Be An Awakened Leader: The Impact of Workplace Dialogue

  • Posted on Jun 14, 2020

At Next Level HR Solutions, we are keeping our finger on the pulse during this time of discussions about police brutality and agendas focused on race and reform. An understanding of the dynamics in work environments that include people from diverse communities, diverse upbringings, diverse experiences, diverse stereotypes, and diverse opinions and perspectives is a primary focal point for us as we work to guide and support our clients with their diversity and inclusion initiatives.

With the pandemic of racial injustices, awakened leaders from varied industries are taking advantage of the moments. They are making public announcements related to a better understanding of their employees, and impending or expansive diversity and inclusion programs. But, with the tearing down of confederate statues, renaming of buildings on school campuses, a call to defund police departments, and the sounding alarm of injustices and inequities impacting people of color, the widespread unrest and civil rights protests will undoubtedly shake work environments to their core. It is incumbent on leaders to take swift and immediate action to understand and address the thoughts and feelings of their employees. Amid the current and continuously growing civil unrest in communities—communities where their employees live, leaders must work to create a culture where employees feel respected and are respectful to others despite any differences in opinions and perspectives. The creation of that sort of culture starts with real and transparent dialogue.

Most notable, we have seen public media notices of employees fired because of a wave of racist social media rants and responses to the protests over police violence and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Social media posts containing the following: “black thugs”, “I think black people bring out the worst in us”, “think about all of the hard work that our law enforcement officers did to protect us and make the arrests of these violent offenders”, “I don’t believe any good person of color has been killed by police”, “I’m so sick of these thugs making excuses on the news for their animal behavior take your pity party somewhere else”, etc. have been shared publicly by people with no thought of consequence from their employers.

As the outcries related to social unrest and civil rights protests continues, the employees in your workplace are either people taking part in the demonstrations or people who oppose the demonstrations. Therefore, the possibility of your employees sharing the sentiments of those social media posts related to race and the discussions about injustices and reform will be heightened. Regardless of what side your employees support there is the likelihood they will enter your workplace angry, hurt, sad, frustrated, and fed up.

I recently read a post in which the leader rendered an online message about a commitment to increasing the organization’s understanding and becoming more racially and culturally sensitive. In response to the leader’s post, an employee of the organization included the following in her response, The black XXX having to dampen aspects of their personality to feel like they could fit into the culture of their workplace. I’ve been told to smile in the office and, at the risk of coming across as too aggressive, I tend to wait until everyone else has spoken before choosing to weigh in. I’ve been conditioned by society and its predominantly white institutions to feel that as a black woman I come across as aggressive, bossy, and selfish when I speak my mind compared to a man or white woman making the same statements. Many people feel as though they can’t be their true selves in the workplace at the risk of seeming unprofessional. It’s clear that for the most part the black women don’t expect to be able to bring their full selves to the workplace and still get ahead. The leader posted the message on June 5, 2020. The employee posted her comment on June 6, 2020. As of June 14, 2020, it is unfortunate that no one from the organization apparently reviewed nor felt the need to acknowledge receipt of the employee’s response to the message. Make no mistake about it, silence to such an important response by an employee is disheartening. It sends a message that you just want to post something to show concern about a matter to an audience, but do not care enough to respond to questions or concerns or feedback received about the post.

People are taking part in demonstrations because words are not working. People, your employees, your customers, your community, are looking for action. Over the passing week or so, I have received countless emails from businesses and organizations sharing their stance against discrimination, acknowledgement of racial violence, and their actions related to resolution. The best email I received was from Strava because they publicly shared their plan to ACT. First, they acknowledged their shortcomings to their black employees and community members. Then, they made a commitment to pursue change. Finally, they defined their target areas to incorporate change. Please see below their message:

“We must do better, and we will.

Today, Strava is making a steadfast commitment to become an anti-racist organization – which to us means actively seeking to dismantle and eradicate racism in the Strava workplace, app, community, and in partnership with thousands of other organizations, among the power structures in our society at large. We regret not acting sooner and want to acknowledge our shortcomings, especially to our Black employees and community members.

Strava isn’t doing nearly enough to combat racism. Put simply, Black athletes have to think about things that other athletes do not, like whether they will be subject to police harassment and put their lives at risk just by going out for a ride or run. The level of emotional burden, pre-planning and inherent fear as a Black athlete is profound. Black athletes are also underrepresented on Strava and have been confronted with racism on our platform. Every moment that we have allowed this to persist, we have contributed to the systemic injustices that oppress Black communities. We are committed to addressing these injustices.

We have to do better inside our organization as well. Our company and leadership do not represent the diversity of the world around us. Our policies don’t go far enough to explicitly state our anti-racism. And we know our practices have bias because we haven’t designed them to make sure they don’t. As a business, we’re coming up short.

We’re committed to change and to act swiftly to enable Strava to better support the Black community. We have a long way to go toward eradicating injustice and inequality, but we pledge today that we are embarking on this journey and there will be no turning back.

These are our first actions as an anti-racist organization:

*We are reviewing how we design and build Strava to find and fix the ways we are failing Black athletes.

*We are updating our employee and partner policies to be explicitly anti-racist, which will become enforceable company standards.

*We’ve assembled an anti-racism task force led by our CEO to establish enduring practices that hold us accountable to these commitments.

*We have made a donation today to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and are committed to financially supporting organizations combating racism in the future. We encourage you to learn more about their work and donate if you are able.

*This is only the start. We will make permanent changes to Strava with a focused and sustained effort, listening and learning as we go. To the Black community: You are seen, you are heard, we’re with you. We must do better, and we will.

The Strava Team”

Strava’s “We must do better, and we will” message which spells out their intentional road to change is a great model for businesses and organizations to follow. Change starts with leadership. First, as a leader, you must be willing to admit the need for your business or organization to do better. Then, you must open the door for real and transparent dialogue. Yes, it is no secret the dialogue will difficult and uncomfortable. However, still LISTEN! You are addressing decades of miseducation, misunderstanding, and missed opportunities related to race, diversity, inclusion, and black history.

Whether you are a small, mid-size, or large business, or a local, state, or federal organization or non-profit, it is time to start the conversations to listen and learn from your employees. Do not let this transformational induced moment pass. Establish a committee/task force to help you facilitate the dialogue, and to evaluate and address any existing or potential issues within your business or organization. Again, the first step is admittance. The second step is to listen and learn. The third step is action. Those are the key activities that demonstrate your authenticity to do better.

Lastly, and most imperative, back up your commitment of change to include an initiative of hiring, supporting, promoting, and equitably compensating your employees of color. Your actions towards your employees as seen and felt by your customers, clients, and the community will demonstrate your authenticity to do better. Doing so continuously will lead to next level respect, energy, and unity among your employees as you endeavor to achieve the goals and growth of your business/organization.

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