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Key Takeaways

  • It’s OK not to be OK, everyone enters this conversation from a different place.
  • Co-workers may not realize the emotional weight or "tax" that a Black colleague carries.1
  • There are resources that can help. Educate yourself and use your networks for learning and sharing.

At the same time KeyCorp® was putting the finishing touches on the 2019 Corporate Responsibility Report showcasing Key’s deep commitment to clients, teammates, and communities, COVID-19 became a fast-moving reality that in many ways changed the way we view the world and each other.

"While we are undoubtedly proud of our work in 2019, we were sobered by the realities brought to light in our communities by the COVID-19 pandemic," said Don Graves, Jr., EVP and Head of Corporate Responsibility & Community Relations. "Too many communities where we live, work and raise our families live too close to the edge, and the early aspects of COVID-19 have intensified the financial stress and fragility of many of our neighbors."

To dig a bit deeper into the topic, Key4Women® reached out to Nitra Rucker, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Engagement Manager at KeyBank, for additional perspective.

"This is such a different time, a stressful time, for our world, our country and our communities. There is a lot to process for everyone," said Rucker. "The important thing is when organized voices are heard – such as those of Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, Color of Change, and others – constructive action and change can happen."

All paths into the equity conversation are highlighted at this moment in time. The economic impact of lost jobs due to closures; affordable healthcare, including mental health; education and training; voter registration; heightened fear of police brutality; and violence in oppressed communities have been brought to center stage during COVID-19. "This is how you know that racism is systemic," Rucker continued. "All roads lead back to the same conversation."

Consider the economics involved in purchasing cleaning and protective supplies at the onset of the pandemic. "Financially, many low-income families cannot rush out and buy all the supplies deemed necessary," Rucker commented. "We must not jump to conclusions about the willingness of people to comply with protective measures. They may be focusing on the necessities of food, medication, and rent."

We Are All Learning

There are many conversations going on right now, with family members, friends, employers and in our communities. More than ever before, people are ready to commit to being a lifelong ally. These individuals want to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and have their voices heard, and it’s important to remember that everyone is entering the conversation from a different place. "It’s an extraordinary time, an exciting time," said Rucker. In reality, though, many of these conversations haven’t happened before, and they can be uncomfortable.

"We are all learning. People are learning about their biases, the vocabulary that helps, not hurts, and the historical journey of oppression. People of color and white people are learning how they have contributed and what they can do to be allies," Rucker said. "At the same time, the Black community is working toward healing and participating in systematic change as we move forward, which can be emotionally taxing."

Consider Personal Experiences

Co-workers and personal associates might not realize this weight or "tax" that people of color are carrying. These feelings can be amplified when asked to share stories of traumatic events, or relive them, and an onslaught of emotions may rise to the surface. The event could be a lost job, racism at work or school, or involvement in personal or police violence. It could be losing a loved one to violence or disease, or not having enough money for essentials like groceries or medication.

These feelings can be long-lasting. Whether the event occurred 10 years ago or 10 days ago, the events of 2020 have caused emotions to run high.

Essential Conversations

As courageous conversations about racism continue, Nitra offered a few tips to consider:

  • Lean in: Ask, "Are you comfortable having this conversation?" Black people are sometimes asked to bare it all. They may not be willing, or it may not be the right time.
  • Bring the conversation down to a micro level: Ask, "What’s going on with you personally?" Learn their personal story if they choose to tell it, but don’t force sharing.
  • Be respectful: If you are asking someone to be vulnerable in a conversation, then you should be willing to be vulnerable.

Opportunities for Small Business

We can all be a part of this work," said Rucker. "While large corporations may have funded Diversity, Equity & Inclusion teams with goals and metrics, small and medium-sized businesses can also build a foundation of equity within their organizations – from recruiting talent and having open conversations, to finding diverse suppliers or merchandise.

The most effective way to start this work is for business leaders to educate themselves. Read, take online classes and tutorials, learn the vocabulary, and use your networks for learning and sharing. Reach out to community leaders and influencers to find resources and programming.

Ready to jump into the conversation with your colleagues, employees, or other connections? Here are a few tips:

  • Come in with ideas of your own
  • Ask clarifying questions of your employees, such as, "What do you want or need?" "What are your thoughts on how we can be more inclusive here?" "How can we bring more diversity to our service or product offering?" "How can we be more inclusive in everything we do?"
  • Lead by example

It’s OK Not to Be OK

Emotions are high. The call to ‘fix it now’ is loud,” commented Rucker. “Racism and racial inequity will not end today, tomorrow, or even next year. Dismantling racism is a grueling marathon. Together we can get there.” Operationally, in business and in communities, change of this magnitude takes good planning, organization of resources, and time to achieve results.

Rucker continued, "In the meantime, we can be aware of the emotions of our friends, co-workers, and family as they process upsetting events such as the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. Know that with these events, happening alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are under extreme stress – not everyone is OK."

"If someone needs to step back for a day or two to process the heaviness, or the stress and exhaustion, we as good human beings need to allow them to do that," Rucker affirmed. "As we hear often these days: we are in this together."

The Support You Need

For more Key4Women resources to help you reach your goals, visit, or email us to learn more.

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The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed to be reliable, but it is not represented to be accurate, complete or objective. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor any affiliate of KeyBank is acting as your agent, broker, advisor, or fiduciary, or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice. KeyBank may have current positions or strategies that may be inconsistent with any views expressed herein.

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