Since the larger antiracist awakening in summer 2020, more business leaders have taken note of the way racial trauma affects Black and brown people physically and mentally.
One way chief people officers can show up for employees of color is by developing a crisis strategy; a DEI expert previously explained to HR Dive that creating a hate crime response plan and having spaces (such as employee resource groups) for workers to decompress are key.
Misty Gaither, senior director and global head of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Indeed, gave similar advice regarding ways to guide workers through traumatic and tense political landscapes. “It's important to have a crisis response strategy in place. Part of ours is to set up what we call ‘healing hours’ or ‘brave spaces’,” she told HR Dive, adding that the brave spaces are standing meetings that are broadly accessible.
Indeed has hosted facilitator-led healing hours since 2020, with particular focus on Asian and Black employees, as well as working parents and caregivers.
“The goal for this space is to just really be present and listen to the honest feelings of the affected community. It's a space for those that are not a part of the community to unlearn some of things they have been wedded to, by the nature of their upbringing,” Gaither said. “It’s a place to process feelings without having to necessarily compartmentalize. It's a place to be real and authentic.”
Below are some more suggestions from Gaither on how HR folks, especially White ones, can show up for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian staff in their organizations.
Consider putting people over profit
Showing respect for a community’s struggle can and should be more important than deliverables or KPIs: “Being aware of what's happening, sometimes, you may want to take a step back,” Gaither said. Sometimes, it looks like putting off a performance review or coaching conversation following events like the Buffalo, New York or Uvalde, Texas, shootings, she added. “It’s OK, sometimes, that business is put on pause to show empathy, to show kindness and to show compassion.”
On top of holding space with a resource like healing hours, make that empathy a part of regular conversations. “Just organically,” Gaither said. “When you get on a call with someone, ask how someone is and actually take time to listen.”
Tailor benefits to marginalized communities
Gaither explained how Indeed has partnered with Therify. which describes itself as an “inclusive mental healthcare for [the] workforce.” James Edward Murray, Therify’s co-founder, told TechCrunch the idea for his platform was born from conversations with co-workers of color and co-workers with disabilities, where they bonded over difficulties finding therapists whose backgrounds aligned with theirs.
“In addition to our EAP benefits, we give our employees access to Black and brown therapists through that platform as well,” Gaither said. It’s important for equity and inclusion to be a part of the mental health conversation, because of racial trauma.
“We tend to anchor the conversation in the pandemic, and we anchor it to the events surrounding George Floyd. These specific groups are groups that have long been working in isolation,” Gaither said. “These groups have not been able to be comfortable showing and expressing their identities. We’re having to code-switch, face microaggressions, and have to educate or be silenced when raising [DEI] issues.”
HR leaders can also explicitly acknowledge “the stigma associated with mental health” — something Black and brown people struggle with in their community.
Get everyone on the same page
It’s important to educate employees on the benefits available to them, Gaither said, because they can be overlooked. “We don't always know how to access them when we need them — or when we need to access them,” she said.
Managers and HR leads also have a responsibility to make their reports feel comfortable enough discussing their needs and subsequent accommodations, Gaither said; “When people tell you that they need a mental health day, believe them and don't ask the questions.”
It’s easy to just regurgitate the “take time if you need it” slogan. “But when employees really need that time, managers are reluctant to provide it,” Gaither observed. Further, she said, leaders can lead by example; they can be vulnerable about states like burnout, take time for themselves, and check in with their team members about the same.