By Scott E. Pacheco, marketing and communications manager at Lerch, Early & Brewer
“How did we get here?”
This was the first question asked at “A Collective Check In,” LMA’s virtual town hall held on June 17 addressing the recent events of racial injustice across the United States.
The short answer, according to Denise Robinson, founding principal of The Still Center, is it has “been a journey.” The Still Center facilitates personal well-being, interpersonal connection, and organizational inclusion through mindfulness-based diversity and inclusion methods.
“None of what we’re seeing is new,” said Robinson, who facilitated the town hall discussion. “It brings us back to the foundations of what it means to be black in this country.
“This group of people is [treated as] better and more valuable than this other group of people – that is at the root of why people are in the streets protesting.”
Robinson addressed several topics connecting recent incidents of racial injustice, the impact on communities of color, and workplace diversity and inclusion efforts.
How should people process their feelings?
“Many of us are feeling something,” Robinson said, adding that the range and intensity of emotions differs dramatically depending on personal experiences and situations. “The feelings and emotions are there and they do need to be addressed.”
In addition to taking advantage of access to a mental health professional, a useful way to deal with emotions is to actually identify what you are feeling. Or, put another way, you have to “name it to tame it.”
“Often we have a very limited vocabulary for emotions,” Robinson said. “We prefer the mind, the rational, the logical.”
She offered a quick breathing activity to re-center when emotions are triggered: close your eyes or focus on a fixed point and inhale for four seconds, exhale for six seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Engaging someone who is part of an affected group
One of the challenges is that feedback amid racially charged situations is “inconsistent from how they are usually engaging with you,” Robinson said. “The silence can be worse if they’re not typically silent.”
She cited negativity bias – that if you don’t say something, then someone may fill it in with a negative response. So, it is often better to say something, even if it is just to say that you don’t know what to say.
One helpful way to think about it is to use a funeral as an analogy – what would you say in or how would you handle a situation that is not race-related.
How should splashy recognitions, such as for Juneteenth, connect to a firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts?
Either/or is a common phrase indicating that doing one thing precludes another from taking place. Robinson encourages a philosophy of “both/and” when it comes to diversity and inclusion efforts.
To illustrate, take Juneteenth – recognizing June 19, 1865 – when union troops finally freed the final U.S. slaves in Texas more than a year after the Emancipation Proclamation. Many firms issued a statement and gave a donation, but stopped the momentum there.
“If you are struggling to have a diverse and inclusive culture, suggest actions… in addition to the donation and the statement,” Robinson said. “Many folks think the statement and donation are enough.”
She added that if you do put out a statement, make sure it reflects reality.
“Acknowledge the shortcomings or don’t put out the statement – it could come off as disingenuous.”