The One on Racism, Virtual Pride, and Disability Stigma

Each week, Karen Catlin shares five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Two people of color sitting at a table with coffee cups
Two people of color sitting at a table with coffee cups
Image courtesy of black.illustrations

1. Reprimand acts of racism

On Memorial Day in New York City’s Central Park, a white woman called the police because a Black man asked her to follow the posted signs and leash her dog. Before making the call, she proclaimed, “I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.” (He wasn’t.) There’s a video, of course, that has gone viral.

This is the latest example of white people calling the police over the presence of a Black person. As Ellen McGirt wrote in the Fortune raceAhead newsletter:

“It’s part of a broader tactic that white people have long used — often without thinking — to summon the state’s power on their behalf with the intent on restoring racial order.”

It’s racism, plain and simple.

Turns out the woman, Amy Cooper, was an executive at Franklin Templeton Investments, and the firm took swift action. As they shared on Twitter,

“Following our internal review of the incident in Central Park yesterday, we have made the decision to terminate the employee involved, effective immediately. We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton.”

My hope is for organizations everywhere to have policies in place to reprimand acts of racism. Regardless of whether they happened in the workplace or beyond. If you’re not sure how your company would have acted, consider asking about it at your next all-hands meeting.

2. Make space to discuss racist incidents

In addition to what happened in Central Park this week, we learned about George Floyd, a Black man who died pleading for his life after being pinned down by a white police officer. A few weeks ago, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while out for a jog in a residential neighborhood.

As diversity and inclusion professional Natalia Eileen Villarmán wrote in It Shouldn’t Be My Job to Tell Managers to Talk about George Floyd,

“Managers seeking to be inclusive leaders should make keeping up with abhorrent occurrences like this one a top priority. They should attempt to stay abreast of not just the criminalization of Black people, which has persisted for hundreds of years, but of all of the ways communities are systemically oppressed, particularly within the countries they and their direct-reports live in.

At the very least, inclusive leaders should make space to have conversations about these incidences as they occur.”

Why? Because your team could be distracted or less engaged at work because of these events. They could be worried about their personal safety, or the safety of family and friends. They may need some time off.

To make space to discuss racism, be sure to check out How to talk about politics at work by Michelle Kim, CEO of Awaken. While she wrote it to help leaders address political events, her advice is spot on for discussing racist incidents.

3. Join a virtual Pride event

Last weekend, my son graduated from college, from the couch in our family room. Sure, we tried to make it special with balloons, banners, and barbecue, but let’s face it: Virtual celebrations are no substitute for the real thing.

Does that mean they’re worthless? Not at all.

This June, LGBTQ Pride parades and festivals around the world will be postponed or canceled due to the pandemic. As diversity and inclusion consultant Bernadette Smith shared,

“Within organizations, I believe it’s urgent to continue Pride programming even if there are no in-person events to attend. Educational programming can still create community, but more importantly, it can reassure LGBTQ people that they do have allies — even if they can’t see or interact with them these days.”

There’s also this ray of sunshine. In Virtual Pride Can Advance LGBT+ Rights In New Ways, Forbes contributor Stephen Frost explored how virtual events can be more accessible to people who cover their sexual identity, who face barriers traveling to large events, or live in countries where being out is illegal or culturally unacceptable.

If your organization has an LGBTQ employee group, reach out to the organizers. Ask if they’re planning a virtual pride event and how you can get involved.

Or, review Bernadette’s ideas for virtual Pride events and identify one you can join.

4. Don’t tell a disabled person that you don’t see them as disabled

I recently attended a webinar hosted by Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler, featuring Tiffany Yu, who is the CEO & Founder at Diversability. The discussion was wide-ranging on how to be an effective ally and advocate for people with a wide diversity of disabilities.

While you can watch or listen to the full webinar here, I do want to tell you about one thing, in particular, that Tiffany shared:

“When we tell a disabled person that we don’t consider them to be disabled, what it is doing is perpetuating the stigma that being disabled is a bad thing. And when we don’t use words like disabled or disability, it is saying we think it is a bad word, and there is shame around it.”

I’ll be watching out for this behavior in myself. Who’s with me?

5. Sponsor people who are different from you

Last week’s newsletter about 5 things allies can do to sponsor coworkers from underrepresented groups struck a chord with many of you. I want to thank everyone who shared it with friends and colleagues. The response was overwhelming!

Now, it’s time to put it into practice. Here’s why.

Last year, Fortune reported that 71% of leaders surveyed said their top protégé is the same race or sex as they are.

And we wonder why the leadership of most companies is not getting more diverse.

Look at who you sponsor or mentor. If they are “mini-me mentees” or remind you of your younger self, reach out to an employee resource group at your company and offer to mentor someone from a different demographic. Get to know them so you can sponsor them and open the doors that will make a difference to their career.

That’s all for this week. I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,

— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies

Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

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✉️ This content originally appeared in our newsletter, 5 Ally Actions; Subscribe to get it delivered to your inbox every Friday

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Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies™ approach.

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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