My friend and fellow career coach Adunola Adeshola joined me to bring our offline conversations about race in the workplace online to you on the podcast today. I’m so excited and honored to have her with me.
Recently, Adunola wrote an amazing article for Forbes called 3 Things You Should Not Say to Your Black Colleagues Right Now. Many of you read it in our email or from my LinkedIn post about it. I wanted to have Adunola on to talk about that article and to help us learn more in the midst of our current worldwide moment so that we can be better colleagues, leaders, and friends when engaging with race in the workplace.
What We’re Talking About
- “3 Things You Should Not Say to Your Black Colleagues”
- Being Black in corporate America
- The most important thing companies can do right now
Why Write This Article Right Now?
With all the conversation around race, injustice, and what’s happening in America, I knew it was necessary to say something from the corporate aspect. As a career coach and as a black woman who coaches lots of black women and men, I see and hear so many stories. I also know from my own experience what it feels like to be black in corporate America. So I thought it was time to shed a light. I wrote it in a few hours and published it.
I thought it was really important to pair my story with it, so I wrote about my experience in corporate America when the Charleston church shooting happened. I was one of the only black people in my office, which I was already very aware of. And then the Charleston church shooting happened...and no one talked about it or seemed to care very much.
I’m so proud of so many voices that are coming out right now. For so long, so many black people have felt like we can’t say anything because it’s “just how it is,” we don’t want to be seen as angry, or we’re concerned about other people being comfortable in the workspace more so than us. I didn’t feel like I had permission to feel my feelings about this, to express my hurt, rage, anger, or any other emotions about it.
I was reminded again of the way things were when the memorial service was on for the Charleston shooting victims….and no one else watched it. People were laughing around me, carrying on with business as usual, while I was grieving deeply. No one seemed to care about it nearly as much as me. And I felt very alone. I didn’t see the heartbreak matched by anyone around me.
How Did That Impact Work
The next day was how I felt constantly as the only black person at my office. There wasn’t a huge shift, it wasn’t a huge shock. It just felt like this is what it always is. When you don’t have other people who look like you, who get you, you learn to compartmentalize in the workplace. And for me, that didn’t align.
I highly value alignment in my work life and personal life, who I am and what I do, the experiences I have as a black person, and yet separating those was a constant thing I had to do. And when I talked about it with my family and friends, they said the same thing happened to all of them.
Why Is This Still Happening?
Five years later, I’m having conversations with clients who are black, friends working in corporate spaces, and people in my DMs telling me that the same exact thing is happening to them, right now.
In our current state of the world – the country has literally been on fire – and to have someone walk into the office and say, “How was your weekend?” as if we didn’t all see the protests in every single state, looting, and all. To have to answer, “How was your weekend? What Netflix shows did you watch?” on a Monday morning call in 2020….there are no words.
I can’t speak for people who are non-black, what their experiences are. My perception is that it’s easier to ignore it. As a black person, you don’t have the luxury to turn your head away and say it isn’t real.
I saw an example of this recently on social media, of someone ignoring the truth, even saying the woman was lying in her own instagram post, and I concluded she must be doing that because it’s easier to believe it’s not happening so she doesn’t have to accept that it is possible.
This happens in the corporate space too.
It’s easier to act like it’s not happening because then you don’t have to accept that it’s happening. If you don’t accept that it’s happening, then it doesn’t feel real.
And because we’ve been prone to compartmentalize work, we choose to set aside life, and brush over it.
I Was That Person
Jena acknowledged: I was that person, asking someone about their weekend. I was oblivious. I chose not to engage. I didn’t understand how deeply it affects my black friends. I didn’t think about it from the lens of another individual at all. And that is not okay as a white person. I am saying that fully -- choosing to be ignorant is not okay.
Adunola has helped me to see that, whether I realized it or not, that my apathy was selfishness – and that is NOT her job! She graciously did this as a friend. And I needed to see it, repent of it, and seek change.
While I was comfortable living in my bubble, Adunola told me: I don’t have the luxury to not engage in this.
Living with Being Black In America vs. Learning About It
Sometimes, I want to look away. I want to forget that it could happen to my family members or those I love. But even in the split second of wanting to look away...I can’t. As much as I would want to, I cannot. I must. I have to see. Injustice has already happened, and so you must look. The luxury is not available.
I think about my nephew who is four. There is going to have to be a conversation about the danger of being black in America...soon. No one wants to have that conversation with their children. But when you have a black child, you do not have that luxury.
I see so many white people right now talking about how they’re learning. How they’re beginning their journey. And I think...wow, lucky you. How privileged, how blessed, how cool, that you’re just learning this. You get to choose to learn.
When you’re black, you think about it every day, you think about it on so many levels, and then you carry that into work. And then you go into a workplace where you’re the only black person. We’ve been taught to just deal with it. That this is just how it is. I got message after message from the only black person on a team of 100, a team of 40, and on and on. And it’s easier for the majority to ignore or not listen to the minority, or think about it so much less.
What Is Most Important for Companies to Do Right Now?
I think it’s cool to hire Diversity and Inclusion Experts and people in similar roles. But I don’t think it’s exactly the answer. I think that it’s important to have diversity, inclusion, and equity. It’s important to have conversations with experts who will help you strategize that. But I don’t think it’s the answer to the issue.
Because it’s a heart issue above all else.
And then it’s a hiring issue. Hire more black people. You cannot tell me that only 1 of 100 roles have been applied for by black people at your company. If you are in HR or hiring or a decision-maker, think about the way you can make intentional decisions and moves here. How can you help leverage marginalized voices to open doors for others? And to broaden the perspectives at your company on every level?
I haven’t seen a lot of people say that their company is going to be more intentional in hiring more black people. That to me is the most immediate solution here. Why aren’t we seeing it?
It needs to be in the fabric of the company. It’s proven statistically that more diversity makes a more successful team and more successful company...but it’s like people don’t believe these stats.
Your customers and clients are not all the same shade, same neighborhood, same anything...so when you include diversity on your team, you reach your customers more effectively. When you don’t, you’re missing out.
As Coaches How Can We Leverage Diverse Voices More?
I’m so thankful that people who are not in black communities are starting to see what’s happening and has been happening to those of us who are black in America. This is nothing new. One thing that brings me joy as a black career coach is working with black women and men and having them reach out specifically to me because I’m black.
As a black person in general, I think it’s really important for black people to stay. If you want to be in corporate America, stay. Don’t leave. It’s so important for black women and men to stay in corporate America and rise to leadership roles. If you leave, who will anyone of color look up to if we’re all entrepreneurs? When they are there, they leave the door open for others who may have never seen a door there for them.
As a black person, you’re always looking for other black people. So as a black career coach, it’s so important that I stay here for people to see me and engage and grow through my work.
On a larger perspective, for all career coaches, I think opening the door for people to learn that they are in charge of their career, that they don’t have to wait for anyone to tell them what to do, they can do it. It matters to empower people to speak up, to know how to advocate for themself, so that moving forward through their career they can do this and can show up fully as who they are in the job they land. Set people up to know they are good at what they do, they have value, they know how amazing they are (bomb.dot.com!) and they can speak up as who they fully are...because that changes the game for black people for their entire career.
If you got asked to be in the room, don’t question why – speak up.
A Conversation Around Race in the Workplace with Adunola Adeshola
June 25, 2020