Risha Grant: Black Women Need Allies in the Workplace - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

Risha Grant, the founder and CEO of Risha Grant L.L.C., an award-winning diversity and inclusion consulting and communications firm, recently posted a thought-provoking and provocative question on her Facebook page:

What do Black people do that irritate White people?

The responses from white people evoked counter-responses from black folk ranging from seething outrage to an appreciation for this open dialogue. You can read them here: 16 THINGS BLACK PEOPLE SAY OR DO THAT ANNOY WHITE PEOPLE AT WORK (AND IN GENERAL). 

However, Grant is not simply being a provocateur. For the past 18 years, she has helped major corporations tackle their people problems and solve their diversity and inclusion issues. Now she wants to help you form the relationships you need by equipping you with tools to build allies.

In an exclusive interview with Black Enterprise, Grants speaks about how black women can tap into their power and eliminate what she has coined Bias Synapse, easily remembered as BS, in the workplace.

 

The Foundation of Allyship

 

Black Enterprise: Why is building allies at work critical for black women?

Risha Grant: Black women are commonly and unfairly stereotyped as angry and uncompromising. Building a support system of allies is critical in keeping those misconceptions in check. Additionally, building authentic relationships with other co-workers can help you to excel simply because these allies will understand, support, and speak up for who you are and how you operate. From a collaborative standpoint, working with allies allows others to experience your work ethic, creativity, and problem-solving ability. This will provide your allies with the knowledge needed to tout your abilities to the leaders within your company.

In an earlier conversation, we spoke about some of the pillars of alliances being authenticity, communication, and trust. What else would you say is key to the equation of allyship?

Collaboration, strategy, and equality. All these pillars are instrumental to the success of creating allies, but collaboration is the secret sauce to creating an allyship that will boost you to the C-suite. Collaborating allows others to truly understand your superhero powers as they see you fully flexing your leadership muscles. When it comes to strategy, it’s important to always have one. The strategy keeps you on point in recognizing who you should be seeking out as allies. Create a list of the qualities and abilities you need in an ally to climb the next step on the corporate ladder. Equality is super important because being someone’s ally can be draining at times. You want to make sure that you are reciprocating what you expect from others. There is nothing worse than becoming a drain on someone else in your quest to get ahead but when you are needed, you never have time to fit them into your schedule. Make sure you are equally vested in your ally’s success. Not only will it make them want to support you more, but it will also become a point of praise regarding your personality.

[RELATED: 27 THINGS WHITE PEOPLE SHOULD NEVER, EVER SAY TO THEIR BLACK CO-WORKERS]

How can women form authentic relationships with their co-workers?

Being open, honest, and inclusive are the keys to building authentic relationships. Women, especially black women, may find this somewhat difficult because we have not typically found that we can trust people at work. We tend to lean on and confide in other black women because we are comfortable with them but it’s important that we open our circle up and give people a chance to experience our greatness. This is done through the inclusion of others. Opening yourself up to new experiences will enrich your work and personal life. Authentic relationships should happen organically but there is nothing wrong with planning your strategy for success. Be careful with honesty. Honesty is important but brutal honesty without tact does not build relationships, it destroys them. Meet people where they are. That means, address them with your honesty in a way that it can be received with grace and not humiliation.

Getting past the BS

 

Some women have been mistreated in some form by co-workers, how can they move past that so that they can build some kind of trust and positive working relationship?

Grace. I heard it said that the hardest thing we will ever do as humans is to forgive people who have never asked for our forgiveness. It’s important to do this for our own peace and success. You can’t build trust without forgiveness, so don’t make that your goal. Understand who you are dealing with and then work with this co-worker in a way that makes you comfortable. You can certainly still build a positive working relationship but keeping work at the forefront is instrumental to your own level of comfort. Learn to manage through your co-worker’s weaknesses for your success and that of your team.

Can you elaborate more on what you call the “pecking order” when it comes to how black women have to select allies in the workplace?

Black women must be strategic but bold in selecting allies. White men are at the top of the hierarchy and everyone else falls in between while black women are consistently at or near the bottom of the hiring and promoting pool. Black women need to focus on finding an ally that will not be envious or have the scarcity mentality. This means that certain people feel there is not enough to go around so becoming your ally could stop them from achieving some level of success. I recommend creating allies with white men, but it needs to be white men who recognize the power and privilege bestowed to them because then they are powerful allies. They can move mountains to support you and won’t worry about how it will affect their upward climb. But, remember you always want to give back what you are getting.

Allyship is a two-way street

 

How can women stand with their allies when tough times arise and still protect themselves?

This is tricky. At best, you may lose standing at work with your peers and at worst, you could lose your job. This is where ethics and character take center stage. We must support each other and typically suck at it. There is power in numbers and you never know when you will need someone to stand with you. Be a voice when someone is silenced but most importantly as you stand courageously with your ally, do so respectfully but document everything. It’s better to show it than to tell it.

What are some of the office behaviors that people should stay away from as they seek allies?

Pissy Polite people! This is a phrase I coined in my book to define consistent but subtle actions that poison work environments and co-workers. These are seemingly polite people, but their actions are accompanied by a subtle sarcastic undertone that makes it apparent that they don’t really like you or it’s a behavior exuded by individuals who feel obligated to be polite but can’t fake a sincere action. Overall, follow your gut instincts and not the office gossip. You could miss out on a powerful ally and friend if you don’t get to know people for yourself.

The return on relationships

 

What are some of the doors that open when you have allies?

Leadership opportunities, friendships, more responsibility, promotions and an overall, more positive work experience because you know someone is down for you and wants to see you succeed.

 

To learn more about how you can form allies, meet us at the Women of Power Summit for a timely conversation, “Can’t We All Just Get Along? How to Cultivate Diverse Allies” hosted by Pfizer on March 1 in Las Vegas.