Episode 20: Inclusion in the Workplace
Inequalities of race in America have come to a boiling point this week, reverberating around the country and through all areas of society, including the workplace. Inclusion in the workplace has long been a goal for many companies, though the actual advancement toward this goal has had questionable progress. How can companies, even those with inclusion programs, improve the workplace for people of color with authenticity and true compassion? In this time fraught with fear, how should companies support their non-white employees?
Issues of race are delicate and this show, consisting of three white men as its core, could safely sit this one out. We took a different approach. Ducking the issue is part of the systemic problem. Ideally we would have time to plan a panel that’s as inclusive as the work cultures we argue for. We’ll do that but in the present moment we need to start the conversation.
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses inclusion in the workplace and how companies can create a supportive environment, both in times of crisis and overall. Joining Charley for this conversation are UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck, and OnPlane consultant Martin Low.
On a related culture management note, On Plane Consulting is conducting a short poll to take a quick pulse of how employees are feeling during this COVID-19 crisis. Please take a moment to fill out the 50-second, anonymous survey here (and share the link with others):
Link to the On Plane Survey
Thanks in advance!
Episode 20: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrjhkFSl2Dw
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: Inclusion in the Workplace
Charley Miller 0:13
Hey everybody, it is June 2, 2020. The crazy year continues. I’m Charley Miller, founder of Unitonomy. I’m joined by Dr. Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville, Martin Low, On Plane Consulting. This is our 20th episode, which it’s taken me 20 episodes to get my sort of weird pointing down with the mirrored video here, but nailed that. Martin knows where his mute button is nowadays. We are at the end of what we consider our first season here, Episode 20. This has been fun. We’ve never done anything like this, I don’t think any of us, so it’s been good to sort of kind of get the muscle down of how do we talk about things publicly. And I think it’s it’s interesting, we’re going to talk to down a sensitive subject. The whole country is enraptured by the protests and racial tensions that have surfaced because of George Floyd and here locally Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and then, needless deaths, police brutality. And it’s a great conversation that needs to happen and it’s happening in very productive ways there’s so many good stories are getting overshadowed by how some of the protests have turned violent. A lot of times, that’s police lead violence.
We don’t really need to go into that, or the causes of anything like that. This show is about Employee Connectedness so I think the lens we want to bring to the conversation is in the workplace, what should people be talking about and doing right now, with everything else is going on? Because I don’t think anyone thinks that once you kind of walk into work, everything out there just stops. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is this idea of this work and life living in two separate buckets really is, was bullshit lie all along. It’s this metaphor we use to sort of kind of train our brain to kind of do one thing or the other and find a balance between the two. But if anything’s true, we now realize that tension is not something you can ignore. And I think when we think about racial tension that’s not something that should be ignored anymore than it has been.
When we look at companies around the country, in the last decade, a lot of the bigger companies have done things that are great, like find a chief diversity officer, and really focusing on inclusion. And that’s great, with Unitonomy, we really try to support smaller companies, and a lot of these smaller companies don’t have the means to go out and hire people that have a lot of experience in these roles. And they are probably looking right now at what can we do? You know we don’t, we don’t have all the knowledge or resources. And so hopefully today we can find them a little guidance on how to further the conversations.
And so one last preface though to us, talking about today. I think we just need to have a message of empathy here. We’re three white guys talking about this. We’d wanted to end the season, when we planned this two months ago during the beginnings of the pandemic, we wanted to end on inclusion, you know. Kind of weird that that’s happening, you know, literally right now with what’s going on this week. It’s worth saying, Black Lives Matter and we could have gotten one of the people we know to be with us that’s a non-white person here, but that would have almost felt like a token person. And I talked a lot about this with my partner Brittain Skinner at Unitonomy, and we think it’s better to have a panel. And we’ll do that in Season Two so it’s not everyone looking at one person to sort of be a voice for the entire non-white community. But, again, we are three white guys talking about this, and it’s. We can only do so much here in terms of having a conversation about it but you guys have a lot of experience in a world of employees and building empathy and building connectedness. So I’m sure there’s there’s plenty of good resources to talk about today, as a step. So I’m going to start with this one which is what should leaders should be doing? This is the same question we asked in the beginning of COVID-19 and the social distancing when everyone had to shift to work from home. You know, what should leadership be doing literally today, on the Tuesday like four or five days into the massive protests and curfews, etc.? Martin, I’ll start with you, On Plane Consulting. What comes to mind?
