raceAhead: Leading Empathetically in Troubled Times

July 15, 2016, 2:13 PM UTC

In one of my earliest interviews for raceAhead, David Kyuman Kim, a professor of religious studies and American studies at Connecticut College, shared some sage advice that took me some time to absorb.

“We have a responsibility to draw our attention to co-workers, to community members and ask a simple question – ‘how are you doing?’” he says. “And then listen, really listen, as if you don’t already know the answer.”

We were talking about the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the deadliest shooting event targeting LGBT people in U.S. history, and how some employees might be feeling the next day – frightened, vulnerable, targeted, or unsure of how to help. How should leaders respond?

These are the moments that require a profound humility, he says. By giving genuine attention to our differences, people find the courage to talk about their lives. “And hopefully ask for help, if they need it.”

Now, barely a month later, it seems that opportunities for humility are delivered fresh daily.

It’s no wonder, then, that Kim’s deceptively simple prescription for connecting – listening as if you don’t already know the answer – keeps coming back to me as a reminder and touchstone.

But it’s also worth considering the other side of the equation. What if you can’t communicate what you’re feeling? What if it’s too difficult to process?

The activist community has long championed a prescription of their own termed self-care, a reminder that each of us has the right and responsibility to step out of the fray and re-charge our own batteries.

It’s a way of calling attention to both the long-term effects experienced by people of color in a racially-charged society, as well as the occasional and acute impacts that everyone feels at difficult moments like these.

But for anyone who does diversity and inclusion work, self-care must become an important part of your professional practices. It’s the only way to keep the work sustainable. And if my reader mail is any indication – thank you, by the way – this has been an unusually stressful time.

(For an object lesson in listening during stressful times, check out this note I got from Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO.)

If you’re lucky enough to be able to practice self-care, the advice goes, do it. Guilt free.

Some resources are in the links below. I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that these prescriptions are also deceptively simple.

If you’re too stressed to check them out, here’s the short list: Drink clean water, eat good food, get good sleep, pamper yourself a bit, seek out friends and loved ones, move your body to music or sport, get some nature in your life, check out some art, and if this is your thing, talk to the higher power of your choice as if they are listening, really listening.

And have a good weekend.

Share your self-care practices: raceAhead@newsletters.fortune.com (But not until Monday.)

On Point

Facebook diversity stats haven’t changed in two years, blames lack of talentIn its third diversity report in two years, Facebook revealed that Hispanic and black employees still comprise a tiny percentage of their giant, global workforce, just 4% and 2% respectively. The report raises serious questions about the company’s efforts to diversify its employee base. Facebook cites a lack of available talent, though critics disagree.

Top schools graduate diverse engineers at twice the rate tech firms hire them
If you're interested intopics of race, inequity and tech, you must follow USA Today journalist, Jessica Guynn. Her latest article, co-authored by Elizabeth Weise, is an analysis challenging the lack of progress in tech's diversity numbers: Top-tier schools graduate Hispanic and black computer science majors and engineers at twice the rate that tech firms hire them.  The analysis looks at data from 179 prestigious colleges offering graduate programs in the U.S. and Canada.
USA Today

Open letter to from tech to Trump: You're bad for innovation
The latest open letter from the tech sector is a sharply-worded manifesto, signed by dozens of tech execs, denouncing Donald Trump’s candidacy in no uncertain terms. The gist: Trump’s racist, misogynist and anti-immigrant rhetoric would stifle innovation. “Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Donald Trump, meanwhile, traffics in ethnic and racial stereotypes, repeatedly insults women, and is openly hostile to immigration.”

White Americans think black Americans are doing just fine
Using survey data dating back to before the civil rights era, columnist Nick Kristoff charts a grim history of white optimism about the opportunities afforded to black Americans, and how badly deluded they’ve always been. “My hunch is that we will likewise look back and conclude that today’s calls for racial justice, if anything, understate the problem — and that white America, however well meaning, is astonishingly oblivious to pervasive inequity,” he writes.
New York Times

Stereotypes cause trouble for Asian American workers
The academic and economic success of many members of the Asian American community have led some to believe that they are a “model-minority,” thriving in America's meritocratic system. Research shows that not only is this not uniformly true, the stereotype is masking some real barriers to success that many Asian American students and professionals face. One example: Asian Americans are routinely overlooked for managerial roles because they are seen by white people as weak or unaggressive.
The Atlantic

Wisconsin Supreme Court wants warning labels on future crime scores
ProPublica has been reporting that racial biases are baked into the software products that are increasingly being used as predictive tools in criminal sentencing. If you believed someone was likely to commit another, perhaps worse, crime, would you lock them up longer? The Wisconsin Supreme Court raised concerns about one of their “risk assessment” tools, owned by for profit company, Northpointe, which ProPublica says falsely labels black defendants as future criminals at twice the rate of white defendants.  The Court says a label describing the limitations of the software is needed.


The Woke Leader

Helpful advice if you're battling stress
The folks at Colorlines, a publication of RaceForward - a terrific resource for racial justice research – have put together a thoughtful post filled with advice and reminders for anyone dealing with long or short-term stress. Just one of many examples: “Race-based trauma literally leaves bruised spots on your brain,” says one contributor. “By continuing to enter online conversations, as important as you warrant them to be, you are allowing the bruise to be pressed on over and over.”

To be an effective leader, forgive yourself
Dr. Kristen Neff, a professor of human development and culture at University of Texas at Austin, has a message for leaders: Heal yourselves first. She researches and teaches self-compassion, a central construct in Buddhist psychology. “Many leaders value compassion and diversity, and strive very hard to create environments where all are respected,” she tells raceAhead. “But if we are mercilessly harsh and disapproving toward ourselves we won’t be able to sustain our efforts to foster tolerance for others, undermining our our ability to the compassionate environments where justice and diversity thrive.”

Mindfulness can help lessen the impact of sadness on your brain
Here's a bit of an oversimplification: There’s what you’re experiencing, and then there’s the story - often terrifying - that you tell yourself about what you’re experiencing. Through mindfulness, we can learn to observe the emotions in our bodies, like sadness or fear, without being washed away by what we think they mean. This, research shows, can not only help us stay grounded, but can help us make better decisions more consistently.

Maurice Sendak on the strength of children
The lives of children are filled with dark and special dangers. “How do you prevent being eaten or mauled by a monster? I still worry about it,” says Maurice Sendak, the author of Where The Wild Things Are. The team at storytelling outfit Blank On Blank have created a truly beautiful video that uses animation to bring one of his last interviews to life, as he reflected on what it was like to be the frightened child of difficult immigrant parents, and his lifelong respect for the resilience of children. We all face so many monsters. “They want to survive. They want to SURVIVE,” he says about kids. Bring tissues.



Be a sponge. Curiosity is life. Assumption is death.  Look around.
—Mark Parker