Taking action at work: my thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to know what you can and can’t do at work in terms of advocating for change, because the rules of normal human interaction don’t apply the same way.

At least, where I work, we have a fairly staunch culture (especially for a startup) where people are expected to have their game face on at all times. It’s difficult for me to navigate on a good day, let alone during times of important societal change. Having a conversation with people about anything meaningful is rare.

Even the person who I would consider my closest work friend was unwilling to engage her thoughts about the current social climate. She did admit that it was a shame that our company wasn’t planning on making any kind of statement about it, and I encouraged her to share that viewpoint with HR if she is comfortable.

I also reached out to HR to ask about whether my company would make a statement, and was trying to understand their reasons for hesitation to even make an internal statement to employees. Unfortunately, instead of answering my questions, the CHRO dodged them and gave me nothing of value.

I do feel a little embarrassed at trying to get some attention on this issue when no one is interested, but I think I am mostly shocked at the fact that people at my org seem so afraid to make a statement about supporting Black or minority communities which, to me, is completely uncontroversial.

I know most people will tell me “work isn’t the place for these discussions” and to them I would say: Why?

The cultural climate in Corporate America is one of the biggest pillars holding up the status quo, and if we continue to be afraid of changing the game at work, it will take society all the longer. There is nothing wrong with talking about these things at work when done in a respectful and tactful way, with an open and curious mind. The fact that racism is wrong isn’t in question, so why are some companies hesitant to say it out loud? Why can’t employees express their values and ask for their organizations and peers to have a backbone? Many other organizations are making internal and external statements, so why not mine?

I have my own assumptions about why my company won’t make a statement, and I admit that I may be wrong, but the CHRO wouldn’t humor the conversation to help expand my understanding (as an aside…we both have Master’s degrees in I/O Psychology and she told me we could talk I/O anytime, but I guess we can’t talk about this). It is this kind of top-down decision-making that fosters a poor culture and low trust in leadership.

During my graduate program I completed a meta-analysis on leadership, organizational communication, and employee outcomes. I can say unequivocally that adults need two-way communication (not the top-down authoritarian way many orgs communicate) and they need to know why decisions are made in order to have trust in leadership. Trust is the #1 most important aspect to almost every positive organizational outcome. Unfortunately a lot of organizations treat their employees like unthinking sheep who can’t handle the truth, and as such, decision-makers have no checks to their power and can act in their own self-interest without having to care much about how it affects employees.

I know there are some great organizations out there who may not have these issues. Sometimes, I feel like my organization is making great strides in the right direction too. What kind of action is and isn’t appropriate will depend largely on your organization’s culture and your role in it — and you are the best judge of that. However, I’d say that any action on this will be viewed as at least slightly inappropriate by the powers that be, so you’ll have to be OK with that. Understand that the only reason it feels wrong or not OK is because it is in direct confrontation with the status quo, but the status quo is what needs to be challenged to end systemic discrimination— this is what I keep telling myself when I start worrying that what I said/asked was inappropriate at work.

The good news is that the CHRO will give my feedback to the CEO, and I am still hopeful that they may release an internal statement in time. Although not as impactful as a public statement of support, I think it will at least help the employees who work here feel more welcomed and proud to work for an organization that at least attempts to care about human rights.

Writing evidence-based, thought-provoking content to spread knowledge and ideas that help people. I hold an MS I/O Psychology and BA Philosophy.