Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


Guidance for Managers - Supporting Black Staff at Work

The following guidance has been developed to assist line managers on how to support Black staff in their teams in the context of current events. It can additionally be a resource for colleagues.

It can additionally be a resource for colleagues.  This can also be used as a starting point to improve your ability to have discussions with all staff on the topic of racism.

We know that there are many societal issues currently that may be impacting upon Black staff and their sense of wellbeing.  How UCL responds to this as an institution is important, but so too, is how individuals who interact with Black staff on a day-to-day basis.  Line managers have a particular responsibility in this context. Some line managers who are Black or minority ethnic may have their own lived experience to draw on.

We acknowledge that many Black staff are feeling anguish and pain currently for several reasons including:

  • The news coverage of George Floyd’s murder has been triggering for many people who have experienced racially motivated violence or is closely connected with someone who has. These events have and do occur in the UK context.
  • Grappling with difficult decisions about attending Black Lives Matter protests - weighing up risk factors, such as exposure to COVID-19 infection.
  • The emotional toll of being in a high-risk group for COVID-19 and likely knowing people who have been ill or have died of the virus.
  • This is layered on top of their own continuing personal experiences of racism and injustice in the work setting or elsewhere, while still being expected to show up at work

All of this will be taking its toll on many Black staff and very likely impacting on their mental well-being, and their ability to focus at work.

We call on managers and colleagues to reach out with humanity and show some awareness that this is a time of pain and anguish for many Black staff.  Show you care and offer support – it is a small thing to do but the impact can be enormous to a sense of belonging and worth at an increasingly alienating time.

Current Black Lives Matter activities have been a catalyst leading to the creation of this document.  We acknowledge that other Black or Minority Ethnic staff also experience racism. Having conversations about racism and encouraging race allies will have broad benefit to the UCL community.


Start a conversation by asking open questions 
These conversations are essential even if you feel this may be difficult or uncomfortable for you.

Please do not let worries about the following get in the way:

  • You (feel bad that you) can’t resolve all the issues.
  • That things will be raised which you will struggle to respond to.
  • You will struggle to understand.
  • Your Black staff will be offended you raised the topic/made assumptions about their feelings or identity etc.
  • It is not relevant to your line management responsibility.
  • That you may inadvertently say the “wrong” thing.

Please do consider:

  • Your discomfort is nothing compared to the feelings currently being experienced by many Black staff.
  • They experience the discomfort of living with the presence of racism every day, both in work and in their personal lives – experiences, which affect them and their loved ones constantly.
  • If you want to support Black people: Stop talking, start listening and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Speak to staff on a one-to-one basis - ask open questions to begin a conversation: Are you OK? How can I support you
  • Educating yourself: Now is a good opportunity to engage in understanding racism and engaging with anti-racism work.

Establish open conversations as the norm 
Set the scene for ongoing open conversations.  Having supervisory meetings where you only focus on tasks and not on the person will result in two things:

  1. You will not create a window of opportunity for staff to raise issues of concern whether work or home related. 
  2. You may find having essential conversations will be more difficult when you have not established a norm of having regular human and open conversations.

Flexibility at work 

Black staff may need some time to look after their wellbeing.  This may mean working their contracted hours but not sticking rigidly to 9-5 (this has, in any case, proven to be unworkable for many people during lockdown); plan realistic deadlines under current circumstances and provide more leeway; ensure instructions are given with clarity.  Understand that high stress levels may interfere with concentration.

Being a race ally 

Commit to being anti-racist not just nonracist. There is a huge difference, and this is seen and felt by all those that experience racism.  What is an ally?

  • A race ally is a member of the privileged group who advocates against oppression
  • Allies speak out because silence is not allyship
  • Allies work to create social change
  • Allies take a subordinate/supportive role
  • Allies make space, but don’t dominate
  • It is something you do, not something you are: a verb, not a noun.

Resources to support Black staff 

A lot of the resources available on Remote, not Distant focus on staff wellbeing, anxiety and mental health, acknowledging the challenges that people face when control over their life and wellbeing is not within their hands. 

