6 Ways to Be An Anti-Racist Leader, According to a Black CEO

6 Ways to Be An Anti-Racist Leader, According to a Black CEO


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July 25, 2024 at 3:42PM UTC

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to be free of racism to be anti-racist,” Ijeoma Oluo, activist and author of “So You Want to Talk About Race,” wrote. “Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

In a society that cares deeply about race — as ours, without denial, does — white folks have from time immemorial been conditioned to hold beliefs and support systems that maintain the oppression of Black people. And that conditioning runs deep, in ways that many white people — no matter how accepting or unbiased they see themselves as — are only beginning to understand. 

Being born into a racist society was not a choice we had. What we choose to do now — not just today, against this backdrop of a widespread cultural reckoning, but every day going forward — is. A total commitment to anti-racism is required not just on the individual level. We need anti-racism in our systems and institutions, too; in our schools and governing bodies; and from the leaders of the organizations we work for. 

To that end, Charlene Wheeless, author, speaker and CEO of her own communications strategy and consulting practice, with over three decades of experience in corporate communications, has some recommendations. In a piece for Business Insider, Wheeless spelled out six steps that leaders today can take to cultivate their anti-racism. Here’s what she had to say. 

1. Anti-racist leaders are completely clear in spelling out their anti-racism — and sharing the actions they’re taking to actively support racial justice.

“As a leader and as a company, it's essential to clearly state that you are anti-racist and share the actions you're taking to support equality,” Wheeless wrote. “Communicate this in official statements, through updated company policies, and in your daily workplace interactions. Saying you're non-racist or inclusive means virtually nothing. People need to hear your personal and professional commitment to anti-racist action.”

2. They recognize the need for empathetic and compassionate communication.

Wheeless advises that when speaking to their teams about racism, anti-racist leaders strive to communicate with empathy and with humanity. 

“Hold in-person or virtual meetings with your employees so they can see the empathy and emotions on your face when you speak about these issues,” she wrote. “So much is communicated in our facial expressions that gets lost in text, so face-to-face meetings will go a long way to connecting with your team on a human level.”

3. They strive to understand the lived experiences of their Black team members. 

“A crucial element that's been missing from companies, including their diversity and inclusion programs, is an understanding of the Black experience,” she wrote. “It's never been a good time to be Black in America — not 400 years ago, not 50 years ago and not today. Not a Black man gets in his car to go to work who isn't worried about being pulled over by the police. (And if that happens, whether or not he's going to live or die.) Living this way causes severe mental anguish and stress. Your Black employees are going to work with these kinds of things on their minds, and it's important for leadership to make an effort to understand this perspective.”

Crucially, Wheeless emphasized that in order to achieve this understanding, non-Black company leaders who want to be allies shouldn’t demand this education from their Black team members and colleagues. Instead, they should do the work of educating themselves

“You have to do the work yourself,” she wrote. “Don't rely on a Black employee or your Black friend to educate you.”

4. They openly and honestly address systemic racism within their organization.

“Face systemic racism in your organization head on by examining company policies and procedures to determine if outright or implicit racism and bias is written into them,” she wrote. “Create a committee to examine your operations and policies and weed out or flag problem areas. Are paths to upward mobility structured to disenfranchise people of color, and Black people in particular? Consider what efforts you're making to hire people of color, as well as how you're ensuring these employees are thriving instead of heading right back out the door. Then, make visible change to support a truly diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist workplace.”

5. They embrace allyship.

“In addition to addressing racism on an organizational level, address it on an individual level by embracing allyship as a leader and teaching your team to be anti-racist allies,” Wheeless wrote. “Go beyond typical diversity and inclusion programs, and instead implement microaggression and unconscious bias training to delve deeper into the everyday interactions that fuel racism and inequality.”

6. They apply their resources in ways that help change social norms.

“Businesses have the power to use their resources, power and privilege to help drive real systemic change in society,” she wrote. “Consider developing a public-private partnership with community leaders, such as the recent Minneapolis Forward: Community Now Coalition, or perhaps launching a scholarship fund or a mentorship program for students in disenfranchised communities (who are unfortunately often people of color).” 

Read Wheeless’ full article on Business Insider.

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