Entrepreneurs

How Managers Can Dismantle Workplace Trauma

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As CEO of The Memo LLC, Minda Harts has been advocating for women of color and endeavoring to dismantle racism in the workplace her whole career. But most importantly, she’s committed to helping those same women heal from the trauma that workplace racism has caused, often manisfesting in low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. In her new book, Right Within, Harts offers advice on how women can acknowledge their pain and recover from their heartbreaks with the right healing tools, and she continues to raise awareness about these challenges among industry leaders and managers.

Natalie Sinsigalli/NSP Studio

We caught up with her recently, and she dove deeper into how the workplace can continue evolving so it’s a safe and productive space for all professionals, particularly women of color. 

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Why did you decide to write Right Within?

Since 2015, I have been working as an equity and workplace consultant for companies, organizations and entrepreneurs who want to make a systemic difference in the workplace — creating and implementing inclusive practices that make the workplace work for everyone, not a select few. I decided to write my second book about workplace trauma and how it has eroded many workplaces. For example, if a manager does not have soft skills like good communication, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution, there’s a chance that manager’s lack of cultural awareness could retraumatize some of their employees. A manager’s role, in my opinion, is to eliminate barriers for the people on their team, not create more. 

How can entrepreneurs better ensure psychological safety within the workplace for their employees?

This is a great question, because a workplace cannot be equitable if it’s not safe. Some workplaces exhibit racist, sexist and homophobic behaviors. That might not be the intention of the entrepreneur building their work culture, but if they aren’t aware of how their employees need the space to bring their diverse backgrounds to the workplace or initiate a courageous conversation, then safety is not there, and eventually, that will lead to low retention rates, especially with those who might be the “only” or one of few [minorities]. The first step is normalizing a culture of having conversations that might be hard initially. If they’re rooted in equity, then there is space to find solutions that work for the entire organization.

How Managers Can Dismantle Workplace Trauma

Image credit: Natalie Sinsigalli/NSP Studio

What resources should managers and employees utilize when they’ve experienced workplace trauma and discrimination?

I am inviting all managers and entrepreneurs who manage a staff to take the “Manager’s Pledge” to commit to equity. We can no longer allow managers and leaders to opt in to equitable practices and conversations; it has to be mandatory. For example, one pillar of the Manager’s Pledge is, “Even if I make a mistake, I commit to the daily practice of being a better manager who is committed to equity for all.” If managers would be willing to commit to equity daily, then we can create a culture of inclusion. And if managers are committed to this process, it allows for their employees to feel safe bringing up experiences that might have been triggering and/or created feelings of isolation or lack of belonging.

What are the business advantages when managers become more invested in employees’ mental health?

In 2021, there was a survey conducted about returning back to work during the pandemic. In the report, 53% of Black employees stated they experienced belonging for the first time at their employers’ while working remotely. And their productivity was enhanced because, at home, they felt safer from microaggressions, office politics and the isolation of being the “only” or one of the few Black employees. What this data signals to me is if entrepreneurs and leaders don’t take these numbers seriously, they are going to lose their diverse talent. It’s important that leaders take proactive steps to ensure that their employees aren’t returning back to normal, but returning back to better, because knowing this information and not doing anything to make the workplace safer for their employees is not good for company morale and will negatively impact the company’s bottom line.

How can healing from workplace trauma improve for employees who have experienced toxic work environments?

One in four Black employees has reported racial discrimination taking place at work. And over 42% of Black employees have reported experiencing racism at work. And if you are constantly experiencing racialized work environments, that will eventually impact your productivity and mental health. Healing, in this context, is about rebuilding a culture of trust and belonging in the workplace. I would strongly suggest business owners consider that two things can be true at the same time. As a leader, they might not experience racism or sexism, but someone who is in the minority might experience it every day, and they can no longer pretend that the toxicity isn’t present. It’s imperative for entrepreneurs to think about the mental hygiene of every employee. One way to do this is to provide conflict-resolution training for everyone. This would help create safe spaces to have hard conversations and establish the tools toward providing equitable results. Another practice could be on-site mental health therapists or group activities to help build trust among employees. 

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How can managers ultimately create a more equitable and supportive workplace?

Every employee should feel comfortable bringing their wins and their experiences to their managers without fear of losing their jobs or being dismissed. Too often, managers tend to shy away from any type of conflict they might not deem as a problem, and that is actually eroding any potential for psychological safety. Start with asking each person on your team: “What do you need from me to do the best work of your career?” Don’t be afraid to ask people what they need from you to be successful. If we start with asking better questions and not taking what might be said as a personal attack, we can start to normalize more equitable behavior and less workplace paranoia. The workplace needs more courageous leaders who won’t shy away from committing to more equitable hiring, pay transparency and upward mobility for all.

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