Finding our voice

The world as we know it has been shaken. While there have been protests in the past, nothing feels quite as powerful as what we’re experiencing in light of the death of George Floyd. It’s sparked a conversation at a pivotal time in our culture, a time when we are also dealing with massive loss of lives and livelihood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, not everyone feels empowered during this time. In fact, many still feel unable to have candid conversations about race, to speak out when they experience microaggressions or see a subtle slight, or even to share their everyday experiences with others. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable speaking out at work for fear of retaliation, either directly or indirectly. [1]

Many organizations have all-male, all-white board rooms, but fixing those alone won’t solve these problems. Our experiences within companies are shaped by the norms of culture and the weight of organizational history.

Those very norms and cultures were set by those white men in the board rooms, or at the very least, with them in mind. Let’s take something seemingly innocuous as an example – office temperature. Oftentimes during the hottest summer months, you’ll find women wearing sweaters and scarves in the office because it’s 60 degrees inside. According to the research [2], thermostats guidelines were set in the 1960s, based largely on the metabolic rates of a room full of men. Women have been left feeling cold because thermostats are set 30% cooler than they need to be.

There are many other ways that people have been left out or made to be uncomfortable because other office behaviors haven’t caught up. In fact, many cultural practices and norms may be unintentionally biased. And solving these deeper problems will be much more difficult than adjusting the temperature of offices.

It’s going to require a change of the very foundation of our existing structures from the ground up, opening the door to conversations about race, gender, and inequality. It’s time to be intentional.

One thing is clear: staying silent is no longer an option.

If you’ve been searching for a way to add your voice to the conversation, we have some tips on how to break the silence.

4 steps to taking action for leaders:

  1. Take a look at how race has shaped your organization, both currently and historically as it relates to leadership roles and organizational policies.
  2. Remember you have a voice that many will listen to. This is your chance to talk to the minority members in your organization and amplify their stories via your platform. And remember this is about their story, not your spin on it.
  3. Hold your fellow leader peers accountable for their actions (and inactions). Introducing diversity and inclusion as a regular topic at board meetings and beyond will likely make some people uncomfortable at first, but it’s important to make it part of the normal conversation.
  4. Commit publicly to diversity efforts within your organization. It will hold you personally accountable to keeping those promises in the future.

 

4 steps to speaking up for employees at all levels:

The biggest thing you can do as an employee at any level in an organization is to make your voice heard and speak out when you see an injustice. After all, if you don’t, who will?

  1. If you spot something that just seems off, bringing up the issue using the phrase “I noticed” can go a long way.
  2. If you find yourself as the object of a microaggression or misplaced comment, speak your mind starting with the phrase “this is how that made me feel”.
  3. Make sure to reach out to colleagues to check in on how they are doing. Simply saying “I’m here if you need to talk” is a great way to be open without prying. They might not need to talk right then, but they will appreciate the gesture.
  4. Following up after an incident can often be a way to clear the air without calling someone out publicly. Pulling that person aside later and letting them know why their comment made you feel uncomfortable will cue to them that you are not trying to call them out but simply trying to address the comment.

 

If you want to take action, seize this moment. But realize that it’s easy to want to act when your emotions are running high and the world is on edge.  As with any true change, it’s about changing behaviors, norms, and habits. True progress will happen by pulling people together, united in the quest to make lasting change.

Note: Want to take action and make it permanent? We’ve created a cheat sheet with these behaviors for you to save or print as a reminder.

[1]  Detert (Cornell) & Edmondson (Harvard), Academy Of Management Journal, 2011, Vol. 54, No. 3, 461–488, “Implicit Voice Theories: Taken-For-Granted Rules Of Self-Censorship At Work.”

[2] Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt. Nature Climate Change. “Energy Consumption in buildings and female thermal demand.” 2, August 2015.

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