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Minda Harts

How to Be an Equitable Manager, According to a Workplace & Equity Expert

Author, professor, and equity expert Minda Harts shares concrete steps to create an equitable and psychologically safe environment for all employees.

By Minda Harts

One definition of courage is the ability to do something that frightens one. And if we are going to make the workplace more equitable, then it will take each colleague, manager, and leader leaning into their courage when it comes to disrupting the status quo. We cannot make the workplace better if we are not willing to be honest, transparent, and dedicated to creating a more inclusive workplace.

When I wrote my first book, The Memo, I interviewed over 100 women of color. Over 70% of them stated that they felt like their managers were not invested in their success. In’s The State of Black Women in Corporate America report, there are some inexcusable and downright offensive statistics when it comes to the advancement of Black women in the workplace. For example, in the 2020 report, Black women held only 1.6% of vice president roles and 1.4% of executive suite positions.To give you just a little more context, more than 590 companies employing over 22 million people, along with a quarter of a million individual employees, participated in the Women in the Workplace study on which the report was based. So these stats are not isolated situations; they are common issues taking place across many companies.

Minda Harts’ new book, Right Within. Plus, check out her in-depth interview on BookClub.

The report shows that Black women receive less support and advocacy from their managers compared to the white women who were surveyed. These stats lead me to believe that not enough managers are creating an equal playing field. 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. Without manager support, women of color often aren’t thought of for stretch assignments, and so are denied opportunities for growth. Managers could do more to advocate for employees of color by noticing if they are being socially isolated and working to help them navigate office politics.

What could “better” look like if managers were fully invested in everyone on their teams? Below, I’ll outline some of the tactics that help create more equitable, psychologically safe environments for all employees.

Be a Champion

Because women of color cannot promote themselves, they need a success partner and champion as they continue to climb the ladder. When I was in corporate America, I had a couple of white men who used their privilege to help me advance in my career. Being a success partner to a woman of color on your team or in your department will require you to build a relationship with her. As a manager, you sit in a unique position: You have the ability to grow, enhance, or stunt a person’s career. You hold a level of influence within your company or organization, so you have the ability to be a partner on the road to success for a woman of color in the workplace.

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.”

Commit to the Manager’s Pledge

I created the Manager’s Pledge below, and I hope you will consider signing it. Inclusive culture starts from the top down, and I hope you will consider helping dismantle a toxic racial culture inside the workplace. It’s imperative that you help create an environment where women of color can come to you with racialized experiences and you will hear them out by practicing courageous listening. Remember, even if you don’t see the incident or you have a relationship with someone who is causing harm, you still have to be an inclusive manager at all times.

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.

Normalize Equity

In addition to the manager’s pledge, I would encourage managers and colleagues to think about how they can continue to lean into their courage so that implementing equitable practices, procedures, and initiating critical conversations no longer are viewed as courageous, but are normalized. When I reflect back on my early growing pains of being a manager, I was promoted to manage a small team, and though I was extremely excited, I had never received any guidance, managed anyone before, or had any insight on how to give constructive feedback. That meant I had to learn how to be a good manager while on the job. Even though I hadn’t received any formal training, I learned I could still take the initiative to educate myself. I went to my local bookstore and purchased as many resources as I could to learn how to lead from a place of confidence, empathy, and equity. Some days I got it right, and some days, I am sure, I had a lot of room for improvement.

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.

Written By

Minda Harts

Minda Harts is a Workplace and Equity Consultant. She is also the bestselling and award-winning author of The Memo and Right Within. Her third book, You Are More Than Magic for Young Adults, will be released in the Spring of 2022. Minda is a Professor at NYU Wagner. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and featured on ABC News, Forbes, Fast Company, and Time Magazine. Minda is a highly sought-after speaker for companies such as Liberty Mutual, American Family Insurance, Nike, Google, and Salesforce. In 2020, she was named the Top Voice for Equity in the Workplace by Linkedin. Minda hosts a live weekly podcast called Secure The Seat.

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