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How EQ Can Help Disrupt Racial Bias in Business

Covid-19. Racial tensions. Political division. America is experiencing a profound and long overdue gut check.

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Emotional Intelligence and Honesty 

Covid-19. Racial tensions. Political division. America is experiencing a profound and long overdue gut check. However, throughout the course of our history, struggle, stress, and disenfranchisement have never been distributed equally among our populations. Not even close. From slavery and Jim Crow to our current unprecedented pandemic, Black communities are familiar with what injustice feels like. While the pandemic has many Americans feeling powerless and vulnerable for the first time, there is much the Black community can teach them, and ourselves, about how to navigate these difficult moments. 

According to the CDC, “Discrimination, which includes racism, can lead to chronic and toxic stress and shapes social and economic factors that put some people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk for COVID-19.” Honestly, I doubt this fact would surprise many Black people. We live in and with this reality every day. But what may surprise people of every race is that – if we focus on emotional intelligence – we can communicate the Black experience in ways that can benefit everyone… If we are honest. Successfully fighting COVID-19 requires candid conversations based on facts. My former fellow classmate Emmanuel Acho, does an exemplary job of this in his series Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man. That same commitment to honesty can be used to address the entrenched system of institutionalized racism that continues to plague America and Black communities. 

EQ: Context, Experience, and Conversations 

In 1860, there were four million slaves in America. That’s a fact. Institutional discrimination through practices such as redlining – established in the National Housing Act of 1934 – have robbed Black individuals, families, and communities of incalculable financial, educational, health, and real estate opportunities, in addition to the ability to build and pass on generational wealth. Also a fact. And so is this: Today, the COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times higher than it is for White Americans. All of these facts are, of course, related. This history and these facts directly impact how many Black people in America feel about themselves, their neighborhoods, and their country. Any emotional intelligence exercise must include the generational context of these experiences and emotions.   

For business leaders, discussing emotional topics related to discrimination and bias can be intimidating, but by employing effective emotional intelligence strategies, business leaders – especially Black business leaders – can reduce the sense of isolation, powerlessness, and depression felt by their Black employees. Many businesses are already doing this. Organizations such as the NFL and NBA are forcing our culture to take an honest look at racism in America, and they are having an impact on players of every color in locker rooms and sidelines as well as with the millions of fans and supporters who welcome the advancement of a conversation that is long overdue.  

EQ Strategies for Business Leaders 

Business leaders can promote EQ-led initiatives to drive change and disrupt racial bias in the workplace using these strategies: 

Encourage Employees to Express Themselves: Empowering employees to speak up, to voice their feelings, and to have those voices and feelings genuinely listened to by everyone they work with is key to fighting racism and even unconscious bias in the workplace. Leaders must ensure that employees understand their voices are important and that their experiences – especially when navigating complex and emotional topics such as COVID-19, political strife, and racial injustices – are a paramount concern to the company. Business leaders must lead by example, and when they make the effort to listen to employees, including Black employees, they communicate that the value of the company is built around the lives and experiences of its employees.  

Hold Regular, Company-wide Events: Internalizing processes to address racism and cultural bias in the workplace includes scheduling regular events that employees can attend during the workday. These events must be part of the workday to underscore the company’s commitment, and not conducted on a volunteer basis outside of working hours. For example, monthly company-wide town hall meetings that focus on racial issues can be very valuable as employees exchange their beliefs and perspectives and encourage a collective growth toward a mutual understanding of where racism comes from, why it persists, and what can be done to create a better future. These events make for a more informed, educated, and harmonious collective workplace.  

Schedule Personal Interviews and Group Meetings: For business leaders to have full transparency into their workforces, they have to communicate with them directly. By scheduling time to personally meet with individual employees or groups of employees, business leaders are able to look them in the eyes and hear directly what they have to say. Emotional intelligence means connecting with people on an intimate intellectual level, and this is best done in smaller settings. Business leaders who boldly talk to individual employees about racism in the workplace have more meaningful and memorable exchanges. When employees know they are being listened to by people in power, they feel more connected, less isolated, and better about their jobs, healthcare, and professional lives. 

Emotional intelligence can be taught. Developing a high EQ score requires a commitment to truly connecting with people on a personal level that empathetically addresses their concerns, fears, and struggles. For many of us, especially in Black communities, our greatest fears are rooted in the history of the Black experience in America. Knowing that our families, communities, and jobs are more exposed and vulnerable than others, leads to complicated and negative feelings: anger, sadness, rage, depression, hopelessness, powerlessness, and even feelings of pride, resilience, and empowerment. Black people in America have come a long way, but we know there is still much work to be done. And lots of that work must take place in our places of employment. This conversation cannot wait any longer.  

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