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Reinventing the Workplace with Emotional Intelligence


May 20, 2020  |  Janet Miller Evans


Examining Bias, Racism, and Microaggressions at Work.

Emotional Intelligence is a powerful tool for addressing concerns about racial bias and microaggressions at work. Practicing emotional intelligence techniques can be a powerful tool in shifting mindsets. Right now, people of color are facing so many roadblocks to doing their best work, and anxieties are high. Data shows that the Latinx and Black communities are bearing the brunt of the effects of Coronavirus. Black individuals account for a disproportionate amount of deaths caused by COVID-19. But before we discuss these issues, it’s essential to tie in the recent news regarding Ahmaud Arbery.
When there are so many deaths related to COVID-19 in the Black community, this kind of heinous crime is even more disturbing than it would be on its own. It brings up important questions for the Black community: How do we come together and navigate this issue when we cannot physically gather? How do we find trust at work when there is so much pain and mistrust in the Black community when it comes to race? The subject of racial bias is a genuine issue for the community. It is essential to talk about race in a professional setting because a problem brings stress to society as a whole is bound to affect their work-life just as much as their personal life.

Connect with Shared Experiences

So, where do we start? The discussion should begin in the Boardroom and at the CEO Executive Suite. Meetings in all divisions, departments, and sections of the company should start with emotional check-ins. Ask employees how the state of the nation affects them on a larger scale and a daily basis. Provide executive and team leaders with emotional intelligence (EQ) training. If employers want to tackle sensitive issues, they need to train their leaders to handle these issues. Give employees a chance to share their experiences because when people can tell their story, they feel seen, they feel valued, and they feel their company working for them, not just them working for the company. We’ve all had a shared experience in this pandemic; however, our experience has not been the same. There is an opportunity to take advantage of this unusual and uncertain time to create space to support employees emotionally. The line between work life and home life will become thinner and thinner as more employees will continue to work from home permanently. The more that we can help people understand their emotions and how those emotions affect their actions, the better off your organization will be.

What tactics can we take to support our Black employees through these painful issues? First we must acknowledge a barrier exists.. Racism is an immensely complicated problem, and there is no catch-all solution, but creating a space where people can talk about real-life issues, pose potential solutions, and supporting one another is a high starting point. Racism in America is a crisis just like Coronavirus, and we need to address it as such. In order to progress, these issues come up, it’s essential that we not brush aside or bury the topic. The continued avoidance can and in many cases have had a negative effect on the business’ bottom line.

Understanding Employees without Bias

How do we help employees understand their feelings? Being able to name the emotion is key. Sadness brings a different sense than despair. Happy elicits a different reaction than elated; anxiety different from stress. There are over 20,000 words to describe emotions, so narrowing the feeling down to a name allows people to see how those emotions affect their choices, and then maybe they will see a clear and healthy course of action that provides a better outcome for all involved. Being able to attach a name to emotions also helps us regulate them and acknowledge our biases. There are so many different types of prejudices that come into play during emotional decision-making processes.

Another bias that EQ can help combat is normalcy bias. Normalcy bias is a term used to describe the feeling that there is a disaster in play, but it will not affect you. This bias prevents people in power from taking action. Blacks have been living with normalcy bias since birth. Frequently, people in power or people who have racial biases fail to acknowledge racism. Racism is a disaster, and if you fail to recognize it as such, that is a type of normalcy bias. Normalcy bias is the enemy of progressive reform because it is often the decision-makers that fail to see racism, and how deeply victims of racism are affected by it. Using Emotional agility allows leaders and employees to point out their own biases and then be a part of the solution. I like to say that EQ training is about calling things up, without calling them out. Approaching prejudice and racism in a non-accusatory manner, but rather with an educational tone, it is how you force leaders to be a part of the solution. Bias drives racism, and racism is what causes wrong actions and behaviors.

Empathy plays a significant role here. People are very comfortable thinking about themselves, but uncomfortable putting themselves in the shoes of someone experiencing racism and bias. A recent study by the Center for Talent Innovation, Being Black in Corporate America has many interesting findings of a Black person’s experience in a corporate environment. The research has shown that black colleagues are more ambitious than their white colleagues by 12%. Black professionals see barriers to advancement that are mostly invisible to their white colleagues. These roadblocks may be racial prejudice at work or couched in microaggressions.

Combat Microaggressions with Empathy

Several microaggressions are all too familiar for the black community. There are microaggressions like someone asking, “Can I touch your hair?” to a black person with natural hair or someone complimented with “You’re so articulate!” as if they wouldn’t be. People in power are more likely to take credit for a black employee’s ideas or even characterize their black peers as “angry.” There are also some new microaggressions that we are seeing because of companies working from home. A female manager shared, during video conferences, she would hear comments like “Oh, you have such a lovely home,” repeated over and over. What are the implications of comments like these, and how do we eliminate them?

The times are challenging for everyone; people have had to invite colleagues into their homes for the first time. It is always important to acknowledge that someone else’s challenges are different from your own. Another common microaggression amongst white people is to respond to a black person’s experience by trying to relate to it with one of their own. There is nothing like the racism a black person in America experiences. A white person attempting to equate their personal experience is belittling, and an attempt to erase the trauma that black people endure.

Companies would do well to acknowledge the inequities that the Black community is experiencing during this global pandemic. The Covid Tracking Project, Alexis Madrigal, Lead, partnered with The Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center, Ibram X. Kendi, Executive Director and author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, to track COVID-19 statistics that are not being captured. As the virus sweeps the country, in states like Alabama, blacks make up 26% of the population but 44% of cases and 46% of deaths. In Washington D.C., blacks are 46% of the people, 54% of positive examples, and 78% of deaths. In Philadelphia, blacks are 12% of the people, 30% of cases, and 21% of the deaths. These numbers are atrocious. Black Americans are accounting for most of the deaths caused by Coronavirus, and Black people are experiencing COVID in a much different way that whites.

Blacks face extreme difficulties at work, at home, and in America overall. It cannot be stressed enough that now is the time to acknowledge and reflect on the tremendous emotional difficulties many blacks are facing-the loss of loved ones to death, senseless murders, and loss of jobs, along with the stressors accompanying the pandemic. Even someone with low EQ can acknowledge that emotions and anxieties are at an all-time high. Companies should seize this opportunity to educate their leaders about their own bias about specific roadblocks people of color face. Emotional Intelligence can assist in developing a new language and impactful solutions needed to eradicate the massive racial inequities that persist in the workplace.

Watch my LinkedIn Live Discussion with Laraine McKinnon here: Reinventing the Workplace: Examining Bias, Racism, and Microaggressions at Work.


biasdiversity and inclusionemotional intelligenceunconscious bias

Janet Miller Evans

Janet Miller Evans is the founder & CEO of Entevos, a coaching and consulting company using evidence-based research and neuroscience assessments in the areas of emotional intelligence, trust, resilience, leadership, and team engagement for clients such as AT&T, the State Bar of California, UNICEF, World Food Program, and the City of Berkeley, California. Janet began her career in business roles in sales and marketing, and accelerated into sales management and executive project management, at Fortune 100 companies including FedEx, IBM, UPS, and Comcast. Janet is a member of The Links, Inc., serving as one of 16,000 professional women of color enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans. She also is a Member of the Advisory Board for Oji Life Labs, an EdTech startup that had developed a breakthrough digital learning system that builds essential emotional intelligence skills. Janet attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she earned both a Master of Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Marketing.



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