It is challenging for me to write this article during these unusual times, but I have a duty towards my 6-year-old biracial son to share guidelines with others on how to dismantle racism at the workplace. I recently shared this post below to show one of the challenges I face as a black mother. I’m pleasantly surprised and grateful to see that so many people showed their support for how I was feeling during this time.

The Killer Bees Attack

The way I have experienced racism at the workplace is like being stung by killer bees frequently, and then after the attack, I have to act “normal” because the person saw it as a joke. I never spoke up about my encounters with racism because it is not an easy thing to do, especially when the work environment was not safe (enough) to do so.

Personal Experience With Racism

Nor did I want to let these negative experiences hinder me from finding a job or an interim assignment. Like many people of color, I have bottled it in and found ways to cope with racism. Twelve years ago, I applied for an IT position at an IT company. The vacancy stated, “native Dutch person.” I was born and raised in the Netherlands, so I can speak and write Dutch to make my point come across. After the interview, I was rejected because I’m not a native Dutch person. 

Walk The Talk!

However, having shared one of my personal experiences with racism, I do feel hopeful when companies like Twitter and LEGO authentically support the black lives matter movement.

Unfortunately, some companies are posting and supporting the black lives matter movement, but don’t walk the talk, as Mark Ritson shared in this post. For me, these companies are ‘window dressing’ popular public statements, so I ask these companies to go beyond this first step, which needs to be followed by action; otherwise, these companies risk losing their credibility in front of the public eye. Try and do your best to create change from within the workplace to eliminate prejudices.

Source: #BlackLivesMatter Brand Responses

I also have a message for the companies that are being silent, know that silence equals consent. Ignoring racism does not make your company objective; your company is choosing a side by not taking a stand to fight for human rights at the workplace. 
I am saddened and shocked to see that even Dutch companies are not vocal about this topic. 

Time To Dismantle Racism

For those who are silent, but you are unsure of how best to proceed and for the companies that want to walk the talk. Here are five ways I recommend to encourage you and your company to make an effort to dismantle racism in the workplace.

1. Create a safe space for employees to speak up!
C-suite, managers, HR professionals, and DEI professionals should work together in creating work environments where employees feel safe to raise their voice and their challenges in the workplace. People who do speak up often end up feeling like a whistleblower and/or leave the company because of the unsafe environment.

2. Racial Bias Training
I remember that a few years ago, Starbucks closed all of its stores for a one-day racial bias training.  This was done after there were some racial bias “incidents” at some of the Starbucks stores. The training was designed to create awareness of unconscious biases and to humanise the Starbucks stores. They showed the video The Story Of Access, which is a video that shares the pain of dealing with racism daily. Watch this video with your team, again create a safe space to talk about this video and/or personal experiences.

I am also well aware of
Starbucks banning its employees from wearing black lives matter apparel and then reversing this later due to the public backlash.

This is an example of companies deploying great initiatives, but there is a disconnect from what is expected from the front line workforce and top management.

Leading change has come from the top down for learnings from training programs to become incorporated into the organisation’s culture.

3. Become An Ally!
If you are in a position where you have privilege, it is time to use that for the better good. Use your position to speak up for the employees who can’t. As you can see from the infographic below created by LinkedIn, black co-workers can face many systematic challenges within the workplace.

I am going to refer you to this article 5 ways to start being a better ally for your black co-workers by CNBC or the Anti-racism library curated by LeanIn.Org.

4. Humanise The Workplace
I will start with this quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Genuinely show that you care about your people, their values, and their needs. Invest in your people, address what needs to be addressed because, without your people, your business would not be able to grow.

5. Become A Mentor
You might be thinking of, “What can a mentor do regarding racism in the workplace?” According to a study from executive search company Heidrick & Struggles, Creating a culture of mentorship, it sheds light on the importance of workplace mentoring programs to women and minorities, thereby accentuating effective mentoring programs that can help close racial and gender gaps in the workplace.

Some examples of Creating a culture of mentorship study findings: *Minorities were more likely than the overall to say they engaged a mentor due to similar backgrounds (45% versus 34%).
*More than half of participants in formal workplace mentoring programs were satisfied with the experience, but 27% said their organisation offers these programs

My Promise

By sharing the above steps, I hope the knowledge will nudge you and your organisation to dismantling racism in the workplace. I genuinely care about this because I have an obligation to my son. To make the world a better place, starting from the workplace. By the time that he becomes an adult, I don’t want him to deal with the same BS that I’ve dealt with when it comes to racism & discrimination. That is also the reason why I started talking to diverse experts about humanising the workplace to plant inspiring thought seeds in the minds of employers and employees.

Finally, I would like to say thank you, Marjolijn Vlug, for nudging me,  Melissa Romero, for providing a safe Lean In space to talk about racism in the workplace and the IncludeNow platform for sharing valuable posts about inclusivity.


  • Vivian Acquah

    Inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate

    Viva la Vive

    As an inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate, Vivian Acquah advises managers on how to keep their team members engaged, energized, and safe in a sustainable manner.  Vivian Acquah is making topics related to workplace wellness & DEI accessible to everyone. She provides people with the right tools, at the right time, to embrace inclusive changes. Vivian motivates people to think consciously and inspires them to take action. Vivian is also the creative mastermind behind the LinkedIn Live interviews of Let's Humanize The Workplace. This live broadcast series is sparked by the conversations people had with her, that they are missing the human factor in the workplace. Humanizing the workplace starts with raising awareness, and she chose to start this movement online by talking with other experts about what is needed to humanize the workplace.