Waiting for Others Never Changed Anything

Jennifer A. Stollman, PhD, Director of Consulting Services

As we near the end of an annus horribilis (a year of disaster or misfortune that is 2020, we have much to reflect on. The continued violence and discriminatory thinking against Black, Indigenous, People of Color, transgender individuals, people with disabilities, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, under-resourced folks, and other minorities indicate that despite our initial massive push after the death of George Floyd, there remains much work to do.

Flexability was delighted to see a dawning across Americans’ hearts and minds as they confronted their complicity or passive acceptance of biased thought and action. It seems like every US company, organization, and educational institution raced to upload BLM supportive and anti-discriminatory statements on their websites. Passion, concern, and commitment flowed into words committing to do better, reflect on inequitable workspace practices, increase minority representation across promotion pipelines and leadership, and create learning, living, and working spaces that are invitational and emphasize belonging and mattering.

Many of us conducting this work for many years understand that massive and widespread attention to equity and inclusion happens in stages. A devastating event, often involving the brutal murder or some other form of violence, throws us into the first stage. Next come widespread demonstrations cacophonous (harsh, discordant mixtures of sounds) outrage and symphonic calls for justice and change. Demands for education, awareness, and systemic change coupled with the righteous anger, fatigue, frustration, and dispiritedness of those most impacted quickly follow suit. We then listen, question, educate ourselves, and feel deep pain and compassion.

Unfortunately, and common during civil and human rights movements, our dedication wanes, and our attention is drawn elsewhere. Our collective heads look elsewhere and our index fingers point to others to create change. The pandemic doesn’t help. The dedicated masses soon dwindle to a few folks working against a tidal wave of changes needed on granular to grand scales. Prior commitments to equity and inclusion fall prey to other priorities and tightened budgets. The final stage leaves the wounded untended, organizational promises to equity and inclusion unfulfilled, and relationships among colleagues fractured.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can let go of the myth that systemic change can only be accomplished by corporate leadership, local, state, national governments, and time. Systemic bias is created through everyday mindsets and behaviors by each of us and can be brought down by individual efforts. Every work action and interaction is an opportunity to increase equity and inclusion and eliminate exclusion and discrimination. Ordinary people do extraordinary things. You can do it. You must do it.

Here are some easy-to-implement strategies to decrease bias and increase equity in your workspaces:

  1. Educate Yourself—Don’t skip the hundreds of articles on bias and inclusion found in media, entertainment, and your industry trade magazines. Read, listen, and watch. You will be surprised at how much you will learn and digest.
  2. Assume Agency—Step forward and call it in when you witness bias mindsets and action. It’s not about being brave or courageous. Treat these incidents as problems that inhibit colleague cohesion and organizational productivity and fix them in the same way.
  3. Clean up Your Backyard—Don’t wait for others to make changes. Don’t spend your time calling out others’ bad behavior. Take a full accounting of your problematic thinking and behavior, work through your ego fragilities, ignorance, and identity anxieties. Don’t wax your lack of knowledge or guilt on others; instead, adopt adaptive and growth mindsets and put them into action. Flex the equity muscle often and watch it strengthen.
  4. Leverage Your Knowledge and Skills—Review workplace norms, scripts, policies, and practices for bias and eliminate discrimination. Replace neutral policies and language with explicitly inclusive, equitable, and anti-biased language and text.
  5. Secure Professional Development—Schedule foundational and scaffolded educational sessions on bias, inclusion, and equity. Make sure these sessions include how to effectively realistically apply these skills to achieve workspace inclusion.
  6. Conduct a Diversity Audit—Anecdotes hinting that workspaces emphasize belonging, mattering, equity, and inclusion are not enough. Create climate surveys, review hiring and retention, all work manuals, and external and internal messaging for explicit equity and inclusion. Use this information to create equity and inclusion strategic plans and follow through with the suggested items.
  7. Revisit Your BLM and Anti-Bias Statements—Go back to organizational commitments as they relate to supporting anti-bias and equity and either develop action items or check in on those items’ status. If they don’t exist, create them. If they do, delegate tasks and assign “to done” dates to ensure that these action items are completed.

Lived company and individual values require long-term commitments, focus, and action. Be the company and individual you say you are. Doing so is not that hard and your efforts will result in critical and sustainable change.

Photo credit: Keiko Hiromi/AFLO