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CultureNov 09, 2020

Credera Listens: Growing by Getting Uncomfortable Talking about Race

Jay Hover

On Tuesday, August 11, Credera hosted the second panel in our Credera Listens series with an esteemed panel of cross-industry leaders to discuss their professional and personal journey around topics such as race, racism, anti-racism, allyship, microaggressions, and generally diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As Credera continues our mission to make an extraordinary impact on our colleagues and the community, we cannot ignore the terrible injustices many are experiencing. While this panel is not the solution, it is a step on our journey to better care and justice for our colleagues, neighbors, families, and friends as part of Credera’s overarching diversity and inclusion initiative.

Three panelists shared their stories, perspectives, and opinions with us: Julia Simon, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Mary Kay; Sherina Smith, vice president and head of marketing at American Family Insurance; and Tony Hobley, president at Accelerated Marketing Partners, an Omnicom Performance Media Group. Credera’s President and CEO Justin Bell hosted the panel.

Below are some important lessons from the conversation. We hope they are as valuable to you as they were to the Credera audience.

Getting Uncomfortable to Grow

A key takeaway from the panel was the need to start having honest, open, and at times uncomfortable conversations about race. Simon explained why her new priority at work is that others should not be comfortable when talking about race. She realized that after years of trying to keep others comfortable, it actually does everyone a disservice (herself included) to not engage in difficult conversations. These conversations are what creates awareness, action, and meaningful change.

Smith weighed in on this topic as well, noting that it is a privilege to avoid having difficult or uncomfortable conversations. In many situations, minorities can feel vulnerable and compelled to minimize their experiences so that colleagues in the majority aren’t offended or uncomfortable by the conversation. This is problematic as it conveys to the person sharing their struggle that the listener is uncomfortable with hearing the problems that one can encounter being Black or a person of color.

“Until we can all feel comfortable, no one should be comfortable,” Smith said. Panelists agreed we all need to start having honest conversations that enable people to show up as their full, authentic selves.

Learning About Race as a Minority

Several panelists recalled experiences growing up where they felt out of place both at school and in their own neighborhoods. In school, they were one of the few Black students in a majority white school, and they also felt out of place in their home neighborhoods since they spent their days trying to fit in with white students. They were forced to resort to code switching and maintaining multiple personas as an attempt to fit in and try to adapt to the contrasting environments.

Hobley recalled growing up striving to be non-racial and a peacemaker of sorts when discussing racial topics with others. As a survival mechanism, he found himself minimizing his identity as a Black man and thought the more that he could fit in, the more successful he could be. Upon reflection, Hobley realized that his identity as a husband, father, and business leader was enriched by his background and where he came from.

“To really change the dynamic, we can’t be afraid to confront and discuss issues so we can work to get to a place where all people don’t have to worry about code switching or being different,” Hobley said.

Creating an Anti-Racist Culture and Engaging Allies

Creating an environment of trust within teams was noted as key to helping create an anti-racist culture. Trust with colleagues is crucial so conflicts can be addressed and honest conversations had. Encouraging feedback when mistakes are made is important for addressing discriminatory (even if unintentional) behavior, but it also facilitates an environment of learning and can help disassociate judgment from the behavior.

Be aware and check your unconscious biases. An unconscious bias can be demonstrated in how an attribute, like assertiveness, can be perceived as a negative for one gender or race and a positive for another. Creating an environment where teams feel empowered to identify, address, and discuss issues is paramount to creating a safe and equitable workplace.

The panelists wrapped up with some words of encouragement for allies: don’t give up, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, show up, listen, be genuine, and be open to critique. There are no perfect allies.

“The moment that you start looking for perfection, you’ll start diminishing the number of allies that you can have,” said Smith. It’s important to be receptive and forgiving for those who are trying and are putting in the work to educate themselves and create change.

Moving Forward

Credera would like to send a special thanks again to our incredible panelists for sharing their personal experiences and demonstrating inclusive leadership.

The Credera Listens series provided an opportunity to hear from leaders from various backgrounds and to create a space in the workplace to speak honestly and candidly about the issues facing individuals of many backgrounds. Though this panel will certainly not address all problems or heal all wounds, we hope it is a step in the right direction toward growth.

If you'd like to learn more about the Credera Listens initiative, please visit this page.

Note: Lara Burnside and Joi Freeman were also scheduled to attend but encountered technical difficulties joining the virtual event. 

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