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Juneteenth Resources for Leaders

June 17, 2022 Jennifer McCollum

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Short for “June Nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, finally received news of their liberation, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

As a champion of underrepresented leaders and an advocate for creating cultures of inclusion, I am keenly aware of how public recognition of significant moments can stimulate honest dialogue and a better understanding of our shared history. As the first female CEO of Linkage, I am committed to modeling the inclusive behaviors that will help accelerate our collective progress.

 

At Linkage, we recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, giving our staff the day off for reflection, recognition and service. This acknowledgement is important to us, and I invite other executives and senior leaders to consider how recognizing holidays positively contributes to a culture of inclusion at their own organizations.

This week—and across the last two years since I learned about the meaning of Juneteenth—I am reflecting on the reality we face: The conversations of the past have done little to impact systemic inequalities and institutionalized racism. We need to have real conversations that drive action for transformative change, and answer this important question:

How can we courageously move beyond the past and design a new future at our organizations and in our communities?

In 2020, I had the honor of sitting down with Bev Wright, expert leadership consultant and inclusion advocate, and Eddie Turner, international best-selling author, award-winning coach and now Principal Consultant at Linkage, for an installment of Linkage’s Critical Leadership Conversations series.

“Reflecting on Race & Allyship: How to Drive Meaningful Change” was an interactive conversation grounded in lived experiences of these Black executives and actionable strategies for change. The discussion proved to be an invaluable opportunity for more than 1,000 leaders, many of whom were awakening to the shameful reality of the past, the shifting reality of the present, and the hope for the future.

As we concluded our virtual conversation, I asked our listeners to share a commitment they will make to serve as an ally to Black leaders and leaders from other underrepresented groups. We received hundreds of incredible responses from senior leaders across the country.

The commitments they made have served as a powerful continuation of this important work, a reminder of the challenges that stand before us, and a compelling example of our ability to contribute to substantive change in our organizations and communities.

Today, it’s time to revisit the promises we made and recommit to this important work:

1. Examine how those in majority groups benefit from the continued oppression of marginalized groups.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to build the diverse leadership pipeline necessary to establish the next generation of leaders. We also need to closely examine why we have not been successful in doing this already.

As NPR pointed out in 2021, “you can still count the number of Black Fortune 500 CEOs on one hand.” And, according to Equilar, a clearinghouse for corporate leadership data, 29.6% of companies on the S&P 500 do not have at least one Black board member.

If our workforces are not representative of national demographics, we cannot begin to create the diverse and inclusive workplaces our employees deserve. It begins with our hiring and promotion practices, as well as uncovering the unconscious bias that erodes our ability to build diverse leadership teams. We must also examine what we are afraid we may lose if true equality exists and how that might be getting in the way of us driving the change that needs to happen.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I want to learn more and teach other colleagues about unconscious bias and how to overcome it. This is an important topic because we as recruiters have a direct impact on how we shape the workforce. I will question assumptions we make in hiring decisions and explore similarity bias.
  • I will interview and hire more diverse candidates.
2. Step outside your comfort zone.

Being a true ally is not about feeling comfortable—it’s about actively committing to change and supporting underrepresented groups. Purposeful Leaders are courageous, they never stop learning, and they listen and spark conversations that may be difficult. Identify when you feel uncomfortable, and why—but don’t let this discomfort stop you from engaging in these important topics.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I will read more, learn more and have uncomfortable conversations with white friends.
  • I will stop letting “but this might be kind of uncomfortable” from being an excuse from here on out regarding asking questions or having tough conversations.
3. Embrace sponsorship and mentorship.

Professionals who are members of underrepresented groups need navigational support to advance their careers but often receive less support than white professionals. Both mid-level and senior leaders have important roles to play in championing the advancement of people of color, and serving as a mentor or a sponsor can be a meaningful way to help build diverse leadership pipelines. Remember: A mentor is someone who offers their mentee professional advice, while a sponsor is a senior-level leader with power or influence to impact their protégé’s career success.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • As a white senior leader, I will reach out to someone of color in my organization as an ally and extend my hand in sponsorship or mentorship.
  • I will continue mentorship with all the early-career professionals of color in my company.
4. Make use of employee resource groups, established meetings and trainings.

Often, the infrastructure or support system to meaningfully engage and talk about issues related to prejudice, bias and race do not exist within our organizations. It is up to us to create these opportunities for our leaders and our teams. We have access to existing employee resource groups, established meetings and training opportunities that can be modified or adapted to better speak to issues related to inclusion. Are there ERGs that could be added to your organization? If you are an executive leader, are you serving as a vocal ally and sponsor of these groups or their initiatives? Are there outside resources or experts you can bring in to help you facilitate better programming or hands-on training?

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I will volunteer my time and talent as an ally for my company’s African Descent Network ERG.
  • I am creating an Unconscious Bias Training focused specifically on racial bias that my Team Lead has committed to requiring our team to participate in.
  • I will set up a reoccurring ally lunch with a Black employee.
5. Focus on intersectionality and other underrepresented groups.

Race is one factor that influences a person’s professional advancement in the workplace, but there are others that, when combined, create further disadvantage. Here is one example: Linkage’s research on intersectionality proves that a complex combination of different forms of discrimination, including racism and sexism, overlap in ways that profoundly affect the advancement of women of color. Consider the multitude of biases that exist and how these can be impacting the advancement of people of color at your organization.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I am creating a presentation for Pride Week that is specifically focusing on people of color to educate my workplace and highlight an issue that isn’t talked about as much.
  • I will be more open to differences.
  • I will lean in to drive the right dialogue for change.
6. Confront bias.

Leaders have a responsibility to understand the external and internal biases that may impact their decision-making ability. Bias is explicit and conscious; the person is conscious of their feelings and attitudes, and their behaviors are directly related to these feelings. More often, implicit or unconscious bias is beyond a person’s awareness and can be in direct contradiction to a person’s stated beliefs or values. Unconscious biases affect how we think, feel and act. Through training and guidance, we can decode our own unconscious biases and speak up when we observe it in others, to help all of us evolve.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I will speak up in a respectful way and address bias when I see it.
  • I will continue to learn and understand the issues of race and recognize my own biases.
  • I will dedicate time to increase my level of education by listening, watching and reading to reduce my unconscious bias and be an ally to drive change.
7. Continue your education.

Purposeful Leaders never stop learning, and they think of leadership as a lifelong journey. It is our responsibility to seek out the educational resources and tools we need to fully educate ourselves on the topics impacting our communities—and our teams. Seek out perspectives from diverse educators and specialists and strive to find narratives that question your initial assumptions.

Here are some of the commitments our listeners made:

  • I commit to continuing to read and watch Ted Talks and continuing to have the tough conversations with my family and friends—and thinking and talking about ways I could have done better.
  • I will read and listen to podcasts to educate myself.

 

Linkage is committed to changing the face of leadership. Our Redesigning Inclusion Signature Solution is a practical framework to assess, evaluate and accelerate inclusive leadership qualities in leaders at all levels.

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