Be the Action Verb
You must help beyond only words. You have to be the action verb. Being a champion requires you to help dismantle dysfunctional past systems and create new systems that don’t oppress women of color in the workplace. For example, if you have someone on your team who is clearly causing racialized toxicity, choosing to simply ignore that person’s behavior, tone, or language is not an option. It’s up to you to set a healthy tone for the team’s interpersonal behavior. This might require creating norms and articulating which behaviors won’t be tolerated. Call out those who are oppressing people on your team. And don’t allow the oppressors to play the victim while bullying others. I can honestly say, over my 15-year career, I’ve never experienced a manager who set the tone for equity and psychological safety. When you’re the only woman of color or one of few on your team, this kind of environment is extremely isolating and demeaning.
Managers must hold all team members accountable. Not everyone is meant to manage, and you have to decide if it’s fair to lead a team if you aren’t equipped to do so. Too many women of color are choosing to leave corporate America because of who they work for. I am sure most people don’t want to purposely harm someone on their team, and if that’s true, they will require accountability and tools to help them lead with equity.
“Unfortunately, when a woman of color doesn’t have a manager who is supporting and advocating for her, the manager is denying the employee the opportunity to perform at her highest level and showcase her best work.”
The Manager's Pledge
- I will acknowledge that I have biases that I need to understand and reconcile.
- I will commit to engaging in courageous conversations. They might sometimes be difficult, but I know they are necessary to create an inclusive workplace.
- I will challenge myself to hold other colleagues accountable when I have heard or observed racialized tones, behaviors, and actions.
- I will learn to humanize the experiences of all my colleagues and seek to understand and listen to their perspectives and lived experiences, particularly when they differ from my own.
- I will share my experiences and educational journey to help other managers create restorative justice practices.
- Even if I make a mistake, I commit to the daily practice of being a better manager who is committed to equity for all.
Give Constructive Feedback
I teach a course at New York University focused on talent development, which is centered on a curriculum aimed to make team environments as psychologically safe as possible. One component of the course is focused on how to give constructive feedback to your staff, because I believe constructive feedback is among the most important skill sets a manager can have.
The first book I assign my students to read is called Difficult Conversations, written by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone, and Bruce Patton, because I’ve found that too many managers are not equipped to have difficult conversations with their staff. If a manager does not have the emotional intelligence to know when to listen, educate, or provide feedback, that could potentially impact the retention rates and productivity within their company or organization. In fact, much of a manager’s day-to-day involves providing feedback, and if this person isn’t modeling what an effective work ethic looks like, a toxic environment may just emerge. No “good” manager wants that!
As a manager, your job is to authentically engage, listen, and enhance your team member’s career journey, and that requires you to be acutely aware of how you are conveying important information that might be helpful to their career growth. In other words, it’s not always what you say but how you say it that matters.One tip for how to give constructive feedback effectively that always works for me is asking myself this question: Will this feedback move our conversation forward and lead to a resolution, or will my feedback create strife and confusion? Additionally, understand that not every person on your team will respond to feedback the same way. So, as a new manager, it’s especially important that you take time to build a relationship with each member so you are giving tailored and thoughtful feedback.
Create a Feedback Loop
Lastly, make sure you create a feedback loop. That is, when you are providing constructive feedback, be mindful to create space for the person on the receiving end to give feedback or respond to what you have said in a way that makes them feel safe. A good conversation ends with two-way dialogue.
Being a manager might be challenging at times, yet, one thing that always inspires me to work toward being a good manager is knowing that my actions have the capacity to make the workplace better than I found it. I have worked for managers who did not learn how to give constructive feedback and engage with me, and that made for some of my hardest times in my career. Yet I also remember the times when I was lucky enough to have a manager who was invested in my success, which led me to thrive. Remember that you have the ability to be that for someone on your team.