09 Jun Words Matter. Actions Matter More.
In the wake of unprecedented public reaction in recent memory to the killing of George Floyd on May 25th, many organizations have released statements of support for the Black community, while re-affirming their own values and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Since then, some have been criticized for failing to take or commit to specific actions consistent with their words.
Like many of you, we know that words matter, but actions matter more. We held back for a few days to process our own emotions and make a statement when we could do so with clear and effective words, and also with at least a start on action(s) that can make our words real.
“We stand with the Black community against the racial hate and injustice that has been and continues to be done in this country. We call for personal and systemic actions by everyone against this deep and longstanding problem to ensure every Black person’s fundamental human and civil rights, and the dignity and respect that is their birthright. We recommit ourselves to the OurOffice mission of doing everything we can for all people to have equal opportunity in their “pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”
We applaud those leaders and their organizations who have publicly called for justice and stated their own commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. What is spoken out loud, is what is “most likely to be thought about and to be visible in our consciousness,” according to Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego. Also the mere act of stating something, creates a level of accountability for the speaker. So we praise those who have spoken. In fact, we believe there is a lot more that needs to be said, until we are satisfied that real systemic and effective change has been made.
One of the most memorable pieces we read during this period is one by Code Switch, the NPR blog on race, ethnicity and culture. “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” is a non-comprehensive list of Black people who were killed at the hands of police in the U.S. since Eric Garner's death in July 2014, and what they were doing at the time of their killings. The chilling list includes activities like walking in the neighborhood, playing in the park, jogging, answering the door to let the police in to help a neighbor who had called 911, driving home from dinner, babysitting, sleeping, and grocery shopping. Each of these is an activity that most of us engage in on a regular basis, without any fear that it would be our last one. The long list brings the point home that the unjust and senseless killing of Black people while they were engaged in everyday activities has continued for far too long despite all the talk that typically happens after each one is caught on video and distributed via technology. So while words matter, they are clearly not enough.
Actions Matter More
“Actions speak louder than words” was famously used by Abraham Lincoln in one of his writings in 1856. But it had already been used in other forms before, including in the Christian faith in James 2:14–18, where James explains that if you say you have faith, then you should reflect it in your actions
In our own experience, we have all had instances of trustworthy people saying one thing, and doing another at a different time. We tend to believe people more when we see them do something, because we know that what people do, more strongly correlates with what they really value, want, and believe. So it makes sense that an organization’s actions at this time, even if initially small, speak much louder than any eloquent and lengthy statement they might release.
Lastly, leaders regularly ask their people to act in accordance with the organization’s values and take action towards its key objectives. It seems only natural that in such a time of anger, sadness and uncertainty, people must be able to ask their leaders to do the same!
Consistency is Everything
In our Mastermind Roundtable discussion last week, Marie Roker-Jones, champion for women of color in tech and founder of Raising Great Men™, made a key point that conversations and actions, even if small, need to be consistent to make change.
“Black people are Black everyday. Everytime my family members step out, I have to worry about them,” shared Marie with her colleagues. Most of us can’t begin to know how that feels. But what we can do is to educate ourselves. In fact, everything starts with education.
Actions You Can Start With
The first action we should all take is to educate ourselves. Sandy Harvey, Chief Human Resources strategist and founder of Exodus Consulting Group, put it this way: “Let’s agree you don’t know what it means to be me.” Too often even those who support and empathize with the cause of equity and justice for all, don’t truly understand what it means to be a Black person in America. So let’s start with educating ourselves with a real sense of curiosity and a desire to truly learn.
One of the best ways to learn is to ask the right questions of the right people, to listen more, and to work hard to hear each other better. Here are a few questions you can start asking your team members, colleagues, suppliers, customers and other key stakeholders:
- Tell me about obstacles in your career or someone close to you, which do not seem to be experienced by others.
- Have you or someone you know well, experienced prejudicial treatment that you do not see others encountering?
- Have you had the same opportunities that others have in your career development?
- What types of conversation do you find particularly difficult in the organization? What would make a difference in your contribution?
- Are there aspects of your life that you choose not to share in the workplace but would share if the environment were different?
- Most of the time, do you feel respected at work? How could that change for the better?
While asking these questions is just a starting point, it is likely the hardest and certainly a very important part of an effective solution. Many times when faced with longstanding issues, we assume we already understand the problem. We skip over the first step of asking and listening to fully grasp the complexities, sensitivities, and underlying root causes. Authentic conversations lead to a shared sense of understanding and being understood, which naturally leads to deeper and more enlightening discussions and emerging insights and solutions.
The next step after this period of inquiry is self reflection, asking questions of ourselves and taking personal responsibility. Stay tuned, as we plan to discuss this next phase in an upcoming piece.
Actions We are Starting With
As we broadly advocate for words of support and effective actions to combat inequity and injustice, we have been contemplating our own actions as well.
It’s only a start. But in the last few days, we have been adding to our read / watch / listen list that we maintain for our core team to continue to educate ourselves. We have decided to share this list with you here. In the spirit of consistency of our actions, we commit to keep this list updated, as we find more key resources to share.
We are also committing to extend our Mastermind Roundtable discussions, which were originally only intended for the initial period of the COVID crisis. These discussions are all centered on more diversity, equity and inclusion in the future of work. So it appears to us that as another small action on our part, we can continue to grow, facilitate, and share the insights that emerge from these conversations, as we have been doing in the last few months.
Lastly, we ask you to continue to speak, to continue to think and act upon what you can do personally and systemically to make change. Please feel free to drop us a line at email@example.com any time that you’d like to share your ideas and thoughts, or if we can help you in any way. Let us all work together towards much better days ahead.