have the opportunity to anticipate the consequences and determine whether you are willing to take them.
Find trusted agents. Find people you trust in the dominant groups (race or gender) and periodically check in with them about your issues, behaviors, and perceptions. It is often difficult to know or understand how others may interpret your behaviors.
However, if you have one or more people you can trust in those other groups, they may be able to help you see how people like themselves may perceive and interpret your behaviors. Be willing to reciprocate the effort of your trusted agents by serving in a similar capacity.
WHAT YOU AS COLLEAGUES CAN DO
The key to clearing the miasma that surrounds [race and gender] is to adjust the way we view, or don’t view, them. You can do this by consciously developing an open mind-set and proactively soliciting relationships that cross race and gender lines.
Respect all people. To accomplish this goal effectively, look closely at your attitudes for any conscious — and perhaps more important, unconscious — biases that may be driving your thought processes and behaviors.
As a part of this process, people have to recognize what stereotypes they may have accepted as true or partially true, and then work to free themselves of these influences. Work to promote respectful individual and systemic treatment for all in your organization. Depending on your corporate responsibilities, you might do this through policymaking, hiring and promotional practices, assignment of projects, and so forth.
Don’t over assume similarities. Although there are always some similarities, assuming more similarities than exist can work to separate and add to the alienation, rather than to bring you and others closer together.
One classic example involves the relationship between black and white women. Having something like race or gender in common certainly can be a starting place for developing a bond, but the relationship must be nurtured as the differences between the groups are acknowledged, respected, and understood in terms of both challenges and opportunities.
Find trusted agents. Keep in mind that your agent can speak only for himself or herself, not for African Americans at large. In fact it is reasonable to assume that if you view your agent as a group spokesperson, she most likely will not see you as a trustworthy agent. You and your agent must recognize each other as individuals who may be able to shed light on a group’s behavior rather than as people who are indistinguishable from the group.
The organizational and relationship dynamics that stem from the combination of identity, responsibility, and gender are complex. Understanding their interplay and the nuances of their expression sets the groundwork for understanding and building purposeful professional relationships.
Reprinted from Leading in Black and White by Ancella B. Livers and Keith A. Caver. Copyright © 2003 by John Wiley & Sons Inc. by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint. (Log on to blackenterprise.com/books to order a copy.)