Advancing Black Leadership: Six Ways to Support & Elevate Black Talent

From Day One’s recent webinar, “History in the Making: the Future of Black Leadership in Corporate America,” discussed what organizations need to do to uphold their promises to build supportive environments where Black leaders can grow and thrive. We know that this is more than a racial equity imperative. According to Coqual’s Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration,  Black Talent is eager to lead. In fact, studies show they want higher levels of responsibility just as much, and in some cases more than, their white counterparts.

And yet so often they’re overlooked and offered less support to achieve those milestones. As organizations and allies, it’s up to us – not our Black Talent – to create more access and support for them to pursue bigger and better career opportunities. Here are six ways we can begin doing that today.

1. Home in on year-end talent conversations.

Use year-end talent conversations to identify where your Black Talent resides in your team or organization – and don’t stop there. Actively provide them with the support they need to reach their career goals, and make sure you’re regularly checking in with them and their managers to ensure they have access to the sponsors and development they need.

2. Make sure you’re applying consistent performance standards.

A 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study revealed that Black employees tend to receive extra scrutiny compared to their white colleagues. This is not only unfair – it ultimately affects the promotion rates and career trajectory of your Black Talent, causing them to even exit your team altogether. Take time to honestly reflect on the role unconscious biases may play in evaluating the performance of Black Talent and take meaningful steps to combat it. Slow down, think, and directly address this unbalanced treatment when you witness it in yourself and other leaders.

3. Beware of coded language.

As a critical add-on to ensuring consistent standards, be aware of – and confront – coded language when discussing high-potential Black Talent. Coded language like “lacking polish” or “aggressive” are often disproportionately applied to Black Talent. When you hear such words, ask “Would we use the same language if others behaved the same way, or is this an implicit stereotype that needs to be challenged?”

4. Master cross-racial feedback…

Data shows that cross-racial feedback from managers to direct reports often lacks specificity, frequency, and quality compared to feedback given to someone of the same race. When unaddressed, this leads to disproportionately worse outcomes for Black Talent who are then underdeveloped compared to their peers of other backgrounds. So, push yourself and other leaders to give quality feedback. Set the tone that everyone deserves feedback that is specific, developmental, fair, and clearly actionable.

5. …and be open to receiving & implementing feedback yourself.

One way to do this is to conduct Stay Interviews. Conducted separately from performance reviews, these discussions are powerful tools that uncover the concerns, engagement influencers, and exit triggers that affect highly valued employees. They’re also known to elicit more candid responses from employees of color while also telling them, “We want you to stay,” before they make the decision to leave.

A note of warning: If managers can’t hear an employee’s concerns without getting defensive about themselves or the organization, the whole process can backfire. Effective cultural competence helps managers take their direct report’s experience as real and valid while also helping them recognize factors like differences in communication styles, perceptions, and world views.

6. Actively foster belonging.

Do your Black team members feel like they truly belong – like they have a real stake in the success and growth of your team and your business? Being “The Only,” or just one of very few Black employees, can feel isolating and lonely. Add to that the pressure to downplay issues like racial bias, hair bias, and stereotype threat, then that alienation becomes even worse.

Without intentional action, fostering belonging just won’t happen overnight. Start by carving out regular time to get to know your Black team members. Encourage participation in ERGs/BRGs as valuable to the business and attend events with them as often as possible.

Need further guidance on supporting, retaining, and promoting Black Talent within your organization? LCW offers several tools that high-performing organizations across the globe have used to develop and keep high-performing and high-potential Black Talent:
  • Managing Inclusively: What You Need to Know about Your African American/Black Talent: A 4-hour workshop that helps People Managers increase their cultural competency and understand the experience of their Black employees while practicing what they can do better and differently to support them.
  • POC Coaching Clinic: A new virtual coaching program that empowers POC talent to pursue their professional development and career arc toward leadership within their organizations.
  • Stay Interviews for Engagement & Development: A signature workshop and licensed toolkit that outlines a cross-cultural approach to promoting, retaining, and increasing employees’ connections with their job, co-workers, and the organization at large.

Contact us to learn more about these tools and workshops. 


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