Just One Q with Dr. Melissa Horne

Businesses and BLM | Michèle Newton

Episode Summary

What can and should Canadian businesses be doing who want to respond to Black Lives Matter and improve the experience of their Black employees? Michèle Newton shares approaches to addressing Black Lives Matter in the workplace, and explains how responding to the current environment of the movement will help you improve the experience of your Black employees.

Episode Transcription

Just One Q w/ Dr. Melissa Horne - Michèle Newton

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Just One Q.  I'm Dr. Melissa Horne, a diversity, equity and inclusion expert and advocate.

After studying Black history in the US,  I decided that I wanted to take what I've learned into making a difference for people in the workplace. Since then I've joined the Learning Snippets team, where we work with companies to make meaningful and measurable change in their workplace and culture.

Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to talk with brilliant thought leaders and industry experts, and I thought  more people need to join in on this conversation. If we're going to make real change and make the workplace better for all, we need to come together, have difficult conversations, ask tough questions and get the answers we need to be able to take action in our own lives.

In this podcast, I chat with industry experts about the latest evidence based trends related to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

Each week, I'll ask my guests just one burning question tied to current events.

Our goal is to leave you with the tools you need to drive change in your own life, both personally and professionally.

This week, we're looking at how the murder of George Floyd has resulted in a watershed moment in history.

Black Lives Matter protests and marches around the world are demanding change and an end to police brutality and shining a light on the many ways that systemic racism is woven into our cultural fabric. Here in Canada, for what really feels like the first time, employers are realizing that they need to better understand the Black experience in the workplace.

So, for our very first burning Q, I'm asking "what can and should Canadian businesses be doing who want to respond to Black Lives Matter and improve their experiences of their Black employees?"

To answer today's question, I'm joined by Michèle Newton. Hi Michèle. Thanks so much for joining us.

Michèle Newton: [00:01:48] Thanks so much.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:01:50] So just a quick bio on Michèle. She's one of four daughters directors of Konvo Media, a Black-owned public relations and communications agency.  Michèle provides consulting services to both large and small clients. She has over 25 years professional experience across different industry sectors, including packaged goods, beauty services,  financial services, retail development, real estate,  arts and entertainment, municipal government, and not for profit.

Michèle is guided by what she describes as a better together philosophy, growing relationships, nurturing collaborations, and facilitating partnerships, especially with those with a shared focus on strengthening our community. So Michèle, what can and should Canadian businesses be doing who want to respond to Black Lives Matter and improve the experience for their Black employees?

Michèle Newton: [00:02:40] Thanks for the question. When I think about that,  three things come to mind and they're staged  in terms of how you approach them.

I think the first part for a business or organization is to listen and self-reflect. Have a look at what's going on in the environment, what's going on in your environment and really try to get a handle on what that is.

The second piece to it is really acknowledging that there is a Black Lives Matter movement   and naming it and naming what that looks like in your organization. It's really a step in ownership and reconciliation.

And the third piece, I think I would just say it's move to action. So whether that's advocating or educating, developing, or policies or lobbying, that's the real meat of it.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:03:27] So let's go back and start with self-reflection...   What does that self-reflection look like for folks? How can they make that meaningful?  I know that there's a lot of  talk around performative versus actual self-reflection and sort of responding.

Can you maybe talk a bit more about that?

Michèle Newton: [00:03:45] Absolutely. I think a great starting place is what is the makeup of your organization's employees? And stakeholders? You know, is there a Black community there that needs some type of acknowledgement or recognition and having a look at who is that because the Black Lives Matter movement, although it's been around, really was spearheaded in the early summer. And at this point,  organizations should have had a chance to  say something to their Black employees and make a connection with them. The dominant culture in an organization, you need to reflect on what that is and how that might have been shaped the experiences of those Black employees, the interactions of Black suppliers.  Really have a look at what that looks like. So it's a piece of, bit about atonement.

It's not too late to reach out to those employees and say, "how are you doing? We realize that  this has been a really difficult summer. It's been difficult for a long time, longer than just this summer and we authentically want to make a connection with you".

