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WORKSPAN
LEADERSHIP AT WORK |

Leading Toward the Perfect Union


Taking an inventory of the world right now you may conclude that humanity is in a death spiral.  It’s a logical conclusion given the worldwide list of heart-wrenching issues that continue to expose the gaps in the experiences each of us get to have as people, citizens, co-workers, friends, family members, workers and leaders. 

In the midst of the biological and economic meltdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is facing another crisis fueled by the death of George Floyd, which became a tough reminder of the continued racism, discrimination and privilege that have existed for centuries.  

Many of us have paused to reflect on what we are doing as organizations to set an example on diversity, equity and inclusion, internally and externally. We are looking deep into our core values and missions to ensure we indeed are a safe place for our staff and that we foster an inclusive and equitable culture free from racial and other biases. The good news is that there are more conversations happening about race, inequality, privilege, anti-racism, and becoming an ally. The bad news, I guess, is that the need for these conversations still very much exist. 

Discussions about social justice and racism will continue to be uncomfortable until there is no longer a true need to have these discussions. Most people strive for a sense of fairness and equity and when faced with the systemic implications of racism or sexism, there isn't anywhere to go but into discomfort as we examine our role in it. As leaders, we are digging much deeper to examine our own behaviors in order to best help individuals, groups and organizations. This includes expressing solidarity with the black community and finding ways to offer some level of meaningful support to employees.

Leaders are compelled to treat everyone with fairness and celebrate the diversity that makes our teams and workplaces better and stronger. Addressing workplace equity includes fostering an inclusive culture that allows each one of our employees to bring their full self into the organization. This means as leaders, we need to see the full person, including their racial or social identity. 

During a meeting several years ago, a co-worker was responding to a pointed question about unintended messages that might be construed by a current marketing campaign. Another team member asked about his rationale and how that would land with “people like me.” It was a brilliant question. In those few seconds I ran through every identity I knew she had, including her faith and being a single parent. And then he said it. “Campaigns are color blind.” 

Although the discussion we had that day started out about how to reach different audiences, it ended up being about so much more, including that when we don’t include someone's  differences in how we lead, interact, or speak with them, then we are not recognizing the full person — which means we are never going to get the best from them.

If you find yourself ever saying something like “I don’t see you as black” or “I don’t see you as gay,” understand you are missing an incredible amount about who that person is, what they go through each day, and how to best leverage the diversity of their full self. The issue is not that you see them as black or gay, because you should see them as that, but what might need to be redefined is what you think it means to be black or gay.  

Asking the Hard Questions

In times of peace and prosperity, we can become complacent about issues of diversity and inclusion, but even in peaceful and prosperous times they do not disappear. Racism and other biases have a daily existence and they often are brought to light again in unrest and chaos. Consequently, the stakes are higher. This also gives us an opportunity to work on ourselves and our networks to help break down barriers that limit access and the voice of others. 

The Preamble to the United States Constitution says: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

As we look around us today, we must pause and ask the hard questions: Who is the “we” in “We the people?” Who counts? Who matters? The Preamble also mentions justice, domestic tranquility, general welfare, and securing the “blessings of liberty” which protect the nation’s earned rights for liberty, justice, and freedom all wrapped in a pursuit of a “more perfect union.”

Leaders everywhere can influence individuals and reshape systems to help create a future that reflects our past but is not bound by it. Reprioritizing equity and tackling issues with a belief that “we” refers to all of us can and will enable change. Each day we can work to see, understand and leverage our differences for the betterment of everyone.

See today’s landmark ruling: “U.S. Supreme Court Rules LGBTQ Workers Are Protected Under Title VII.”

Understanding more about our own biases, beliefs and privileges will help us recognize and act on issues in our personal and professional environments. This is an important part of the solution. As a result of a true and transparent commitment to diversity and inclusion, companies can accelerate their journey toward becoming better and stronger organizations for customers, employees and society.

The importance of making a strong statement, more so internally than externally, and taking action to ensure an inclusive workplace demonstrates a true and authentic commitment to what is both possible, and right. Our union can be stronger and more perfect, but it must be done together.

About the Author

 Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the CEO of WorldatWork.