Breaking The Silence: How To Talk About Race At Work

Author Headshot Written by Liz McDermott

ethnic minority employees

Talking about race at work can be a challenging and uncomfortable conversation for many people with good intentions. However, avoiding difficult conversations about race can lead to a lack of understanding and missed opportunities for growth and change.

In this article, we explore the importance of talking about race and the challenges that come with it and explain how to prepare for a productive dialogue. We also discuss best practices for facilitating diversity conversations in the workplace, creating a safe space for understanding systemic racism, providing psychological safety, and avoiding common company culture mistakes.


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The Importance of Talking About Race at Work


Race is a significant and often sensitive topic affecting our daily lives and work environments. Discussing race is necessary to create a more inclusive workplace culture where everyone feels valued and personal experiences are respected. By breaking the silence on race, we can address issues of discrimination, bias, and systemic racism that may exist within our organizations.

Talking about race can also provide an opportunity for personal and professional growth. It can help individuals better understand different perspectives and experiences, leading to more relationships and increased empathy and collaboration. Moreover, it can help organizations create policies and practices that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Challenges of Talking About Race in the Workplace


Despite the importance of discussing race, many white people still find it challenging. One of the main challenges is the fear of saying the wrong thing or unintentionally offending someone. This fear can lead to avoidance of the conversation altogether, perpetuating existing racial inequalities.

Black Americans in many companies, including black HR professionals, don't engage in race conversations with other employees simply because they don't feel safe doing so. After the death of George Floyd, the country experienced the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, yet productive conversations about systemic racism are challenging.

Other challenges include discomfort discussing sensitive topics about racial identity, lack of knowledge about race and racism, and resistance to change. Additionally, some individuals may feel that discussions about race are irrelevant to their work or that they do not have a role in promoting diversity and inclusion.

difficult conversations


How to Prepare for a Productive Conversation About Race at Work


Preparing for a dialogue about race is critical to ensure it is productive and respectful. Here are some tips to help you prepare:


Educate Yourself

Before engaging in a conversation about race, it is essential to educate yourself on the topic in relation to society. You can read books and articles or watch videos that discuss race and racism. Managers benefit most from attending DEI Training workshops or sessions.


Set Goals

Setting goals for the dialogue can prevent things from going wrong by staying on track with objectives. Some goals may include increasing awareness about racial issues in the black community, promoting empathy and understanding, or developing strategies to address racism in the workplace.


Choose a Facilitator

Selecting a facilitator for the conversation can help ensure that it remains productive and respectful. The facilitator should be knowledgeable about the worldview of race and the history of racism and can guide the dialogue effectively.


Take A "Let's Talk About Racism" Online Course

If you want to learn more about effective ways to talk about race at work, consider enrolling in our free "Let's Talk About Racism" online course. This course provides strategies for having productive conversations about race, promoting empathy and understanding, and creating more equity at work. Enroll today to start making a difference.


let's talk about racism course for employees


Watch a Video on Having Open Conversations

One of the best ways to prepare for a productive and engaging dialogue about race is to watch videos on having open conversations with black people. These videos can provide insight into what to expect during the discussion and tips on approaching the conversation.

Check out Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho.


Post-Conversation Communication and Next Steps


After the conversation about race, it is essential to follow up with participants and discuss the next steps. You can develop an action plan to address issues raised during the dialogue or provide resources for further learning and discussion.


Best Practices for Facilitating Race Conversations in the Workplace


Facilitating race conversations in the workplace can be challenging, but following these best practices can help your colleagues and companies ensure that they are productive and respectful:


Create a Safe Space

Creating a safe space to talk about race is essential to ensure participants feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and experiences. You can set ground rules for the conversation, such as active listening, respect for different viewpoints, and avoiding personal attacks.


Use Inclusive Language

Using inclusive language can help ensure that everyone feels valued and respected. You can use gender-neutral pronouns, avoid microaggressions, and address people by their preferred names and pronouns.


Focus on Action

Focusing on action can help ensure that the conversation leads to meaningful change. You can identify concrete steps that individuals or the leadership team or organization can take to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

unarmed black people


Equip Managers and Leaders to Discuss Race at Work


Managers and leaders are critical in promoting diversity and inclusion within their organizations. Equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to talk about race can help ensure that conversations are productive and respectful. You can provide DEI training and resources on race and racism, create a culture of open communication, use leadership, and lead by example.

Check out Vubiz's popular diversity and inclusion courses:


Reflect on the Culture of the Organization


Reflecting on the culture of the company or organization can help employees identify areas for improvement and promote safer spaces in a work environment. You can assess policies and practices, solicit employee feedback, and address any identified issues.


company resources disrupting racism in the workplace guide


Potential Questions and Discussion Starters for Conversations on Race in the Workplace


Here are some potential questions and discussion starters managers can use for conversations about race in the workplace:

  • What experiences have you had with race in the workplace?
  • How can we promote diversity and inclusion in our organization?
  • What are some ways that we can address racial bias in the workplace?
  • How can we ensure that everyone feels valued and respected in the workplace?
  • What barriers exist to creating more safe workplace spaces, and how can we overcome them?


Tips for Creating a Safe Space for Conversation About Race


Creating a safe space for conversations about race is essential to ensure participants feel comfortable sharing their experiences, personal feelings, and perspectives. Here are some tips for managers looking to create a safe space:


#1 Set Ground Rules

Setting ground rules for the conversation can help engage and ensure it remains respectful and productive. You can communicate guidelines for active listening, avoiding personal attacks, and respecting different viewpoints.


#2 Encourage Active Listening

Encouraging active listening can help ensure that everyone feels heard and valued. You can involve more dialogue, for example, by asking participants to reflect on what they have listened to and summarizing key points.


#3 Acknowledge Discomfort

Acknowledging discomfort can help develop a more supportive environment for the conversation. You can involve the person in acknowledging that discussing race can be challenging and that it is okay to feel uncomfortable.

jointly solve racial justice


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About Race at Work


Avoiding common mistakes when discussing race at work can help ensure the conversation is productive and respectful. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:


Assuming Colorblindness

Assuming that everyone is colorblind and a white person does not see race on the other side can be harmful and perpetuate existing racial inequalities. It is essential to realize and celebrate differences in race and ethnicity.


Centering Whiteness

Centering whiteness in conversations about race can be harmful and perpetuate existing racial inequalities. It is essential to recognize and center the perspectives and experiences of people of color.


Avoiding the Conversation

Avoiding the conversation about race can perpetuate existing racial inequalities and prevent progress toward a more inclusive workplace culture. It is essential to break the silence on race and address issues of discrimination and bias.


Resources for Ethnic Minority Employees

Providing resources for ethnic minority employees can help support them. Here are some resources that can be helpful:

  • Employee resource groups (ERGs)
  • Mentorship programs
  • Training and development programs
  • Health and wellness programs


In Summary: Stand Up For Black Employees and Promote Racial Justice


Talking about race at work is essential to promote racial justice and create safer places to talk about race. By breaking the silence on race, we can address issues of discrimination and bias and encourage empathy and understanding. Following best practices for facilitating diverse conversations, creating a safe space, and avoiding common mistakes can help ensure that conversations are productive and respectful.

Equipping managers and leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge to talk about race at work and reflect on the organization's culture can promote meaningful change. Together, we can work towards a more just and equitable society.

For more information, please contact us to inquire about our DEI Training programs.