Martin Low 4:49
It’s the same thing we’ve been saying, right? In my mind, none of the stuff that we’re dealing with right now is new, in terms of the underlying root causes and issues. So you know the issues with policing is not new. It’s been around for a very long time. The concerns with, you know, injustice–not new, been around for a very long time. Maybe not appropriately dealt with, right, but not new. And just like this stuff’s not new, the thing you should do as a leader is not new either. Check in with your people, see how they’re doing. Um, there are a lot of people that are just, they’re nervous and scared right now. They don’t have an understanding of what the future holds. They see all the turmoil that is around them, and they’re concerned, whether it’s for the safety of their family, the wellness of their family, their relationship with, you know, other parts of society. Whatever it might be, you know. Spend the time, check in on them, make some sort of space for them to really tell you how things are going. And then try and help each person to the degree that you can, to the degree that is appropriate with whatever it is that they’re worried about. I mean it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about, same thing with COVID, all of that.
Charley Miller 6:19
Difficult conversation, right? It’d be very easy to duck, it’d be easy for us not to take on this topic in the show today, it’d be very easy for people to come in back to the office and just pretend it’s not going on, right. How would that make someone feel though, who’s non-white, probably minority in an office? And a lot of cases, you need to have the conversation, and, like almost anything that’s difficult, talking is half the battle, right? Just making sure people have a space to say what they need to say, and then listen. Right. That’s how all empathy and compassion always develop, which is listening. And companies should be doing that regularly, not just in moments like this, but these moments, a crisis is a great moment to have a meaningful conversation so use it to further things.
Martin Low 7:10
Absolutely. You know it was interesting NPR had a little segment and they talked about the store. And the way that the store typically would handle an issue with like a customer that comes through. And typically they would talk to the customer, wouldn’t call the police, was a non-violent thing, they would talk to the customer. And they would work it out, they had people in the community were like yeah these people always made me feel like, you know, I didn’t feel profiled, I didn’t feel different, I felt like I was part of the community, and all starts with, they would just talk to people you know when there was an issue they would just talk to them. You know, it just goes so far.
Charley Miller 7:56
Dr Shuck, you have a great message about the importance of compassion. What’s been going through your mind as you’ve been seeing the events unfold?
Dr. Brad Shuck 8:08
I think the thing that’s that I’ve been thinking the most about has been around judgment. And when we, when we talk about compassion, and its connection to empathy. Empathy is being able to, to listen to somebody to understand they’re to do what you can to understand their experience without a judgement statement on it, and I’ve seen so much judgment. And I couldn’t agree more with with Martin about listening. Um, I think what leaders can do right now is listen to the people of color who work in your company in your organization, and just listen. I’ve seen a lot of posts from friends who are black, who are brown, who are different colors and and the messages are they’re not okay, that they don’t feel safe they don’t feel comfortable and gosh, I think listening can go a really really long way right now. Empathetic, listening, no judgement. I just want to hear you, I want to create a space for you to be able to to be yourself and to voice your opinions and how you’re feeling right now, without the fear of judgment on my end.
What leaders can do right now is listen to the people of color who work in your company in your organization, and just listen. I’ve seen a lot of posts from friends who are black, who are brown, who are different colors and the messages are they’re not okay, that they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable and gosh, I think listening can go a really, really long way right now. Empathetic, listening, no judgment. I just want to hear you, I want to create a space for you to be able to to be yourself and to voice your opinions and how you’re feeling right now, without the fear of judgment on my end.Dr. Brad Shuck
Here’s what I’d say about inclusion. I think companies do a lot of things to help build morale and drive connectedness and to drive things like engagement. Free coffee and tea in the break room, parties on Fridays, sometimes have benefits and bonuses and recognition programs, and all that stuff is awesome and you need that, but I’m telling you it doesn’t work, none of that matters if somebody comes to work and feels excluded because of the color of their skin, because of the religious view that they have, none of that stuff matters. We have got to get to a place where work is an experience where people can bring their entire self, and without any fear of judgment or where they have to cover who they are. Man, if we could get there, even a little bit.
