Executives, leaders, D&I and HR practitioners and others are becoming increasingly concerned that recent global acts of terrorism and the negative political climate will have an adverse impact on the progress of diversity and inclusion. Compounding this impact is the resurgence of violent US domestic aggressions, such as the Charleston church massacre, the killing at the Colorado Planned Parenthood Center, the increase in anti-LGBT legislation, particularly as it relates to Transgender public accommodations, the agitation between minority populations and the police, the stand-off between Federal agents and Wyoming land-rights antagonists. The list goes on.
For years, the unspoken but clear organizational rule was to keep external world events, particularly politics, religion and sexuality, outside of the workplace. Yet the times in which we live, with the impact and speed of social media, have permeated that norm and shifted the rules about what gets discussed. In the workplace, a new normal is being established, without permission and active orchestration. Absent is a lot of forethought on how to handle a myriad of sensitive conversations, such as: Do I have to share a bathroom with a transgender person? If I am uncomfortable working next to a Muslim woman that wears a Hijab, do I have to? My colleague openly supports Candidate X. Now, I am concerned she is a closet bigot, do I have to team with her? On Facebook, I saw that Person X attended a Black Lives Matter protest, does this mean they hate White people?.
The outside world has found its way into the workplace and has become the elephant in the room. The aforementioned external events are “real and present” and a very visible part of our work lives. They are impacting workplace dynamics and our workplace relationships. I was impacted by an experience I had facilitating a session with a Fortune 100 client. We were discussing the challenge of having transparent conversations and how they drive transparent, healthy relationships. A Black male asked me, “how do I tell my supervisor, the anger I feel about being stopped by police, at least twice a month, on my way to work in this suburban, White area? It takes me about 3 hours to let it go and get refocused. I know my supervisor notices something is wrong, but neither of us says anything.” In that same session, a White female asked, “how do I stop fearing Latino males, when I had a real experience of being robbed at gunpoint?” Then, in that same session, a Jewish male shared his fear of being kidnapped by Muslim extremists, when he went on assignment to Dubai. He felt particularly guilty because he had changed his name and had stopped wearing his yarmulke. A Muslim woman spoke of her continued fear of wearing her Hijab after she encountered insults and spits from people passing her in a car and uncomfortable stares from some of her colleagues, after the San Bernardino, California office shootings.
These stories were riveting and in a matter of hours, the humanity of their colleagues was re-affirmed. The magic occurring right in front of us was the powerful lesson of taking the time to build trust, by having transparent conversations. In that simple act of sharing, this group reversed their climate of fear in the workplace. There was a profound outcome, through the simple act of sharing, listening and relating.
Do you want to combat the climate of fear, in a space that you control? Here are a few suggestions to drive transparent and open conversations:
- Identify the “climate of fear” and address the “elephant” in the room, in your team, in your 1:1 relationships. Do this by simply speaking to its presence from your own reality.
- Create an opportunity for others to share and discuss their “fear” issues. What will become blatantly obvious is that most, if not all, of your colleagues are harboring some type of climate of fear.
- In your conversation, make sure to share these 3 points:
- What is your climate of fear? Where and how did it originate?
- How is it impacting you in the workplace? Make sure to describe your behaviors and the choices you make regarding how you interact with others.
- Share how this is making you feel about yourself.
- Share what you need to have addressed to gain a better perspective and/or to address your Fear?
- Re-affirm, Re-affirm, Re-Affirm the value of the conversation:
- For yourself
- For others
- Share what you need to be addressed? You said this in III. D
- Make transparent and open conversations linked to outside world events a habit.
Allowing a “climate of fear” to permeate our workplaces is ultimately a choice we don’t have to make. We can improve our workplace life by addressing each other’s concerns. It won’t be easy because you can’t control the external messages that will continue to permeate. The solution is to accept that the outside world is coming into your workplace. Ultimately, you can control the climate of fear by embracing the reality and discussing its impact on you and your colleagues. Do this, and your workplace will be markedly improved. Remember, we’re all in this together.