How Organizations Can Support the Mental Health of Black Employees

June 14, 2020

By Harvard Business Review |

The first email arrived at 8:00am last Monday and was from a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “Are you available to assist our Black employees around the events of the last few days?”

By 10:00am, the tone of the emails had changed. “Our Black employees have demanded that senior management bring someone in to talk with them about their mental health.”

By noon, my inbox was full of similar requests and pleas. As I read through the emails, and held brief virtual meetings with HR and DEI leaders around the country, one thing became clear: Leaders were overwhelmed and at a loss as to how to help their Black employees.

Here’s what I told them, and what you might find useful as you try to navigate similar challenges at your company. First, it’s important to understand that when Black Americans watched the video of George Floyd being killed by a white police officer, we saw ourselves. In those eight minutes and 46 seconds, we were horrified, enraged, and anguished as a man who could have been our spouse, our brother, our son, our nephew, our cousin, or us was killed. Collectively, Black Americans were traumatized.

Trauma is the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening incident. The unrelenting series of events Black Americans have witnessed before and after the killing of George Floyd is racial trauma.

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