I think companies do a lot of things to help build morale and drive connectedness and to drive things like engagement…none of that matters if somebody comes to work and feels excluded because of the color of their skin, because of the religious view that they have, none of that stuff matters. We have got to get to a place where work is an experience where people can bring their entire self, and without any fear of judgment or where they have to cover who they are.Dr. Brad Shuck
Charley Miller 10:24
That’s really well said. I don’t think leadership should think they’re going to solve racism in any workplace. The goal is to provide safety, and to make sure that you have a culture where you can benefit from a diversity of ideas. And of course, safety, and a diversity of ideas…we put that together and that is absolutely the definition of inclusion. Right. It’s not just about having people who look different, or go to different types of churches or whatever it is but it’s the idea that everyone feels safe, as you said Brad, to be their full self in the work and that’s when people will thrive. But conversation and listening so so important. Companies can commit to anti-racist corporate policies, and I think, again, bigger companies hopefully have started moving down this road, a while back. Smaller companies…maybe they haven’t gotten there yet because they’re just getting their feet under them with building their business. Now’s a great opportunity to call timeout and realize it’s time to do that and be public about those commitments so that you have to stick to them.
There’s a woman I follow on Twitter. She’s fantastic. Her name is Dr. Erin L. Thomas. Her Twitter hashtag is @ErinLThomasPhD. She is the Chief Diversity Officer at UpWork technology company. She’s fantastic and a few days ago she posted a list of actionable ideas companies can do right now to sort of create policies that will really build a space of inclusion. And I copied down a few of them here just to name right now. And I love this: validate your black employees humanity by communicating with them directly and personally. I know from my own experience that if you don’t have a regular channel for checking in, and making sure things are moving and the conversations still going, if this becomes a once a year annual retreat sort of conversation where you say “inclusion matters” and you don’t do anything, it, it will actually undermine the entire thing. It’s almost worse than doing nothing if everyone just realizes you’re all talk. So I think the most important thing is that the communication doesn’t feel forced but it’s a reoccurring thing you’ve got going. People personally are checking in.
You need to make sure that black employees have a place to process information and grieve when some things are happening like this in the world. You need to protect black employees’ time and their ability to heal, go to community gatherings, get therapy, whatever it is they need. Make sure there’s a resource group for people of color, that they feel connected to each other, and then if they need to have private conversations, they can do that. You need black leadership too. I saw a tweet this morning that I thought was great. It’s basically said “Hey everybody. We love your Black Lives Matter graphics that your brand’s posting right now on LinkedIn or whatever social media, but hey, how about a picture of your leadership or your board of directors let’s see how many people of color, you actually have in your company right now.” Right. That matters. As much as anything right now to make sure there’s leadership at the helm that can really identify with these issues. If you go to her twitter feed you can find this full list and we’ll post a link to it in the text with our live stream here today so you can read the full checklist.
But another resource that I think is really valuable for people to check out if you’re again a smaller company, and you just want to know where to start. Projectinclude.org has a great list of recommendations, where you can go through one by one and define your culture and employee lifecycle and all the things we like to talk about in terms of cultivating culture, but this is all through the lens of inclusion. So it’s like, yeah you want to do this thing about defining your culture but have you left out the part about how it’s going to actually connect to people of color in a meaningful way so it’s a really nice way of going forward as you make plans.
And the last thing I’ll note is accountability. Like I said, I think it’s important that no matter what steps you’re taking that you’re framing them somehow in a permanent way so that you can keep pointing back to it and you can hold yourself accountable, we can hold each other accountable. But it’s, again, not going to be the sort of thing where this week we talk about it because of the crisis, and then a month you know we’re back to COVID-19 or figuring out the next crazy thing that’s hitting the world and at this point, who knows what that’s going to be because it’s 2020. Aliens? But yeah, I think it’s important that if you’re going to do something, you’re holding yourself accountable, so that it’s a perpetual piece of your business. Do you guys have any other thoughts you want to tack on right now?
