Change Your Workplace, Change the World

Article by, Jenna Pilja

Inequality in the United States continues to be an incredibly problematic component of our ongoing history. As a political era of blatant racism comes to an end, we now face the aftermath of extreme social division that transcends politics, testing each of our humanity and how we chose to show up in the world and in the workplace.

Our unique perspectives and how we relate to each other on a human level have long played a role in how organizations are structured and led. While many organizations still operate in an Authoritarian Leadership model, it is clear that these “power-over” traditional hierarchical dynamics are no longer serving us as a society or as organizations.

Just as how the line between our home and work lives has become blurred in the midst of the pandemic, a similar shift has occurred given the ongoing social justice movements and political unrest we are experiencing. An undeniable momentum has begun and workers across generations and all racial backgrounds are demanding organizations claim a stance on inclusion, diversity, and equity in the workplace. During his Inauguration speech, our new President Elect Joe Biden created a call to action for all American’s to do their part to stand up against white supremacy and inequality in our country.

The social issues that continue to play out in society require each of us to take personal responsibility. For business leaders, this means being authentic by living your company values, as the company brand is the ultimate reflection of a leader’s personal beliefs. Our country is going through unprecedented changes. It is the responsibility of each business leader to be transparent and take a stand for what they believe in. In order to adapt to the ongoing changes workplaces face in the years ahead, this requires crossing into uncharted territory where bravery and vulnerability are the only way forward for achieving unity and equity.

While the issues we face may feel complex and daunting, the solutions start with incremental, simple yet impactful tactics. I have created a list of five actionable steps that any organization can implement today to strengthen its ability to create a more inclusive and equitable culture for all.

  1. Take time to reflect on what you’ve done well and where you have an opportunity to do better with creating an inclusive workplace. These are emotional times and everyone is learning. Regardless of political affiliation or how actively you’ve prioritized inclusion and diversity in the past, taking a moment to check-in with yourself about your personal core values and how they have led you to where you are in this moment is a powerful exercise. Request for all senior leaders within your organization to participate in this activity with you. This can also help foster appreciation for how far you’ve come as a team and create unity toward a clear direction forward.
  2. Speak up about current events. In the past it may have been considered taboo to even utter anything political at work, but those days are over. With so much uncertainty elsewhere in the world, this creates a greater sense of urgency for intentionally designing a supportive, caring work environment that is built upon trust.  During times of crisis, it is more important than ever for communication to be clear to help reduce anxiety, so employees know what to expect and how they will be supported. While you shouldn’t push all your political views on your team, it is important to clearly state what beliefs and behaviors your business will and will not tolerate.
  3. Emphasize the importance of mental health and self-care. People’s attitudes and behaviors begin to shift when they know that your top priority as a leader is their own wellbeing above profits and productivity. Getting enough sleep each night alone is proven to lead to greater productivity, creativity, and makes people nicer. Whether it be as simple as sending gentle reminders encouraging your employees to take an emotional wellness day when needed or checking in before each meeting just to see how everyone is doing emotionally, these practices encourage honesty and vulnerability, valuable traits that are needed to collaborate and create great work together.
  4. Embrace the individuality of each person. For many years, the most common leadership style was traditionally results-driven and all about the bottom-line. Now, recent studies have shown that the single most effective predictor of team success is having a psychological safe work environment where people are comfortable showing up as their whole self. Each person has a different perspective of the world and embracing individuality is the key to driving innovation as a company. A great way you can put this into practice is working with each employee to create their own customized personal development plan based on their career interests. This is a powerful method for crafting more equitable learning and development plans, since equity is all about meeting individuals where they are at with their current skill set and acknowledging that no one person is exactly the same.
  5. Establish processes that operationalize your company core values. It is one thing to have core values listed on your website, and another to walk the walk and live those values everyday. Creating a universal set of processes and systems creates clarity about behavioral and performance expectations for all employees to live by. These expectations serve as a guide for how all decisions in the company are made, which come in very handy in the inevitable hard moments when disagreements arise to support arriving at a compromise around a shared goal.
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Change takes time, but every small step that is taken is a step toward meaningful progress.

About the Author:

Jenna Pilja is a Talent  and Culture Specialist, Certified Life Coach, and writer who implements human centered people solutions for growing organizations. Her people-first approach to creating safe spaces that foster greater inclusion and wellbeing, supports all people to be their authentic self and thrive.

Jenna has spent the past decade helping build successful organizations such as Google and LinkedIn as a Talent Acquisition leader. Her passion for education and creating more inclusive workplaces also led her to create The Recruiters Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating the next generation of talent leaders through education, mentorship, training, and community collaboration.

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