Rupal Thanawala

Rupal Thanawala

Sandra's story seems familiar, and I feel I’ve heard it many times. She wrote that her eyes got teary and hands shook as she typed her resignation letter. She knew that she might not be able to get another high paying tech executive position quickly, and it may seem to others that she failed, but she had to do it as it was impacting her mental health and, ultimately, family life.

“I was suffocating, and I could not survive in a toxic environment anymore. I felt so lonely as I was the only Black women executive in our team with 10 white males and one white woman. I was under constant pressure to work harder and prove that I belong here. I felt I was invisible and not valued.”

She overheard comments that she did not deserve it but got the job because she was a Black woman. She did not get the same level of respect and authority as her colleagues. Some of my colleagues' actions were very subtle, and some activities were prominent, but she could not speak to anyone. She did have few allies, but the expectation was to keep her chin up and move on.

Toxic workplaces did cost businesses $223 billion over the last five years, per 2018 data. Racial discrimination and harassment remain pervasive throughout the workplace, with 40% to 76% of ethnic minority employees experiencing at least one unwanted race-based behavior within a 12- to 24-month period. Thus, employee engagement and satisfaction decline drastically, resulting in higher turnover.

In 2018, Black women represented only 1.3% of senior management and executive roles of S&P 500 firms and 2.2% of Fortune 500 boards of directors. There are only four Black male CEOs in the Fortune 500, and there is not a single Black female CEO.

A similar pattern exists in mid-management and senior leadership across the corporate world. I was shocked to read the message of a consulting firm expressing their support of the Black community who had recently recognized health care heroes with a picture of all white professionals!

In a difficult time like this, Black employees are hurt and tired. They no more need a glossy press release, social media posts, leadership lectures or false hopes. Employees will hold leaders accountable for their commitment and demand change. If you don't mean it, don't say it. They are only ready to listen to your genuine thoughts and actionable plan. Be prepared to answer questions like this:

Are you going to give your time, treasure and talent for social injustice? Will you support a bill that is in favor of a Black agenda? Will you be an ally of minority employees, be their mentor, support their advancement and speak for them if you see injustice at work? How diverse is your leadership team and board, and what intentional efforts are you going to execute to change the landscape?

Many companies can recruit diverse talent but struggle with retention and promotion due to various reasons. A handful of companies have identified that discrimination and inequalities are deep-rooted in corporate culture and have established formal diversity and inclusion programs.

However, only 42% of Fortune 500 companies have designated diversity leaders. A chief diversity officer of one of the large tech companies said that “D & I programs are built with good intentions, but to make it successful, every employee has to be part of it, and it starts from the top. It has to be adapted in every corner of the corporation like any other policy, and there should be consequences for not following it.”

And then there are trailblazers right here in Indiana. They have been leading by example to foster a culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging that centers around their people and communities they serve. In a tough time like this, they stood by them in solidarity, listened to their employees and vowed to support a fight against racial injustice change.

Anthem has pledged a $50 million grant for racial injustice and health inequalities program. Eli Lilly will invest $25 million and 25,000 employee volunteer hours toward fighting systemic racism in Indianapolis over the next five years.

Lilly, the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper, Radio One and WISH-TV created “The Indy Day of Solidarity — We Stand Together” event for people and organizations to come together to acknowledge the trauma of racial injustice, understand its many forms and create a call to action for lasting change. You can see the video here.

TechPoint is committed to a list of action-oriented goals, including intentional efforts to increase Black representation on their board. Roche Diagnostics’ priority during these challenging times has been its own employees. Last week, the company's senior leaders and its African American Business Resource Group hosted 11 intimate and open discussions where employees could have a candid dialogue about recent events and build connections with one another. Roche also has robust mental health benefits, including access to Lyra Health counselors and meditation apps. 

The racial injustice has no place in the workplace or outside the workplace.

Rupal Thanawala is managing director at Trident Systems, a leading business and technology consulting practice, and tech editor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at rupalt@indyrecorder.com.

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