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How do I speak to an employee about their experience of racism?


Team leader Martin gets a black employee. He is unsure whether to raise the issue of discrimination in the workplace on his own initiative. Would he force the newcomer into a victim role?

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Photo: Kanizphoto / iStockphoto / Getty Images

Martin *, 42, team leader in quality assurance, asks: »The first black employee in the company will join my team soon.

We have an open welcoming culture.

As the boss, I want to help ensure that the new colleague feels comfortable.

I treat all of my employees equally.

Still, I wonder if I should do something different with this colleague.

Should I address the issue of discrimination in the workplace on my own initiative?

And if so, how?

I don't want to impose a victim role on others.

How do you do that?

Without a reason or should it be better to wait for a given occasion? "

Dear Martin,

It's nice that you deal with your new colleague at an early stage.

This shows that you are a good and prudent leader: You want to personally ensure that everyone in your team feels genuinely valued.

We treat people unequally - it often makes sense

What unites us humans: We unconsciously treat people differently.

We have sympathies and antipathies within us.

We treat people who remind us of someone in a positive sense differently than those who remind us of someone we disliked.

Therefore, with all due respect, it is not possible for anyone to really treat everyone equally.

Even if we would like to.

And to be honest, there is nothing to be said against treating employees differently - if that is necessary.

Think of working mothers, for example: It is of course absolutely justified to cater to their special needs at work.

A good manager should recognize where he can support them and respond to them as far as possible.

And that is exactly what you do with your new colleague.

Don't be afraid of stigmatization: seek the conversation!

Basically, you don't have to do anything differently with the new employee than you normally would. The new colleague probably does not want to be treated differently or with caution because of his skin color. And don't worry: the fact that you raise the issue of discrimination on your own has nothing to do with pushing someone into the role of victim. You are simply making an offer to talk about a topic that the employee is very unlikely to bring up on his or her own.

It is best to seek the conversation directly in the first week - if it comes up, even on the first day.

In this way, you can influence the image that the employee has of you and your company right from the start.

Because in this way you make your personal attitude as well as that of the company on the subject of discrimination or racism in the workplace clear.

The effect is: Your colleague will gain confidence that he will be able to speak to you in the event of an incident in the future.

They show that we can address this issue openly.

Don't wait for an occasion!

Then it would be too late.

Confidence may be torn and you will have to go to great lengths to restore it.

In addition, it is difficult to have a casual conversation when someone is injured.

What is discriminatory?

Ask the employee!

What I would like to give you, Martin: I understand that you are insecure.

But: don't be afraid to address this sensitive topic.

One possible formulation would be: "Have you ever experienced discrimination or racism in the workplace?" What is important: Do not evaluate the new colleague's answer to these questions.

What is the benefit of asking this question right at the beginning?

In this way, you can find out what the employee considers to be discriminatory.

If necessary, you can now take precautions - and you will know exactly what to look out for in the future.

What does the employee need?

Keep listening

Encourage the new colleague to come up to you if they need to speak about racism in the future. Ultimately, it's about staying in dialogue even on such a sensitive topic. This is the only way to get rid of uncertainties. You can find out firsthand what support your employee needs. As a manager, however, you have to take the first step.

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-08-02

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