Sincerely, Leaders of Color: With love from a lonely place

Now’s the time to check in with leaders of color

A quote from the author, Emma Carew Grovum, that says, “In the times when I've felt most overwhelmed and isolated, what might have helped was some validation.”

(Background photo by Yang Miao on Unsplash)

One of the things that strikes me about leadership roles for journalists of color is how lonely it can be for folks.

Someone might be the only POC in their newsroom, or the only out LGBTQ manager in the company, a true Only Lonely.

Someone might be a newly elevated leader, who just yesterday was able to find easy camaraderie among the staff. That leader wonders how those relationships will change now that the power dynamic has shifted.

Others may be managing up and carrying the load for a mediocre boss. Others may literally be one-woman shops, leadership teams of one.

These folks exist. You know them. You go to their ONA sessions. You occasionally retweet their Tweets about diversity in the industry. Some have a title, power, or salary. Some don’t. Some may seem really happy where they are! Even people who seem like they have it all or are working in a great role, they can still be quite lonely. The grass is brown everywhere, right?

All those folks you know do share something, though.

They are tired.

They may be nearing the point of breaking.

So it’s time to do a health and wellness check on our friendly neighborhood leaders of color–as a boss, a peer, a colleague, or even just human to human. Leaders can hold any kind of role or title within your org. In fact, they probably hold every kind of role and title, doing work both seen and unseen.

Start by asking if they are well. Hydrating? Breaking for food? Sleeping? If you have the kind of relationship where you might dig a bit deeper, check to see if there are areas of their life where they are thriving. How are their houseplants, pets, kids, or partners doing?

Don’t forget the value of explicit support and validation. These are the folks who are staying up late at night worrying about having to explain corporate cuts to the teams they’ve hired and nourished. They’re the ones grabbing extra shifts on the nights and weekends to ensure people have time to rest.

They might like to hear something like:

“Hey, I’m here if you ever need to unload and vent.”

“I see how much you’re doing for your staff and colleagues, it can’t be easy.”

My friend Katie put together this really smart list of ways to support someone in a tough time, like grieving a loss. These ideas are great for leaders who are struggling to hold a fistful of marbles every day.

In the times when I’ve felt most overwhelmed and isolated, what might have helped was some validation along these lines:

  • That no single person can be responsible for changing or saving an organization or a culture alone. What we build in our newsrooms is collaborative, and we all contribute to successes and failures.
  • That the times I spoke up were worthwhile, even and especially the ones where I was penalized and retaliated against for doing so.
  • That the little changes I was making were adding up to make a difference for someone. Anyone.

Of course, this advice holds up for folks from marginalized and excluded backgrounds and identities at all levels within an organization. But the specific observation I’ve had recently has been around the isolation of leaders of color and their peers.

If you’re in a position to reach out a hand or make a change for someone in these shoes, now’s a great time. It could even be a crucial moment to help keep someone in the industry.

With love, from the lonely place.

Emma Carew Grovum
Leader of Color

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  • Emma Carew Grovum

    Emma Carew Grovum is a journalist and technologist in New York City. As the founder of Kimbap Media, she coaches and consults with newsrooms on key strategy areas including leadership, product thinking, and diversity/equity/inclusion.


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