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Centering Black Leaders Thriving


Either you personally have experienced the slow burnout of leading as a Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or Person of Color, or have been in organizations and witnessed leaders of color burnout and leave. So hopefully you don’t need much evidence to agree that leaders of color need a support system that is unique, sustained, and robust.


In Coquial’s report, Being Black In Corporate America, there were three findings that I want to highlight. (Read the whole report for stats.)

  1. Black professionals see barriers to advancement that are largely invisible to White professionals.

  2. Over one in three Black employees intend to leave.

  3. White women are not seen as advocating for others.


All of the findings of this report are important and offer organizations solutions and considerations. I definitely encourage you to read the whole report. My reasoning for focusing on these three findings is to call attention to your efforts as a brave, transformative, anti-racist leader toward disrupting these experiences for Black colleagues and leaders within your circle of influence. I also want to add, this report is specific to being Black, and I believe Black folx have specific experiences in work culture and face racism more than our sisters and brothers of color who do not identify as Black, AND some of this will also support leaders of color that do not identify as Black. So if you for some reason (*ahem* racism) don’t have any Black colleagues in your circles, still consider the learnings for colleagues of color.


Black professionals see barriers to advancement that are largely invisible to White professionals. What are you doing to bring forth the barriers to advancement to your White colleagues? Many organizations simply get away with stating they have DEI efforts to hire and retain more people of color within their organization or have human resources that have statements on creating equity in the hiring process. The proof is in the pudding. Have many Black employees been able to move up in position and salary? Does there appear to be a glass ceiling they are unable to break through to positions such as Executive Director, CEO, and President? How many Black members of the C-Suite are there? How is the organization tracking the movement of talent by race and intentionally using that data to make the necessary changes to meet its equity goals? If you are consistently hiring Black and Brown leadership from outside of the organization when you have long-term Black and Brown employees within your organization -- there is a problem and it is the organization’s problem. It’s not a lack of “qualified” Black or Brown people in the industry. An anti-racist organization creates a pipeline by removing systemic barriers and creating support, training, and commitment to Black leadership.


Over one in three Black employees intend to leave. I have experienced this first hand and would say some of the first words I hear from Black colleagues in getting to know them at my previous roles have been, “I’m working on my 2 - 3 year exit plan.” In fact, my mentor (a Black woman) advised me not to plan to be at an agency for more than 3 years. Now, if it’s not clear by now, I’m not Black. I’m not speaking on behalf of Black people, but using this report to share with you how organizations can and should center Black leaders thriving in their organization. To be 100%, I don’t think you can call yourself an anti-racist organization if this is not part of your commitment. Every organization should do a thorough analysis/audit to understand why their specific culture and practices are not creating spaces in which Black employees can thrive. There is no checklist to complete for this. This is hard work when most of us have been socialized to operate in whiteness in our work environments, White people and BIPOC. One FREE tip, be sure you have Black employees help you solve this one!


White women are not seen as advocating for others. Hallelujah! I’m not even playing! It was so validating to see this called out in this report. Do you know why? Some of the most egregious reports I’ve heard from Black and Brown friends, colleagues, and myself - have been in the ways White women have harmed them/me. The factor in all of these, they were from White women that were “fighting for equity”. These were women attending workshops on racial equity, telling their colleagues they are there to support them and their leadership, and then silent when advocacy was needed. White women tend to be the first to approach me to form “friendships” and “pick my brain” on being equity leaders. However, I have only 1 White female colleague that ever stood up in my defense at work. That’s in over 20 years of working ya’ll. It is a real problem, not bitter complaints that are unjustified, it is very REAL. This is why I believe so strongly in affinity work. BIPOC affinity spaces unique to different racial identities should be held for healing. White affinity spaces should be held for learning that is not at the expense of harming BIPOC. More importantly, these cannot be merely bringing these folx together for food, getting to know you activities, and airing grievances. They have to be intentional and have a purpose to move organizations forward in their racial justice goals.


Middle Waters can support you in all of these efforts, but today I want to highlight our affinity-led spaces. Rooted In Self-Love is a learning experience that can support a BIPOC affinity space in healing and leading through self-love. Participants work on getting to the roots of what holds them back from being their most authentic and powerful selves while providing a loving community. Humble & Brave is a White affinity learning experience that focuses on White Anti-Racist leaders pushing through the fears that hold them back from acting in the face of injustice. This is an intense focus on being humble and brave in order to truly advocate for racially just systems. We are currently looking for an organization interested in a new version of Humble & Brave that incorporates somatic work in order to process and accept the learnings through the body. If you’re interested in either of these programs, please use the contact form here. Specifically, note if you’re interested in the somatic integration with Humble & Brave.


Whether you partner with Middle Waters or not, please consider how you can center Black leaders thriving. Which area in this article or in the report by Coquial can you recognize as an area of focus that you can begin to act on? What will you do about it?


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