With the twists and turns of 2020- a Pandemic (and within that shifts and losses in businesses, loved ones getting sick, missing family for Holidays, inability to travel, and more that came in the wake of it), Racial Injustices, and a controversial Election, most of us were more than ready to put 2020 behind us. Then 2021 started and we saw more disruption around the rising cases with the Pandemic and a virus mutation, continued injustice and continued controversy around the Election results, and the unbelievable situation at the Capitol. If that should’ve taught us anything, it’s that there is still a lot of work to do and that there are still a lot of inequality and systemic issues. It should've taught us that Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) isn’t just a cute tagline to Post and Ghost on taking responsibility and accountability. There is much work to be done and it's not easy, but neither is business.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
We don’t want to jump in too far without mentioning that today is a Federal Holiday in the United States, dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King- and rightfully so. Therefore, we are honored to dedicate our first Monthly Newsletter of 2021 to Dr. King. Dr. King was an Activist and a Minister who was a leader at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. He is also well-known for his “I Have a Dream” Speech. Dr. King wanted peace and justice and worked tirelessly toward both, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
As a result of Dr. King and other prominent Activists and Allies, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which made discrimination illegal based on the protected characteristics of Race, Color, Religion, Sex, and National Origin. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 and his loss was felt by many, far and wide. For me, even though it preceded my lifetime, I know that I’m afforded rights and liberties and can help support the work he did because of the groundwork he laid. I know that as an HR professional and as a leader, I can help influence others to keep these values and principles in mind so that we move in a direction that is together instead of divided. You can read more on the amazing impact of Dr. King here.
Frankly speaking, we have to do better. Frankly speaking, it’s time we get uncomfortable. These are not times that we’re living in where we should allow wrongdoing to go noticed, but not speak up about or against it. In Human Resources, we do not have such an option because we have a duty to the organization, employees, to uphold the law, and to help influence the culture through supporting and influencing. A large part of my Why is to help build strong leaders, teams, organizations, and cultures where there is no fear to speak up, where we can all use our voice at work and be celebrated for that and all of our diversity, versus penalized for it. I strive to help create, foster, and support cultures where we can “lift every voice and sing”.
You might be asking yourself what this looks like in practice in the workplace. Well, it’s hearing all ideas, which includes not practicing Tokenism. For instance, if you ask your Spanish-speaking employee all the time to translate for the team or for customers, this could have unintended impact. If you point questions only at women in a meeting as it relates to certain Gender Roles or make jokes as such, that could be considered offensive, a Microaggression, and discriminatory as well.
If you don’t support ALL employees speaking up at the meeting to avoid the meetings before the meetings or the meetings before the meetings or the same people’s viewpoints being shared, that can be problematic. If you don’t ask your employees how they’re doing throughout these unprecedented times, that will have meaning of its own too. In order for employees to feel safe and supported in the workplace, leaders and organizations have to create and foster them.
Transparency and valuing all thoughts and opinions, alongside supporting the team bringing their whole selves to work is a great start. It’s making things better for all over better for some. Here are some other actionable tips that you can implement right away in order to start shaping and shifting a DEI culture and engaging your team:
Create an overall culture of allowing for and asking Curious Questions.
Be self-aware enough to know what you don’t know. We all have Bias.
If you lead with empathy and assume positive intent, any unintentional missteps around uncomfortable topics are generally better received. Apologies work well too!
Check in on your team. REALLY check in and be prepared that they may be struggling.
Carve out space on the meeting agenda(s) to discuss world events that may impact your team. We talk about the tragic events of 911, why don’t we discuss Racial Injustices?
Leave space in your day/week for further, private discussions with employees who may be impacted.
Partner with your Human Resources Department to bring meeting topics, Workshops, discussions and build a relationship so employees know there is another level of support in the organization as well. Don’t be offended if your employee goes to HR for support. The support is what matters, not our egos.
Allow time off- Vacation or other Paid Time Off, Leave of Absence, or other accommodation(s).
Refer employees to the organization’s Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) benefit (if applicable and if not to other Community resources).
Leverage Employee Resource Groups and ensure that they’re inclusive.
Challenge the Status Quo. Just because “it’s always been done this way” or “everyone’s doing it”, it doesn’t make it right. That’s how discrimination, harassment, systemic issues, and oppression continue to be fueled. I’ll leave you with a quote from Dr. King: “The time is always right to do what is right.”