What Employees Can Do for Equity and Justice in Their Workplace

The world has changed overnight with the COVID pandemic and the George Floyd killing, and employees are changing too. They are demanding a lot more of their organizations now; they want transparency, equity and justice, and ways to express themselves and voice their concerns. Our last several blogs addressed what leaders should do to be responsive to their employees’ needs at this time. In this week's blog, we want to share insights from our Mastermind group about what employees can do for equity and justice in their workplace. The message is clear: "Be the Change you Want to See." But how, you may ask?

Speak Up!

For too long, many of us have failed to notice or looked the other way when we have seen or heard insensitive language, bad behavior, or outright bias and discrimination in the workplace. If we want a better workplace, we must be willing to speak up, call attention to these incidents and take action as needed. The way we do this certainly depends on many factors. Sometimes it may be as simple as pointing out politely if someone is cut off in a meeting to give them an opportunity to finish.

Angie Hamilton, Culture Leader, Inclusion Engineer and Founder of HR Chique Group, recommended getting active by using existing internal channels like Employee Suggestion programs, newsletters, and larger, industry-specific affinity groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists or the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well. Patricia Neuray of Tangelo Media, who works with organizations on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns and helps mission-driven businesses tell their story, added: "Employees should also take advantage of referral programs that many organizations have to recommend people of different backgrounds."

Watch Your Own Bias.

It is often easier to spot bias and discrimination in others than notice it in ourselves. Attitudes and biases about various groups are learned behaviors and some of them can be so subtle, that you might not recognize them in your own actions. If you have trouble identifying your own bias, sign up for some D&I training through your company’s HR department or online. You can also be proactive by asking friends and colleagues at work to let you know if they observe any bias or potentially discriminatory behavior by you.
Anonymous systems for sharing experiences and voicing concerns can also be very valuable. Such systems can provide a safe environment for those who feel marginalized or who hold beliefs that they don’t feel comfortable sharing openly, to express themselves. Communication leads to better understanding, improved empathy and feelings of inclusion and belonging, and can spark change.

“Internal social systems that allow employees to express themselves are also a way to gain insights to your own behaviors,” said OurOffice CEO Sonya Sepahban. For example, our Culture App, provides analytics on how people are engaging across the organization, as well as their reactions and replies to your own posts. “Standing by things with your name attached, which some leaders advocate, does not work for everyone. True change will only result from transparency and recognizing different comfort levels in people expressing themselves openly,” she added.
If you feel there is a need for more training for your own development in this regard, or more transparency and communication across the organization for broader improvement in the workplace culture, you need to consider providing that input to your leadership. They may be much more open to it in this environment than you imagined, or than they have ever been before.

Be Part of the Solution.

Feelings of inclusion and belonging start on Day one. Remember your first day at a new school, or on a new job? We all have had the awkward first few days or weeks until we started feeling at home. As Patricia Neuray reminded the Mastermind group, "Including people from the beginning is so important. So many companies put a lot of effort into hiring people of different backgrounds, and then do little to make them feel included when they get there!"

Making everyone feel included is not just leadership's responsibility. Every employee can help by taking the time to welcome new co-workers and colleagues. Offering to help a new hire get acquainted with the basics of the company and its underlying culture is the sort of small kindness that can have a long-lasting effect.

"I remember when I first joined a large corporation as an executive. I will never forget the kindness one of my colleagues showed by giving me hints about the unspoken rules of the conference room seating arrangements and the unmarked parking spot that our boss always liked to park in!," shared Sonya Sepahban, who has had a long corporate career prior to becoming a startup entrepreneur and D&I specialist.

We hope this is a good start for actions every employee can take. We will undoubtedly return to this topic and share more ideas in the future. If you are an employee who has taken other actions or seen what works in the workplace, please drop us a note at team@ouroffice.io. We look forward to hearing from you!