A message from OFM State HR and DES Workforce Support and Development asking agencies to take action.
Hello state agency leaders,
Violence against Black people – including the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery – and the recent demonstrations, protests, and clashes are impacting state employees deeply and personally. Yesterday another name was added to the list of Black lives taken by state-sanctioned violence: David McAtee. These events are stressful and traumatic for many, while COVID also continues to cause hardship and uncertainty and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Many of our Black colleagues are deeply hurting right now; violence, oppression, and dehumanizing injustice are nothing new, but now it is caught on film and the trauma replayed and amplified. Leaders across our enterprise have a responsibility to respond, and we are seeing many examples of leaders doing so—thank you. The need for action does not, and MUST NOT, end here. The reality of racism experienced by people of color is deeply embedded in our institutions, is played out every day to the detriment of our colleagues of color, and will not change because of one email, one statement, one listening session, hiring one person of color.
Some state leaders may be wondering what to do. These issues are heavy and complex, and as a leader who cares deeply about your employees you may be concerned with the risk of unintentionally causing greater harm by doing or saying the wrong thing. But we urge you to say something and do something, even if imperfectly. As one Black colleague put it, “it’s the silence that is most harmful to us.”
OFM-SHR and DES-WSD want to support your efforts to care for your employees. If you have not yet addressed your employees, or if you are looking for additional ways to engage with your agency workforce regarding these horrific recent events, here are some recommended actions you can take and some resources for your agency’s toolbox.
Pause and Pay Attention: Do less talking, and do more listening to the experiences of people of color. Take in the grief and trauma. Recognize the pain and the truth of their experiences. Witness and acknowledge the harm that is being done to individuals and communities. If you are white, do NOT focus on your own feelings of guilt or overwhelm—keep the focus on those most impacted.
Demonstrate Empathy. “In a crisis, organizations need to first publicly acknowledge the challenging reality many employees are facing.” If this quote holds true for supporting parents working remotely or coming to terms with the impacts of a pandemic, it should certainly hold true for those facing existential threats of racial violence. Communicate care and support. Commit to stand alongside those impacted.
Create Proactive Support. Insist on zero tolerance for racist language and actions within your agency, from employees or customers. Employees of color are reporting increased racialized aggression by coworkers and customers—they need to know they can show up for work and be safe. Proactively create space to discuss how this is affecting the organization and the workforce. And recognize that while many people of color are brave leaders in our state’s DEI efforts, don’t expect those most affected to necessarily be the ones to initiate or put the burden on them to lead these discussions.
Take Meaningful Action. A statement from leadership is a place to start, but words need to be followed with actions. Think about what you can do as a leader to cultivate physically and psychologically safer work environments for employees of color. Give employees guidance on how to move beyond cathartic and courageous conversations and actually take action to productively improve inclusion in the workplace. Recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Refer employees to resources and support, like those available through the EAP (a one-page handout is attached that you can provide to employees). Do not let a public health or financial crisis derail your efforts to improve your agency Diversity Plan; make your existing plan visible, and communicate your plan for improving it in your messaging.
Resources for Leaders to Review Together before Responding:
We Must Step Up For Black People Right Now - Here’s How
Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not
U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism
The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture
Please start somewhere, but commit to sustained action. As we have said in our efforts to deal with COVID, this is a marathon, not a sprint. But unlike COVID, this disease has been spreading for over four centuries in this country. We are here to be resources for you in this critical work.
Cindy Guertin-Anderson, Assistant Director, Workforce Support and Development, DES
Franklin Plaistowe, Assistant Director, State HR, State Human Resources Division, OFM
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