How to begin talking about race in the workplace

Wharton management professor Stephanie Creary explains her framework for middle managers in corporate environments who would like to initiate conversations about race in the workplace. “To eradicate systemic racism,” she writes, “it is important for managers to empower employees and provide them with resources for having productive conversations about race.” 

Screen shot of 12 faces in a virtual meeting.

“Over the past few weeks, countless companies have spoken out publicly against racism and other injustices after the murders of Breonna TaylorAhmaud ArberyGeorge Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, and the racist encounter between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park,” Creary writes.

“While racism in America is centuries old, this movement toward mass public corporate declarations to tackle racism is new. One commitment that many companies have made is to convene employees via town hall meetings to discuss race in the workplace.

“Yet, given physical distancing guidelines, many companies I have spoken with recently are taking elements of their town halls to their virtual platforms while delegating other responsibilities to their mid-level managers. Midlevel managers have been charged not only with facilitating conversations about ‘what’s wrong’ in the company, but also ’what could work’ in their company and on their teams.”

Creary has adapted a framework, RACE, for use by middle managers in corporate environments who would like to begin talking about race in the workplace: R—Reduce anxiety by talking about race anyway; A—Accept that anything related to race is either going to be visible or invisible; C—Call on internal and external allies for help; and E—Expect that you will need to provide some “answers,” practical tools, skill-based frameworks, etc.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.