How to Navigate the Racial Divide at Work

Not long ago, I hosted a LinkedIn Live to discuss the racial divide and how we can all show up as better humans in these turbulent times – particularly in the face of people who are demanding less talk and more action.

As an African-American woman, I believe we MUST continue to have these discussions because they need to remain top of mind. We have to remember that this is not just another news cycle. This is a reality for so many.

Here are some of our top takeaways:

Use the influence that you already have

When we talk about talking and then walking, we need to remember that what we’re essentially doing is using the sphere of influence that we have – whether that’s a big circle or a small circle – to get the word out and drive action. You have more influence than you might think. Start where you are with what you have.

Stay committed for the long haul

Solving the centuries-long issue of the racial divide in this country and worldwide is not as simple as flipping a switch. That switch does not exist, and so we have to be prepared to stay committed to having antiracist conversations and taking antiracist action for the long haul.  Small steps taken repeatedly will help move us forward. Start with one person at a time, one ripple at a time – and don’t be discouraged if change doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like.

Cultivate meaningful relationships that will help you grow

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have meaningful relationships in your life that will enrich and empower you and help you grow. When you build those kinds of relationships with people who are different from you, it’s in the conversations that you share that will help bring about change – especially when you can challenge one another to see something from a different perspective, perhaps uncovering some unconscious biases you didn’t know you had in the process.

Being intentional in the way you have these conversations with people and the way you search out people who have different perspectives than you do is also important because that’s where professional growth really happens – not when you’re talking to the people who agree with you all the time.

Surround yourself with people who are willing to deliver uncomfortable feedback

When you surround yourself with people who are willing to give you feedback that might be uncomfortable for you to hear, you can practice being curious and considering where you might need to change your approach or outlook. Without those outside perspectives, you might never expose the areas in which you need to grow.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is imperative in order to gain a new understanding about yourself or another person’s experience.

We cannot have meaningful dialog if we’re not willing to see another person’s perspective. Consider how you might rise above your cynicism or any preconceptions and find the courage to have uncomfortable conversations in which to invite more understanding.

When you know better, do better

Maya Angelo once said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” In order to do better, we have to know better. What that means is we each have our own challenges, belief systems, our and models of the way the world “should” work – and that’s uncomfortable because we all want to believe we’re right. But that’s the challenge for each of us – to educate ourselves about other people’s experiences and challenges in order for us to grow and change our corner of the world.

Leave room for hope

Consider how you can be less of a historian and more of a visionary. How might you cultivate a greater sense of optimism about the future? And how might you uplift and encourage others for the road ahead so that we have the energy to move forward and continue to do the work that’s necessary to heal the divide between us? Leaving room for hope gives us the strength we need to advocate for change and the faith we need to stay the course.

Understanding is the key to healing the racial divide, and the responsibility belongs to all of us.


Heather Younger
Heather Younger
Heather Younger gets it. As a best-selling author, international TEDx speaker, podcast host, facilitator, and Forbes Coaches Council coach, she has earned her reputation as “The Employee Whisperer”. Her experiences as a CEO, entrepreneur, manager, attorney, writer, coach, listener, speaker, collaborator and mother all lend themselves to a laser-focused clarity into what makes employees of organizations and companies – large and small - tick. Heather has facilitated more than 150 workshops, reaching +100 employers and their employees. Her motivation and philosophy have reached more than 20,000 attendees at her speaking engagements on large and small stages. Companies have charted their future course based on her leading more than 100 focus groups. In addition, she has helped companies see double-digit employee engagement score increases through the implementation of her laws and philosophies. She has driven results in a multitude of industries, including banking, oil & gas, construction, energy, and federal and local government. Heather brings a tenacious and inspirational outlook to issues plaguing the workforces of today. Her book “The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty” hit the Forbes Must-Read list and is a go-to source for HR professionals seeking insight into their organization's dynamics. Heather’s writing can also be found on her blog at EmployeFanatix, as well as articles in Forbes, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, American Express Open Forum, and more. Coupled with her Leadership with Heart podcast, weekly videos, and employer newsletters, Heather stays connected to organizations long after she leaves the stage or conference roomWhen all the emails are returned and the mic is turned off, and Heather acts as co-manager of her busy household in Aurora, Colorado with her husband, where they oversee their four children.

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  1. Thanks, Heather (et al.),

    Very good stuff, indeed. The two pieces of this puzzle (and it may very well be a puzzle that’s missing lots of pieces and always will be, so part of our challenge is to accept that it will never be complete, only inviting the next piece).

    Discomfort is an essential part of learning, yet too often we mistake discomfort for pain – that mistake helps feed addiction, btw.

    Thanks also for the feedback piece. I work lots and lots with feedback as the essential practice of leadership. I use a model called facilitative feedback, which has three rules:

    Feedback is a problem-solving tool. Most performance problems are due to cluelessness rather than capacity or malfeasance.
    Feedback is always about the giver. We never need to protect or defend ourselves, on either end of the operation.
    Feedback is a gift, no matter what’s in the box.

    Keep on keepin’ on!