UCL self-care guidance

Bystander interventions 

Some of you will be familiar with the bystander interventions that are included in the “Where Do You Draw the Line” anti-bullying and harassment training delivered by the EDI team. These tools can be applied in an anti-racism context: 

The four D’s of bystander intervention 

  • Direct action – directly intervening e.g. asking the perpetrator to stop, calling out a microaggression and challenging micro-inequities. 
  • Distraction – Indirectly intervening e.g. deescalating by interrupting. 
  • Delegation – e.g. refer to a line manager, senior manager, HR, Inclusion Lead etc. 
  • Delay – If you cannot intervene in the moment (maybe you feel it will make it worse, or direct more attention to the Black colleague who is on the receiving end of the behaviour) wait and find time to check in with them or speak to the perpetrator at a later time. 

The action continuum 
Another resource from the “Where Do You Draw the Line”.  Your level of power and status at UCL will reflect where you may sit on the continuum.  For example line managers of Black staff will have more power than colleagues of Black staff. 

Actively participatingDenying, ignoringRecognising, no actionRecognising, actionEducating selfEducating othersSupporting, encouraging othersInitiating, preventing
Supporting oppression >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Confronting oppression

        Self Education 

        Understanding racism and White privilege 

        This section provides an opportunity for personal reflection and understanding on how to become anti-racist.

        Racism is...

        • a group’s collective prejudice backed by power and institutions
        • not just personal prejudice and discrimination
        • not always conscious, explicit, or violent
        • Not an event, it is a system
        • Something that adapts and changes over time
        • There! If you can’t see race, then how will you challenge racism?

        White privilege is....

        • Not being judged by the colour of your skin
        • Easily accepting a group is disadvantaged, finding it harder to accept your own advantage
        • Not seeing what does not affect you
        • An assumption that your life is morally neutral, normative, average, and the ideal[1]
        • Understanding that white privilege works to White peoples’ advantage, even for those White people who actively work toward race equality.

        White fragility is...

        A term that refers to the negative emotional reaction some White people have when racism on various levels is called to their attention by Black people and people of colour.  Sociologist, Robin DiAngelo discusses this in her book “White Fragility”

        White fragility can be triggered by the following:

        • Suggestion that a White person’s perspective is based in their race​
        • People of colour choosing not to protect White people’s feelings in respect of race/ism​
        • Receiving feedback that their actions (etc.) were racist​
        • Challenging individualism by pointing out that racism benefits White people as part of a group​
        • Suggesting that access to jobs (etc.) is not equal across all racial groups

        Examples of White fragility;

        • Taking personal offence​
        • Claiming people of colour are over-sensitive​
        • Refusing to listen to people of colour ​
        • Claim making: my best friend is Black, I marched against racism, etc.​
        • Distracting by bringing up gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.​
        • Trying to control how feedback on racism is given​
        • Tone policing

        Examples of non-fragile (empowering and supportive) responses when talking about racism:

        • Grateful for opportunity to learn; being okay to experience discomfort, guilt in relation to personal benefits gained, humility and compassion when listening to others experiences, motivation to contribute to change, etc.​
        • Reflection, apology, grappling, engaging, listening, processing, rather than denial or defensiveness etc.​
        • Being okay with being uncomfortable​
        • Remembering that White people do not face the same “burden” as people of colour when talking about racism: talking about racism can be very difficult for people of colour when faced with misplaced defensive reactions.
        • Racism kills - it also ruins lives: interrupting and challenging it is more important than White people’s egos and feelings of discomfort when facing these issues.

        [1] Peggy McIntosh: the white privilege rucksack: “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions”

        Books and Film resources 

        Lots of online books and film streaming services currently profiling films relevant to the Black Lives Matter cause.  A page on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion website lists some.  More will be added.

        The UCL IOE Library has a hub of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Education Resources and information. Content includes access to films on black lives.