I think that's important because their voices in your organization will speak to what they're going through personally. And what that is like coming into work. I know for me,  I've been spending all summer in terms of emotionally feeling things as the news reports keep coming about different horrific things  and participating in actions with the Black Lives Matter movement and were I an employee, rather than a contractor, I would really appreciate my employer having a perspective that this could be impacting me this way, that just to jump on the usual Zoom call and have a meeting, I might not be in a mental space that other colleagues and coworkers are. I'm in a different place right now.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:05:30] So that feels like it sort of leads into your second point, acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement, acknowledging that anti-Black racism is out there. And you also mentioned an acknowledgement and atonement for past transgressions. What does that look like for an employer? How could they do that in a meaningful way?

Michèle Newton: [00:05:52] The very key acknowledging  is actually a statement. It can be an internal statement and an external statement depending on the position of the organization. And I really think it needs both where you're acknowledging that you recognize the Black Lives Matter movement and the issues that have happened at the summer and the impact it's having on people, I would make out caveat to that though, is that engage your Black employees in helping write those communications and be sure that they're doing it on company time.

Because their opinions and views on some of the language around that will shape your  messaging. If you don't have somebody in your team, there are people out there that you could go to in well consultants or in the community. But obviously with the perspective of there's a value to their service to helping you.

When I think about some examples, I've been scanning a lot of them over the summer and although it's not Canadian, Ben and Jerry's, they have for a long time, had an advocacy position and a lobbying position in their organization. But this summer with the Black Lives Matter pieces and the death of George Floyd,  they stood out there and they stood forward and just said, their statement was titled:

We must dismantle white supremacy. Silence is not an option.

I think about Canadian corporations and I would be maybe a little bit hard pressed to name some that would be so bold in that statement their public announcement had sort of four action steps that they wanted to take  and it delineated them very bluntly, very clearly, and then, as a kind of topper to that they renamed an ice cream flavor called Justice Remixed, which it just as an example, that they feel that these hard conversations are better had over ice cream, but a statement, you know, acknowledging that this happened and it affects everyone in their  country, in the world globally is really important.

And naming it,  not just trying to call it racism when it's anti-Black racism, things like that. But, key to it I do think  is engage your employees  in the response. I mean, even if your organization may only have one self-identified Black employee, they would appreciate you at least saying, " we're thinking about this. We want to address it. We want to acknowledge it. Is there a way that you could help us do this appropriately?"

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:08:11] What do you say to those who are worried about how to engage another Black employee? Maybe  they're afraid of not getting it right. What do you say to those employers?

Michèle Newton: [00:08:23] My own thing, regardless of what a difference is that I'm trying to approach or an awkward situation is acknowledge that you might be making a mistake and just say, I realize I may not be doing this perfectly, but I want to make a connection with you. May I talk to you about this? How are you doing?

I just think that human compassion piece is really important. Let that empathy be known and be real. And I think that both sides, the Black employee will take that understanding that you may not be exactly perfect in your execution, but  happy to feel heard and have an opportunity.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:09:03] I wanna go to your third point where you said developing and execute an  action plan. So what would that look like then if you could just maybe dive a bit deeper into that?

Michèle Newton: [00:09:14] I think that a couple of ways, I think you really, an action plan needs to start internally in the organization. So whether there's a diversity and inclusion strategy, an equity, diversity, inclusion strategy, maybe now is the time to look at putting one into place if there isn't and getting help with that, inviting staff to share safely.

So some of the organizations that I know of have had what's called a sharing circle, or they've had a forum where it's Black-led. So there's a comfort zone, but you have an opportunity to share confidentially,  your experience in that organization, how you're feeling today. And I think that that is a really important step.

Even when you get anonymized data from that, you're getting a sense of what is really happening in the organization. So that's a piece of an action plan. Anti-Black racism training is another another piece.  I know there are mixed views on the value of that, but I do believe that done well, it is a step in the right direction of this lifelong learning journey and understanding this system.

That's there, the white supremacist system that's there, that we're all part of and having an understanding of what your role is and whether you were aware or not. And looking at the pieces that make up anti-Black racism that might be happening in your organization. Reviewing implicit biases, I know that a lot of HR departments will do implicit bias training to ensure that they're hiring with a neutral platform. But a lot of times that may not include an anti-Black racism lens. So I feel like that's a part of looking at programs that you have already - are they really encompassing all of this?

