Q&A: How To Start Productive Conversations About Race at Work With PwC’s Jacinda Adams

As a Black mother, Jacinda Adams has had several tough conversations with her daughter about race. She also knows first-hand that these candid conversations — approached with openness and honesty — are vital and could be even more of an imperative in the future of the workplace.

PwC’s Jacinda Adams with her daughter.

When her daughter was younger, Adams looked to her own upbringing to guide these tough conversations. She found herself navigating what societal racism can look like and embracing the role we all have to play in standing up for ourselves and each other. Then, with events that occurred during 2020 amplifying the need for important discussions about racial injustice in society, she began bringing the lessons she learned from having these talks with her daughter, to start productive discussions with colleagues and turning them into actions towards cultivating a more inclusive and equitable society.

Adams is the Director of Client Experiences Marketing at PwC, a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame company and professional services firm with a long-standing commitment to cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture of belonging and building trust. In a Q&A conducted by PwC, she talks about the importance of productive conversations about race and societal racism.

Q: Tell us about talking with your daughter about race and how you have approached these conversations.

A: “The first conversation I had with my daughter about race was when she was five years old. I remember my daughter telling me her classmate could not play with her because she was Black. It was an emotional and awful feeling for us both. She didn’t understand, and I encouraged her to lean into what makes us all human – compassion, care, and empathy – and be brave enough to use her story and voice to drive change. Our conversations about race haven’t changed as she’s gotten older, and our most vulnerable conversations happened after the murder of George Floyd. But I am proud because these talks have influenced her to approach conversations with her friends and colleagues, sharing her experiences and how certain situations make her feel, to foster understanding and demonstrate allyship to promote change around her.”

Q: How have those discussions influenced your conversations in the workplace?

A: “Recent acts of societal racism and discrimination have elevated awareness and the need for change. This visibility has opened the door for these types of candid conversations. PwC, building on a culture of belonging, continues to foster safe places to have these discussions, with leadership prioritizing them and sharing conversation guides to bring awareness and encourage understanding and allyship amongst our people. All of this, including the discussions I’ve had with my daughter, has influenced me to start more conversations with my colleagues about race and societal racism, where I share what I experience and how I feel to help them walk a day in my shoes. I will explain the overwhelming fear I have as a Black mother when my daughter leaves the house or the emotional exhaustion I have when I enter a store and am followed by a store clerk. Answering my daughter’s questions over the years has also helped me recognize that curiosity is a big part of fostering understanding, and I have encouraged my colleagues to check in and ask questions instead of assuming how I or another colleague may feel. I also ask more questions of others when an experience is different than my own.”

Q: Speaking of that, how can individuals continue to promote these candid and open dialogues in a professional setting? What value do they bring?

A: “It has to start at the top. When leaders say that having these types of candid conversations on race and societal racism are a priority for an organization – that sets the tone that it is okay for employees to share their experiences from outside of the office when they come to work. Leaders and those in the majority at an organization should also have these conversations honestly amongst themselves and reflect on the communities they sit in. Not every employee will engage, but for those who will, it can reflect an openness to learning and listening that can help cultivate an authentic culture of understanding and build trust amongst each other. In the current talent landscape, retention has become more challenging for employers — but when there is openness and honesty about these topics, it can make it easier for workers to bring their authentic selves to work and that in turn, helps foster an environment where people want to be and where they want to grow their careers. At the end of the day, it’s about acknowledging that race and societal racism play a part in the lives of Black individuals and many others and taking action.”

Q: These past few years have been a lot. What keeps you up at night?

A: “I reflect daily on the safety and future of my daughter, my niece and nephews and society’s youth. I hope to leave this world a better place for the next generation. As they prepare for adulthood, I worry that we have a long way to go before we reach a truly equitable and inclusive society. I don’t want them to deal with the same issues of societal racism and discrimination that we continue to deal with today and that I have experienced as a Black individual and as a Black woman.”

Q: What is your hope for your daughter and those who take on these conversations in the workplace?

A: “My hope is that engaging in these candid conversations, doing it for the right reasons and taking action can help pave the way for those to come and help future generations never have to experience societal racism and discrimination the way that many today and throughout history have. I believe that those of us today can change the world for good.”