A catalyst peer shared a story with me last week that moved me to amplify it. She is a black leader at a large healthcare company who asked her Diversity and Inclusion leader to enlist the company’s CEO as an ally. She specifically asked if he was willing to host a virtual town hall to let employees have a safe place to share their thoughts, concerns, and questions about the upsetting and difficult racial incidents that have occurred these past few weeks. Much to her delight, her CEO was open to the idea.
The town hall was well received and the CEO was inspired to continue the conversation on a regular basis going forward. He acknowledged he was uncomfortable talking about race, talking about how racial discrimination and violence still plague our society, but he knew it was time to lean in to his discomfort and shed light on it in a human way with his staff. The town hall was so successful at starting the dialogue and making racism OK to talk about, that other senior leaders started hosting their own virtual town hall events with their respective teams, engaging in these courageous conversations.
Leaders can create safe spaces to be authentic, empathetic, and human.
I am so inspired by my peer’s bravery to ask her CEO to host the event, her CEO’s vulnerability and choice to look past his fear and start the conversation, and the company’s collective embrace, acknowledgement, and understanding that many people so desperately need right now. In my role as an internal collaboration and communications consultant, I see first-hand the power leaders have on their organizations to grow, to be authentic, to inspire, to show empathy, and to create a safe space to bring all our human-ness to work.
“Technology can act as a megaphone. It can be loud and annoying, or it can be used as an effective tool to amplify your employees’ voices.”
Because we live in a global economy, these safe spaces are often created with the use of technology through virtual town halls or smaller team meetings; and right now, during a global pandemic, technology is paramount to enabling these conversations. Technology can act as a megaphone. It can be loud and annoying, or it can be used as an effective tool to amplify your employees’ voices. These voices generate ripples of change to create and grow inclusive environments at work that inspire collaboration, open communication, active listening, innovation, continuous learning, and a collective purpose. Encouraging employees to share their voices is the first step to making valuable impact.
You don’t have to do it alone.
If you are a leader at your organization, I implore you to start the uncomfortable and courageous conversation. Use the technology you have at your disposal (Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Zoom, Workplace from Facebook, etc.). Make sure everyone has access to that technology. Partner with your Diversity and Inclusion team to guide you. Focus the conversation on racial justice and how it manifests in your organization – hiring, promotion, culture. Have an open mind; commit to learning and making mistakes; and be vulnerable, humble, and compassionate (to yourself too). It’s time to turn on your company’s megaphone.
** A Note from Carrie Basham Marshall, Principal and CEO of Talk Social to Me
I was so grateful when Jen shared this powerful blog post. As a white female with an all-white female team working in the tech industry, I was fearful and paralyzed about how to speak up and authentically, professionally commit to demonstrating that to us, Black Lives Matter. Jen’s words hit home; I needed to have the uncomfortable conversation with myself, with my team, and with the clients who come to us for our perspective.
The past month has stirred a great awakening and planted the early seeds of growth in how we are thinking about privilege and race at work. I naively thought we had been advocating for all voices when helping customers better use collaboration and communications technology (“Your shop floor workers might not have smartphones,” or “don’t forget about the non-native-English speakers in your training guides”). I was wrong. Real inclusivity has been a blind spot, which I regret and am committed to fixing – starting with educating myself and working with my team to understand how systemic racism and our white backgrounds and privilege impact every ounce of what we do, which has myriad implications for the BIPOC employees that participate in the online communities we support.
My commitment is to learn more about whiteness and privilege at work (starting with our team attending the Whiteness at Work series from the Adaway Group), how we have ignored this topic to-date, what actions we must take to promote real inclusivity in corporate online collaboration and community spaces. They we will report back with our learnings, the changes we plan to make, and how we will commit to ongoing learning and action, including no longer shying away from these uncomfortable – and necessary – conversations in the future.