Skip to main content
Home » Diversity in Business » How to Talk About Race in the Workplace
Diversity in Business

How to Talk About Race in the Workplace

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

President and CEO, SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management)

According to SHRM research, Black American workers are four times more likely than white workers to report unfair treatment due to their race. Yet 46 percent of Black American workers say their managers don’t support discussions of racial justice issues at work — and that’s a problem because it’s time to talk about race at work.

The three keys

What leads to honest, open discussion in the workplace? Here are three keys:

  1. Listen: Do you listen to understand or to respond? In order to connect, it’s natural to look for parallels of our own experiences. But we must learn to truly listen, hearing without projecting ourselves onto others. Don’t conflate, compare, or contrast. Instead, listen with an open heart and mind.  
  2. Discuss: Communication is foundational. Leaders must determine the right ways to engage in these conversations. Teams should come together to discuss — not debate. Keep conversations from veering off track by creating discussion rules ahead of time. Listen to various perspectives, and then make a plan to take next steps. 
  3. Regroup: Safe, respectful conversation encourages empathy, builds trust, and helps bridge race-based disconnects. These conversations can’t just happen once; they must be a recurring part of your culture as you chart the course forward. Measure growth among your team. Request feedback. Schedule check-ins. Enjoy the process.  

At SHRM, we know better workplaces lead to a better world. Change requires us to learn from one another as we embrace accountability and act authentically. Together, with a simple conversation strategy — and a commitment to equity inclusion — we can work to move the workplace forward. 

Next article