are harvested at performance review time. When you think about bonus dollars, where those dollars go, performance appraisals and ratings, who is high, who's not? All of those whispers are coming to full fruition.
This is a Direct Result of the Behavior of White Women
Beyond middle management, what is happening to Brown and Black women is a direct result of White women's behavior. I don't think we need to continue in this fashion that it's me or her. We have to start to understand that we deserve to have equal access to opportunities. We're not inferior.
Are you offended when we talk about the real issues that are happening to Brown and Black people? How do you shift that?
You begin to look inside.
Oppression Begets Oppression
Can you be truthful with yourself about who you really are? This oppression in the workplace is a direct result of the oppressed. The White women who are doing the most harm to Black and Brown people are also oppressed. And the only way they know how to deal with what's happening is to oppress somebody else.
You can look around at Brown and Black people in the workplace, and you can think that they're doing just fine.
But just because they carry it well, doesn't mean it isn't heavy.
If you're Brown or Black, and you're navigating corporate American organizations, I'm going to argue that you have a mask on every single day.
I Wore a Mask for 30 Years, But I Have Hope for the Next Generation
It's a whole different day today. I am scared and hopeful at the same time. We are moving in a direction that we need to be in... where all of us can thrive. All of us. I have many emotions inside of me today about this shift that must occur.
And the shift is within us.
I can't say enough about what we must begin to do. The state of your heart is what is going to drive a different day for all of us.
I am not who you think I am, you are who you think I am.
We have a moment to create a broader movement. The “old way” has harmed people that look like me. We cannot go back. My life's work is to help make sure that the marginalization of women and Brown and Black people ceases. It's our time to rise.
It’s time for the dominant culture to step aside, and it’s our turn to be able to rise.
What Your Organization Can Do to Allow Marginalized People to Rise
One tangible action that an organization or an individual can take is to create opportunities for Brown and Black people. It’s not enough to create those opportunities, though. Make sure you give access to Brown and Black people to access them.
If you look at what President Biden did when he took office, he immediately tapped into the qualified diverse folks already in his network. It isn't that opportunities really need to be created - its that we need to select folks for roles that currently exist.
You might think, "Oh, this is about promoting an unqualified person." But it’s not about that. You’re the one determining what qualified looks like. What happens when you use a different lens on that? That is the work that must be done.
Heart Work is an Inside Job
Who has helped you look at your heart? That's what I'm doing. This is an inside job. The hardest part of this work is the internal shift that we must each individually make towards each other. And that includes me. I had to learn to love myself and be myself and not feel like I have to wear a mask anymore.
Find ways to unarm what is happening to your people inside of your organization. When someone speaks up, don't retaliate. Learn to listen to what that person is saying.
Ask questions like:
"What do you mean by that?"
"What experience have you had?"
"How has that impacted you?"
"What can we do differently?"
Those are effective ways for you to begin to hear your people.
So you can say, "Black Lives Matter."
You can say all the politically correct things. But the data doesn’t lie.
Do all of your people feel like they belong?
What is empty can be filled. What is broken can be mended. What is divided can be multiplied. The same heart that flutters with fear can beat with excitement. And I think we have a great day today to change the trajectory of racism in our country. I think today is a day that we come together as people and that we help our brother and sister.
Today is that day.
To learn more about what I’m doing in this line of work, continue to follow my website and social media. I'm getting very close to releasing my book, The Color of Courage: Crushing Racism in Corporate America. I'm here to help businesses move this needle forward. I also look forward to hearing from you and continuing the conversation.
Cindi Bright is a Seattle based speaker and consultant on topics of race, diversity, and social justice. She hosts HeartBeat radio a weekly program discussing the issues impacting brown and black people. She spent over 30 years in corporate America as a human resources leader/executive. She is known for her candor, honesty, and humor. Her work is aimed at personal and business transformation.