Early last week, we asked What If Coach Brian Flores Was White?, referring to the former Miami Dolphins’ head coach’s lawsuit against the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring policies.

Today, we ask: Why does Brian Flores matter for you as a leader?

Because employees are resigning in droves from organizations who aren’t deeply addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Today’s talent expects inclusive leadership. That’s true of the people you want to hire and those already in your workplace. Your employees are reading or seeing these stories in the news, and for some them, the impact of this story might strike closer to home than for others

It’s not about you becoming a spokesperson for Brian Flores or dissecting the pros and cons of his lawsuit. It’s about you, as the leader of a team, an organization or an enterprise, gauging the larger social context and seeing that racial equity and racism are part of the fabric of our society.
You don’t need to retell or talk about the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL at work, but you would be wise to not ignore it, either. 

Your employees, especially the younger generations, expect you to not only be informed on these topics, but to care and be influenced by what’s happening out there so that you can create a culture of belonging and inclusion in here

We invite you to consider: Given what is happening in the world, what is it like for the employees who work for or with me right now?

If you are White — and we assume you are because the majority of leaders in the U.S. are White — and you work with Men and Women of Color, it is fair to assume they are having to process and manage the reactions they see and feel to a daily onslaught of events that are traumatizing, familiar, disheartening and terrifying, all while having to maintain a professional demeanor that will be seen as “normal” at work. From school boards disallowing or disputing the study of slavery in schools to innocent verdicts for armed White teenagers committing murder at protests for racial justice to the police shootings of unarmed Men and Women of Color to the tears of their mothers for their lost and loved, assume they are managing a lot, every day.

And then — shining brightly against the backdrop of disappointment — a story comes out about a highly successful Black man in a White-owned-and-run-$30-billion-a-year industry who stands up and sues them for how he was treated. 

If you’re a leader, all eyes are on you right now…and always.

So what DO you DO, especially if you don’t particularly care about the NFL or know how to authentically connect it to your workplace or your leadership? Do you fake it? No. 

You tap into your own well of empathy and understanding.

Feel the knot in your stomach from the futile disappointment of being overlooked or undervalued in spite of your accomplishments or successes. Feel the endless frustration of being told one thing, but then seeing the speaker act in the opposite way, all happening in front of your eyes and accompanied by the unshakeable feeling that everyone except you is IN on the real story. 

As a White man, I can’t actually comprehend what it might feel like to be Coach Flores or anyone who is discriminated against regularly, but I can tap into how I feel when those things happen to me periodically. When these nightmares invade my sleep, I am comforted remembering they are just in my imagination. They’re not real. 

But what if my nightmares were real? My life would be substantially different.

Do you see the strength and resilience of Coach Flores and the people at your workplace who might have had similar experiences? Do you hold people on your leadership team accountable for how they apply equity in a world that is unequal and inequitable? Can you say “I am sorry” when you misstep and not let the shame of that mistake paralyze you? Are you able to stand in grounded confidence when members of your own group reject you for seeing the world differently than they do?

Research shows that today, your employees don’t expect you be perfect, but they do expect you to make changes when it comes to bias, discrimination and eliminating workplace “isms.” No one needs your sympathy or “help.” They need to be included in your thinking and actions. Many of them will positively respond to your call to contribute if they sense you are real. 

So, what does Brian Flores mean for you as a leader? At the very least, you need to know your employees don’t think racial inequity is only happening out there. It is likely they think it is happening in here, too.

Statistically, the racial make-up of leaders to employees in the US isn’t that drastically different from the NFL: Faces of power are 80% White even though 40% of the US population identifies as Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or mixed race.

Inclusive leadership means beginning with the assumption that there are power and perception dynamics at play at work all the time, and that it is impossible for any of us to see all of them. But not seeing it doesn’t make us, or you, wrong — it makes you human. Humans can learn and change, and that means there is hope for all of us.