Guest blog from Hira Ali, Multi-faceted Career Coach, Trainer and Recognised Thought Leader
Line Managers are the first point of contact for most employees; from setting goals to rewarding outcomes, the latter largely shape the career trajectory of the employees in any given organisation.
Staff from ethnically diverse backgrounds often miss opportunities to leverage their potential fully, but Line Managers are uniquely positioned to address this challenge and encourage the maximisation of capabilities. Here are some ways in which, as a line manager, you can offer actionable support:
Educate yourself, ask and Listen with Intention
No one expects you to fully understand or have all the answers, but it would be helpful to be mindful of issues impacting diverse staff members through research, 1:1 chat, surveys, polls and focus group discussions. You can ask the right questions sensitively and respectfully, questions that appear naturally curious and genuine instead of ones that sound intrusive. At the same time, be wary about placing too many expectations on staff to create awareness or educate, as many already experience cultural taxation.
No matter how well-intentioned you are, consider that you may be unaware of the nuances of their perspective; thus, you may risk coming across as ignorant or condescending. Once they share their grievance or perspective, listen without judgement. Avoid getting defensive, dismissing them or creating a positive spin.
Create a Safe Space
In The Grey Area surveys, nearly 50% of respondents revealed a lack of avenues to communicate workplace barriers. Line Managers can facilitate opportunities for colleagues to be open and share their challenges in a safe space. It is helpful to engage with team members via these networks. Attending meetings demonstrates support and can help educate you about the challenges faced by ethnic staff.
Act as Sponsors
Line Managers can also help staff gain perspective and broker connections they need to take on more prominent roles and advance their careers by providing them insider cultural knowledge. They can help build confidence by creating visibility for them, supporting/nominating their promotions, providing them with opportunities for professional development, and introducing them to essential stakeholders and networks.
Mentor & Motivate
For people of colour, the experience of impostorism is often racialised. The latter are aware of the stereotypes associated with their racial/ethnic groups and feel at risk of confirming negative stereotypes about their social group. The additional pressure makes them more vulnerable and less confident. They miss out on stretch assignments given their socialised reticence and self-promotion gap.
Moreover, they are often afraid to step up for opportunities due to fear of rejection and the belief that they are not ‘good enough for the task. To prove themselves and overcompensate for what they are missing, they tend to be perfectionists, reinforcing that sometimes ‘good enough is okay’ can be helpful and much needed. Encourage them to leverage their unique strengths, including bi-cultural competence, the ability to bring multiple perspectives, and the cultural capital they bring to the table.
Encourage & Celebrate Authenticity
An individual’s behaviour often changes when placed amongst others with whom they don’t share an in-group identity. Ethnically diverse staff members who frequently face external bias and discrimination develop internal barriers which impact their sense of self-worth. Often, this leads to changing their behaviour to fit in; an example is code-switching or covering up aspects of their identity. Celebrating their events and religious festivals can facilitate positive representation and help colleagues feel included and valued.
Adopt an Intersectional Approach
Many ethnic staff members experience multiple biases due to their intersectional identities. These people might not fit society’s stereotypes for that group, so never assume anything and aspire to understand unique identities. Take, for example, a Black or Asian Muslim woman who may experience prejudice based on her skin colour, gender and faith.
Call Out Inequality
Many minorities experience racism at work. Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty because you are white, use your privilege to advocate and speak up for undermined colleagues who deserve recognition for their accomplishments. Understand that silence is complicit.
Supportive Managers can no longer be oblivious to the challenges ethnic communities face in the workplace; they need to participate in equality discussions increasingly. If you witness racism, bias or micro-aggressions on the job, intervene and call the behaviour out instead of remaining an apathetic bystander.
Showcase Diverse Role Models
You can’t visualise and aspire to be someone if you don’t have examples in front of you. Spotlighting success stories of racially diverse leaders that have managed to penetrate the upper echelons of workplace power creates a narrative and culture of inclusion and optimism.
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker and executive coach focused on women’s & diverse leadership development. Founderof Advancing Your Potential and champion of allyship programs, she is also the award-winning author of two transformational books: Her Way to the Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling and Her Allies: A Practical Toolkit to Help Men Lead through Advocacy. You can follow her work on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook