The events in Charlottesville were unequivocally condemned by most, yet not by all. Our President drew criticism from all sides for not doing so. So is this it? Is this where we collectively draw a line in the sand? It’s always interesting to see when people finally decide to take a stand. When have things gone too far?
Sometimes, someone says or does something so outrageous that those who consider themselves neutral can no longer sit idly by. And then there are times when the situation is so extreme that even those who initially enthusiastically or tacitly supported this person now feel forced to condemn their words or actions as well. This is the situation we are in now. The President is inadvertently uniting the country in our collective opposition to his lack of condemnation to dangerous and hateful groups. His efforts to divide the country by pushing fear rhetoric about real or perceived enemies has led many people to realize that our greatest enemy is a leader who does not reflect the majority of the people they are supposed to lead.
It remains to be seen if the many scratches that have been made in the Teflon over the past few years will finally cause something to stick. But even if it does, this will not resolve the underlying issues that give rise to the situation we are in now. Is this moment in time transformative for our country or will it be a quickly forgotten chapter like so many other things in our short memory and attention span? We have an opportunity to leverage the collective outrage of this moment into a renewed push for inclusion.
Inclusion requires us to acknowledge each person’s respective truth and background story. It expands our viewpoints beyond our own so that we can appreciate our human diversity. But how far do we go in this? There is a certain paradox to tolerance and inclusion because we neither tolerate the intolerant nor include those who exclude. When do our internal moral compasses, laws, policies, and cultural codes tell us enough is enough?
This is a challenge in our society as well as in many organizations. We’re seeing more and more organizations and their leaders publicly position themselves somewhere on the social and/or political spectrum. But there are internal implications as well, given that our workplaces are mini-societies and are affected by what is happening in our society at large. Some of the questions we ask ourselves in our communities are the same we should ask ourselves in our place of work. Here are few thoughts to consider:
1) Pay attention: Keep an ear to the ground to stay in touch with what’s happening in your organization under the surface. How can you gain more insight into how your people are feeling, where there are challenges, and what the needs are for interventions or further cultivation of a safe, inclusive and positive work environment?
2) Ground yourself in your values: Remind yourself and your staff about your organization’s values and how you expect them to be lived by everyone. How can you better promote, assess and measure their manifestation in the organization?
3) Take a stand: Ensure your business decisions reflect your values in all of its forms. In other words: where are the opportunities to walk the talk even more intentionally than you already are? This may require some courage and risk-taking, so consider your options in terms of what type of corporate citizen you aspire to be.
4) Strengthen leadership: Is your leadership team aligned on how you deal with current events such as Charlottesville? Are you all on the same page about diversity and inclusion? Are your senior leaders and people managers comfortable, committed, and effective in modeling and communicating inclusion values?
5) Review your policies, processes, and language: Ensure that your policies and processes promote inclusion and accountability, and are clearly communicated to everyone in the organization. Are your managers prepared to support employees in honoring policies and following appropriate processes in case there is a breakdown?
6) Provide education: It’s now more important than ever to start or continue your efforts to equip everyone with self-awareness, empathy, collaboration skills, inclusive behaviors, etc. What can you do to better assess and meet the learning & development needs across the organization on topics like these?
7) Ensure space for conversation: Organizations often shy away from providing opportunities to talk about social or political issues in the workplace, and these are certainly precarious topics and difficult times. And yet, these issues affect our workplaces and matter for our employees, so consider your options for productive dialogue and lean into any discomfort that may come with it.
8) Invest in external relationships: Develop stronger relationships with other organizations, communities, and other stakeholders to improve connections and communication beyond the daily management of the organization and keep a finger on the pulse of the world around you.
Ask yourself where you draw the line. Ask your organization what you stand for. And then draw that line and take that stand with commitment today and vision for the future.