Showing Empathy & Support For Black Employees

The cyclical nature of trauma  is once again taking its toll on Black people across America. Many are asking, “How can we show support for our Black employees and/or colleagues?”  Below, we list some ways in which individuals and organizations alike can show empathy and support Black employees during the coming days, and beyond.

Emotional Labor

At the outset, it’s  important that organizations and colleagues don’t expect Black or BIPOC employees to do the heavy lifting of educating others about the issues.

To do so, is to ask BIPOC employees to engage in emotional labor for the benefit of others, and, is a function of white supremacy.  There are sufficient, free, readily available learning resources available, especially on the internet.  A good place to start is our article How Can White People Fight Racism. Our own, Dr. Norissa Williams, also provided some insight in her recent contribution for Health magazine, in this article, 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Be a Better BIPOC Ally


That being said, being from a traditionally excluded group can be extremely isolating in the workplace, and, having allies at work is important.

We witnessed the importance of work allies in the days  immediately after George Floyd’s killing.  News stories frequently highlighted the isolation that Black people felt while working in environments that did not acknowledge the pain that Black employees were feeling during that time.

As  we come to the end of the Derek Chauvin trial, and, now face the additional trauma of the killing of Daunte Wright, as well as numerous other trauma inducing events (let alone every day life), support from our employers and colleagues is critically important.

Human Suffering and Race

Unfortunately, for years, professional norms have dictated that discussions related to race and culture should not occur in the workplace.  What this has created is the dichotomy where empathy for human suffering is welcomed in the workplace,  as long as that human suffering does not relate to race or culture.

For example, in cases of natural disasters (eg. earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina), mass shootings, or even unexpected celebrity deaths, co-workers generally commiserate with each other and openly share in grief and humanity.  This isn’t the case when tragedy is related to race or culture.

But non BIPOC colleagues need not shy away from tragedies related to race or culture.  These moments are when your BIPOC colleagues need you most.

I don’t know any BIPOC who expects non minorities to know all there is to know about the issues minorities face.  What BIPOC employees generally hope for though, is to work in environments where their colleagues and leadership team show empathy regarding BIPOC related issues.  So, not feeling knowledgeable about the issues should not be a deterrent to showing empathy.  


Ways to Colleagues Can Show Empathy

1.  A quick, “Hey, I know there’s a lot going on out there, and, I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do, but I’m here for you,” even sent  via email, is a great way to show empathy.  This should only be sent to people you have a relationship with, and not to random Black colleagues.  The receiver of your message may respond with a simple “Thank you,” or may choose to engage in further discussion. The receiver may not even respond at all.

Whatever the response (or non response),  it’s important that the non-BIPOC sender allows the BIPOC recipient to lead the conversation, both regarding topic and timing.  The non-BIPOC sender must also accept that the BIPOC recipient may not be willing to engage in conversation.  Realize that these discussions are traumatic and draining, and, perhaps the BIPOC recipient doesn’t want to endure that.  Not wanting to endure trauma does not however mean that your BIPOC colleague is unappreciative of your kindness.

2.  Another great way to show support, is to engage via social media.  If your BIPOC colleague posts something related to the issues that the BIPOC community is facing, pressing that “care” emoji or “like” button may not seem like a lot, but for your BIPOC colleague, it is unlikely to go unnoticed ,and, it shows that someone at work supports them.  Posting your own support for issues surrounding BIPOC communities is another great way to show empathy. 

3.  Your independent learning about issues that affect people of color, is also a great way to show empathy while helping to educate your own inner circle. Posting about a book that you’re reading, or something important that you’ve learned,  goes a long way. One caveat is that  these posting shouldn’t be forced or contrived. If you do not genuinely care about the issue, you’ll come off as clout chasing or being disingenuous, which is perhaps worse than coming off as unempathetic.

How Can Organizations Show Support?

We’ve discussed showing support on a one on one basis.  What about on the organizational level?

1. Create Spaces for Open Dialogue 

On the organizational level, discussing issues related to underserved employees is not something that should be undertaken in a haphazard nature.  Doing so will likely lead to more harm than good.

These topics are extremely nuanced, and emotionally laden. They should be facilitated, at least initially, by experts in the field.  The most effective experts will analyze organizational needs and create a comprehensive plan of action that is tailored to the specific organization.  Programs such as unconscious bias trainings, when properly administered are extremely effective in initiating needed conversations, and will lay the ground work for employees and organizations to continue such conversations independent of the expert.

Organizations should seek out experts to facilitate these conversations, because the alternative is leave minority employees feeling unsupported and isolated within their organization.  In a recent study, 40% of Black employees  said they felt like outsiders in their corporate culture.  Organizations must engage in the work necessary to change that.

Black Belonging Matters provides doctoral level experts to help guide your organization’s discussion regarding race.


2.  Model Equity In Your Organization

Societal change doesn’t happen over night.  It happens when individual actors commit to change on small and large scales.  Want to to show your empathy, model equity in your organization.  Equity in recruiting, equity in pay, equity in benefits, equity in retention, equity in promotion, equity in developing talent, ensuring fairness in your organization is one of the best ways that you can show empathy.


Lead With Your Heart

What it boils down to, is to lead with your heart.  How would you show empathy in any other situation?  Start with that.  Human suffering doesn’t disappear because you ignore it.  Human suffering should always be met with empathy.  Race related human suffering is no different.