Amid protests across the country against the treatment of black Americans, police brutality and the killing of George Floyd, and as some U.S. cities impose curfews due to incidents of looting and violence, Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall is urging business leaders across America to speak up. And more importantly, to listen to their employees.
Marshall, who spent nearly four decades at AT&T, including as its chief diversity officer, was hired by Mark Cuban to help clean up the Mavericks organization's work culture in 2018 after an investigation revealed decades of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct issues.
Marshall says she has seen many racial injustices throughout her life. (She previously told CNBC Make It how, as the first African American cheerleader the University of California, Berkeley in the late '70s, she personally coped with negative comments about her skin color by praying and focusing on her work, and how she experienced code-switching while working her way up the corporate ladder.)
But Floyd's May 25 death while a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes is different, she says.
"I think we have a generation that just says we're not going to tolerate it anymore. Enough is enough and they are bringing attention to it," Marshall tells CNBC Make It.
Here's Marshall's advice for leaders — and everyone else — on how to manage and help create change during this especially difficult time: "I'm talking to everybody, because we all have a role to play in this," Marshall says.
Marshall shared her thoughts on what's happening in America with Mavericks employees in a letter on Monday.
"As we look at what is unfolding around our country, it's causing many to realize that America has not lived up to its promise to some of her citizens. Racial inequities, unfair treatment, and injustices have gone unaddressed for far too long and are now the cause of widespread civil unrest. People are tired," Marshall wrote.
And she encourages all other leaders to do the same.
"As a leader, it's important that I'm clear about what I stand for and what I am against. I abhor racism, disparate treatment, inequities and inequality," Marshall wrote on LinkedIn.
Leaders must create an environment in which all employees — black, white, everyone — can have safe conversations about race.
"Where people can talk about things that they've gone through or things they know others have gone through. Where they can talk about how they feel as well as a white person who is not in the shoes of a black person. You need to bring people together to have those courageous conversations," Marshall says.
To do that, it's key for leaders to start the dialogue with their employees.
And if someone feels uncomfortable sharing their thoughts, leaders could invite them to bring someone (like another trusted colleague) to help them express themselves, she says.
On Friday, Marshall had a leadership call with a group of Mavericks employees during which she allowed each one to individually express what they are thinking and going through during these challenging times.
She says the 90 minute session was "painful, heartwarming and productive."
"ALL of us" are being impacted by the current events, Marshall wrote to her staff on Monday, so allowing everyone to have their voice heard is the only way to rebuild and move in the right direction.
It's time for leaders to expand their circle of friends as well as associates to be exposed to points of view that are different than their own.
"Use these new relationships as an opportunity to sharpen our perspectives about other races, genders, cultures and experiences," and to challenge your beliefs, Marshall wrote.
For example, Marshall asked her staff to imagine what it's like living as a black man in America today, where many people are afraid of you even though they don't know you.
She then urged her staff to use that new perspective. "Try to come up with ways to dry his tears and comfort his fears. I do this almost every day with my two sons," Marshall wrote.