Can there be improvements? I think we can always have improvements on more of a grassroots level. I think organizations can donate. I have an example, from Shopify. The founder of Shopify, when everything was really in front of our faces in June, went right out and pledged $500,000 to the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, legal defense, and educational fund, another $250,000 to the Black Health Alliance and another 250,000 to Campaign Zero.

I know that putting your money where your mouth is as an expert. I think that that's an action that speaks to your staff, your stakeholders, and to the community that you care. I mean,  Aritzia in Vancouver... a hundred thousand dollar donation to Black Lives Matter in the NAACP, along with a message.

Again, this acknowledgement that they weren't sure what to do. They wanted to start by doing something and did a donation.

I can think of other things that are in your community. There are organizations and groups, maybe they're fledgling that you can get involved with. So whether that's finding out if they need sponsorship, support, finding out if there's activities that your organization can become part of on the ground, not just, here's a cheque, but let's learn about what work you're doing. How can we think about that as a community supporter? I really feel like those are ways of understanding what's going on in your community at home and seeing the people that are doing the work and helping them be heard.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:12:25] And I mean, Black Lives Matter  it's in our faces right now. It's still in the news cycle. What can companies do in terms of this action plan? I think a lot of folks are trying to address this right now, but what do we do beyond the new cycle to make this authentic and to keep it going, beyond where we are right now, beyond this summer?

Michèle Newton: [00:12:45] I'm just quoting the Canadian Public Relations Society. They were talking about this 30, 60, 90 approach in terms of days. You know that 30 day approach to addressing, anti-Black racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. That's great. But you need to keep going. And I mean, I think 90 that's really only three months. You really need to look at this being a continuing journey that your organization is on.

So, donating that can become an annual thing. Participating in events that relate to the Black community in the communities that you serve can be an annual thing. I don't feel like it's a short-term vision. I think it's a commitment to getting more engaged with the diverse communities that make up your customer base.

The other perspective is that in this same source, about 20% of potential target market is visible and ethnic minority groups. And a lot of businesses aren't even putting any effort into understanding how to market to them, how to communicate to that group and it's a very diverse group in itself.

But if you think about a 20% potential market share, that's worth investing some time and understanding, and those types of plans are not instant plans. There are ones that you're going to want to put research behind, dedicate time to developing an approach and  simple things. I remember the example of Chevy Nova, the name from years ago when they found out they marketed that car in a Hispanic, Latin country Chevy Nova means no go.

So that car, a car that wouldn't go is not a great marketing name. And really it wouldn't have taken much to ask one employee or one person from that community to give you a translation of what Nova meant.

Dr. Melissa Horne: [00:14:28] Yeah, absolutely.

Wow.  Michèle, you've given us a lot to  think about here. I want to recap for our listeners, the three things that Canadian businesses can do right now to support their Black employees and Black Lives Matter.

You started with self-reflection and to reflect on what role do you as a leader or an employer play in upholding, systemic inequalities in your workplace and two you mentioned, that's important to acknowledge and say the name of Black Lives Matter and to acknowledge that anti-Black racism is out there and that you are a part of it.

Whether you mean to be, or not that we are all part of this, systemic racism, and to not be afraid to acknowledge and atone for past aggressions.  You mentioned, Michèle, this is a journey and you may not get it right, right away, but that there are professionals out there who can help with this work and help you communicate with your employees internally, and also communicate externally as well.

And lastly, to develop an action plan. I heard you say, that it's important to create one now, but also for the future. And that really those employers who want to support Black Lives Matter and address anti-Black racism in their workplaces will continue to engage in this work beyond the current news cycle.

There's so much work to be done here, and I know it can feel overwhelming, but as Michèle has pointed out, getting started is really the most important thing to do and it's okay to make mistakes, but  doing the work is what's needed to be a leader in your workplace and in this country.

I want to thank Michèle for joining us today and offering your expertise and providing us with next steps that we need to do our part in moving from awareness to actually taking action.

If you're a company looking to start this journey, you can connect with Michèle at Konvo Media. You can also learn about the work that she's doing in the community through Making Change, and you can reach out to her at makingchangesc.com.

To everyone who tuned in, thanks again for joining me on Just One Q. If you have any of your own burning questions, feel free to reach out to me at hello@learningsnippets.ca and we love reviews so feel free to write us a review to let us know what you thought of today's episode until next time, I'm Dr. Melissa Horne, and this has been Just One Q.

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