Racism is a prevalent issue in today’s society. On Episode 119 of Talent & Growth we spoke to Hannah Litt about how we can create equity in the workplace, covering topics like diversity and inclusion initiatives, white supremacy and business’s responsibilities to their employees and customers. Hannah is the Head of Equity, Diversity, Anti-Racism and Resourcing at MindWeaver, and her work is centred around creating a just and equitable environment, both in the workplace and wider society.
What are the foundations of an environment of psychological safety?
It will be different for every single person. When someone joins my team, my objective is to make them feel safe. It won’t be 100% safe, and that’s not on the company, that’s on people’s past experiences and trauma, but we can aim to get people as close to 100% as we can. That is my ongoing objective. That means showing up for them, whether they needed something, whether they were unwell, or whether their family needed something. Whatever the reason was, it’s important that I’m showing up for my team in whichever way I can. Some people say, ‘I just treat all of my team the same’, but I’ve never treated my team in the same way, because my team are not the same people, their needs are different. I treat my team dependent on what they need. I’m not perfect, I will make mistakes. But I promise that I’ll show up the best I can when you need me, and hopefully that equates to safety.
You’ve spoken publicly about the importance of overcoming white supremacy in the workplace. What do you think are the most effective steps companies can take to create more equitable workplaces in that way?
White supremacy isn’t just in the workplaces, it’s everywhere. I think the most important thing is that people realise that this is a white problem. This is a problem that has been created by white people, and that will make people wince when they hear it because they think “It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it.” This is actually a white people problem to solve and dismantle because we, as the global majority, don’t hold the power. That is the first thing that white people need to recognise; that they hold the power. Then they need to remove the fragility that comes with that realisation. A lot of conversations that I’ve been having recently with white people have been, “If I do this, then what’s in it for me?” My response has been “This is about saving humanity and doing the right thing. This is about actually showing up for other people.”
I am well aware that I am South Asian, and I have been raised in a system of white supremacy too. I’m not absolved of being racist either. Anti-blackness is a thing in my community, so I have to do the work as well. It’s really important that people of the global majority are not absolved of this work either, because anti-blackness is a thing I have to work on every day as well. We need to look at who holds power as a whole, and who’s most likely to be writing the policies, signing off the pay, etc. A lot of that work comes from within, by removing your own fragility and doing the work.
How can we contribute to dismantling white supremacy, and what are some tangible steps we can take to make a difference?
I always say Google is free. Google is there. There are so many creators of the global majority that are putting out free content every single day. So you have me, Elizabeth Lieber, Sharon Hurley, Shareen Daniels, A.B. Adamson… There are so many great people out there who are putting out great content for free, using their emotional labour. There are some great books as well by people like Saira Rao and Regina Jackson. They do have cash apps and stuff that you can pay them through if you want to contribute in return for that labour.
You just need to read and digest and take the emotion away from it. At the end of the day, the black majority are living in discomfort. A white woman once told me that she likes to turn her phone away when she sees an injustice, because she can’t bear to see it. What I had to say to her was, “That’s your privilege. You get to turn your phone around and not look at it. When I go to the supermarket, I can’t turn the colour of my skin off. I still get the microaggressions when I go into the office and I don’t get to turn it off. The fact that you get to turn it off is your privilege, and that is where you’re upholding white supremacy.” That’s what people need to know. Everybody needs to confront those uncomfortable emotions to work through it together and make it better.
What has been your experience with the intersection of mental health and racial justice in the workplace, and how do these two issues intersect?
I didn’t realise that my mental health was impacted by racial justice until I started to unpack my own stuff about 18 months ago. It’s ongoing, but the impact that racial trauma has had on my mental health is huge. I had locked away what happened systemically through schooling. The fact that I was just written off as difficult when I actually have ADHD definitely has a racial element. Working in the organisation that I work in now, seeing the impact of the trauma that people have faced at the hands of managers and organisations, that people don’t even realise, has been really confronting.
I still have moments now where I think of situations that I was in, where I go, “Hold on a minute, that wasn’t right.” It still comes back to me now that they were microaggressions which had been so normalised that it happened on a daily basis and nobody called it out. I actually went through an old WhatsApp chat yesterday with an old manager of mine, and I was like, “Whoah, that was not okay.” Even though we may have left organisations, we’re still working through the damage that racial microaggressions inflicted on us. There were things that we were just dealing with on a daily basis. That impacts your mental health a lot.
What role do white women have in dismantling racism in the workplace?
This is a really important conversation. I’m not saying that white men don’t have a role to play, and I’ve had some really interesting conversations and experiences with white men. But, because everybody is focusing on gender equity, and the progress we’ve made there, white women fail to recognise the privilege that they have. They uphold white supremacy, and the harm that has been caused to the global majority by white women is massive. They need to acknowledge the role that they play in upholding white supremacy, because it often isn’t recognised.
I had a conversation yesterday where a white woman referred to me as a commodity, which is not okay. It’s really important for them to recognise that, yes, we need to talk about women’s equity, but actually, they don’t support black women, trans women, etc. in those conversations. That’s something we really need to unpack.
It goes back to the tokenism side of things. It’s really important that the white women that are in the room are dismantling those patriarchal structures and paving the way for women of the global majority. What we do see is a lot of white women who are making quite a bit of progress in the gender equity space, but they are rolling the ladders up behind them. It’s really important to understand the role that white women played within white supremacy, slavery, colonisation, etc.
How can companies foster a workplace culture that values and supports diversity, equity and inclusion?
I feel it’s still a tick-box exercise. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. A lot of people are still doing it for the investors, because they feel they need to, etc. Diversity doesn’t mean inclusion. It’s about action. How are we still here? How are people still feeling like they don’t belong? How is there still systemic racism? We need to get to the point where people are actually looking at the systems and the processes, because bringing in more people isn’t going to make a difference. It’s got to be a huge shift in their policies and wider culture.
To learn more about creating equity in the workplace, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here.