Dr. Brad Shuck 15:38
You know, so I would add this, I think talking about diversity from an organizational perspective or from a leadership perspective, is something a lot of leaders do. I think inclusion is something people talk about, but don’t actually do and diversity, and I didn’t come up with this, another scholar came up with this, diversity is being invited to the party, right. “Hey, you’re invited to the party, but please sit along the wall. Please don’t talk. Also, you can’t have the songs.” Inclusion is being asked to dance. And inclusion, that has an element of authenticity to it. And people know it. We know when diversity is, is something we’re checking a box on. Inclusion is much more difficult because it requires us to have authentic conversations, sometimes uncomfortable and difficult conversations, but that honor the dignity of the person who was sitting in front of us, or the group of people who are sitting in front of us. And those things can be difficult. That is leadership right now. And the last thing I’ll say about this is and we talked about this with when we started the COVID-19 stuff. Some of the day to day decisions are going to be forgotten. We’re going to be two years down the line, and we will have forgotten how we made this decision or make a decision. But people will not forget how you made them feel. Leading now is going to be absolutely about how people feel today and how we make them feel and help them feel and empower them. What do you think, Martin?
Martin Low 17:26
I like the “how we make them feel comment.” I can’t tell you how many companies I have seen with a sign, a new policy statement. You know it’s mandatory from any attorney that you have that, you’re going to put up a statement that says you value diversity in some way, shape, or form. Right. I don’t think that’s ever made anybody feel good at all, and where the rubber hits the road is how does my manager treat me? How does my team treat me? Do feel like I have connectivity? Do I feel like there’s that inclusion? That’s how you’re gonna get the best out of people, and that’s how you’re gonna make it. And whether it’s work, whether that’s out in the world, you know, all these policies, all these rules, all this stuff exists and do people feel any better for it? The things that people feel better for are the one to one conversations and how they’re treated in that moment. And as a manager and as a leader, you know it behooves you to focus your time there and not just say oh yeah we’ve got a diversity inclusion program, you know that group over there meets about it and they run a directive about it once a year. The way that you actually get that to take shape and to get some value out of that processes is that one to one interaction between the employee and their co workers or the employee and the manager,
All these policies, all these rules, all this stuff exists and do people feel any better for it? The things that people feel better for are the one to one conversations and how they’re treated in that moment. And as a manager and as a leader, you know it behooves you to focus your time there and not just say “oh yeah we’ve got a diversity inclusion program, you know that group over there meets about it and they run a directive about it once a year.”Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
Charley Miller 18:56
Good place to sort of wrap up today is to just make a few notes. One, I think, a fair assumption for anyone that’s white in the workplace is assume that anyone that of color feels less safe than you on a daily basis. And so that’s the first bridge of empathy realizing they must feel less safe than me. So different aspects of being here, whether it’s getting to work, going home or just being in this office, sharing ideas. So understand that. Innately, they are gonna probably feel less safe, some major.
The other thing I want to note is Unitonomy, we make software for b2b businesses. We’ve been sitting on the sidelines of all this, whether it’s COVID-19 or now Black Lives Matter and what’s happening, and not knowing what can we do. So we took the mantra Brad Shuck has championed here for a long time, which we love, which is “Compassion takes Courage.” I think it’s a message that’s really worth spreading right now, so we set up a website called CompassionTakesCourage.com just putting a message on coffee mugs, sweatshirts, face guards. Any money that we make through the sale of that gear and the clothing will go to Feeding America, and the National Urban League. I think it’s a perfect gift to give to someone, whether it’s a friend or family member or a colleague that is passive about all this, that you know that you know that their heart’s in the right place, but they don’t know what to do. They’re afraid of speaking up or doing anything. Maybe this is a gift they give them as a gentle nudge saying “hey compassion takes a little courage here.” Movements like this require everyone to take a step forward and just say something, do something. I’m proud of us for talking about this today and not ducking it…again three white guys. But it’s important that everyone is listening and talking right now, and that includes our colleagues. Any other thoughts guys?
Dr. Brad Shuck 20:57
No, I’m glad we had the conversation today, for sure.
Charley Miller 21:02
Well fantastic way to wrap up Season One of Employee Connectedness. Really appreciate you guys taking the time over 20 different days now. This has been awesome and I love doing it with you all. And we’ll come back later in the summer with Round Two, but awesome stuff. All right. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for watching.