August 23, 2020

Alex West

West with What’s Next: 7 Steps to Creating a More Socially Conscious Workplace

socially conscious workplace

So, your company posted a one-liner on its Facebook page about not being racist. Now, what?

This summer, I had the opportunity to complete a badge program in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which came at a critical point in American politics and allowed me to dive deeper into topics I was already passionate about. Throughout my education, I reflected on how to apply these best practices to all aspects of my life… including my work.

Often, the professional world is unsure about how to proceed when it comes to social justice—and scared of doing the wrong thing. This anxiety is common. That’s why I decided to put together a short guide on how individuals and companies can be better allies to marginalized communities.

What is Intersectionality?

Before launching into the steps, it's important to note the concept of “intersectionality" coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. It brings light to the idea that we all are made up of many different identities (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, class, etc.), and these identities intersect in different ways. For some people, these intersections make their experiences less visible or create a new set of problems they must face. In this guide, I speak broadly as a way to discuss action steps that you personally may take in your company to be a better ally to anyone in a marginalized group. It is imperative that you also take the extra step to look “in between the lines” and think about where identities intersect. Often, many social issues are deeply intertwined. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible, to address one without working toward a resolution for all of them.

7 Steps to Work Social Justice Into Your Company:

1. Acknowledge your personal areas of privilege.

The first step is often the hardest, and for many, talking about privilege can be uncomfortable. Understanding your own privilege allows you to evaluate social power dynamics between you and your colleagues. Being actively aware of the privileges you hold can force you to take a step back and avoid being dismissive, condescending, or hyper-critical of others' experiences or identities.

2. Continuously educate yourself.

While understanding your own identities and their intersections is super important, it’s only the beginning of being an active ally to others. Engaging with current events to be up to date on the ongoing issues that affect those of various identities is a great way to keep your education active. However, it goes further than that. Fact-checking history and reading new perspectives can also ensure you are continuously working to have a better and broader perspective of the world. Because historical accounts are usually written by those with power, you may find the history you were taught in school is missing the critical voices of those marginalized.

3. Share what you know and hold discussions with your team.

As you begin to widen your worldview, don't be afraid to speak out about what you learn. It could help take time out of your day to host discussion groups and act as a discussion leader to your company and team. It's key to model positive behavior and educate those around you.

Discussions are critical; however, you must also find a way to achieve balance. First, it's essential to make sure those with less privileged identities always have a space to speak their truth and experience. It's vital to encourage honesty and support them in the best way you can. This can be as simple as believing their experience. Second, it's key to recognize that some of the experiences they may talk about are traumatic. Therefore, you cannot expect those individuals to be the go-to every time you need further education on a subject or want to have a discussion. It's essential to use your privilege to seek resources beyond your colleagues. While they may choose to help in your education journey, please be aware of their boundaries and avoid tokenizing them in your company. Learning and educating others about social justice is a form of emotional labor; it's unfair to delegate that responsibility onto the person experiencing the harm to begin with.

4. Evaluate your company’s policies and procedures.

It is likely that—either intentionally or not—your company has done things in the past that have been harmful. This could be through implicit bias in hiring processes or more blatant forms of oppression. Regardless, it’s best practice to take what you have learned and review your company’s policies and procedures through a new lens periodically. As you are continuously learning, that lens will shift and change, which is why building adaptability and change into your company culture can allow you to be constantly evolving.

Moreover, it may be beneficial to bring in an outside consultant specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion to investigate and evaluate your company. “Investigating” may sound scary, but an investigation does not need to be inherently bad. If you’re using it as a tool to grow and have a better impact, then you shouldn’t shy away from in-depth analysis.

5. Build an accountability statement.

Along with your company’s core values, crafting and displaying an accountability statement about justice can help ensure you stay on track and meet your goals. These goals will look different depending on the operations and nature of your company. For example, it may center itself around representation. But for some companies, it may look like a commitment to philanthropic donations. Creating this statement and making it publicly available allows your employees and clients to refer back to it and keep you accountable for your words. Not only does it help to build trust, but it also ensures that you follow through on your social justice journey.

6. Push back on clients.

Some of your clients may not be as progressive as your company strives to be. This might be because the partnership happened before you had committed to better practices or because their biases and problematic natures had been hidden when you brought them on. It happens and is very common. However, navigating this can be rocky.

Part of being a good ally is speaking up even when it puts you in an uncomfortable or difficult position. Taking the time to speak up when you feel something the client is asking of you is wrong can have a considerable impact. Sharing your accountability statement and demonstrating your commitment to it may result in shifting their perspective. In most cases, it’s likely clients aren’t being intentionally bigoted; they just haven’t thought through their impact because they are so focused on the intent.

Always keep resources on hand to offer to clients that may need more education. At the end of the day, stay committed to your accountability statement, your values, and your vision. Sometimes, you may need to cut ties with a client who doesn’t align with your company values—and that’s okay!

Doing what's right is never easy ... You think you're right, but you lose track of what you were trying to do all along and then there's blood and screaming and death. Doing a bad thing for a good end just sours the good.” ~ Janice Hardy

7. Follow-through and continue the conversation.

It is not enough to have a focus on activism and allyship in your company for a week. Letting your fight for justice fizzle out negates your work, as it then is performative. In fact, advertising your company as “woke” or “socially progressive” for the ulterior motive of drawing in a new clientele is dangerous. It doesn’t take much for potential clients to see through that guise. Allyship is meant to be ongoing and active. One-time acts of solidarity are simply not enough. Keep the work going and keep constantly changing and evolving.

What More Should You Know?

It is inadequate to be “not racist” or “not homophobic” or not any other bigoted things. If you are not pushing back against the wrongs committed in this world, you have become complicit. Conversely, by being actively anti-racist or anti-any-form-of-bigotry, you are committing to a proactive stance that will promote positive change.

While I’d like to say I have all the answers, the truth is I don’t. I have my own identities, both privileged and marginalized, to hide behind. While I have experience in this field, one opinion cannot serve as the be-all-end-all in this ongoing conversation. I implore you to do your own research and reach out to others of many different backgrounds for their perspectives.

If you want to value justice, it must be done all the way. Consider this your call to action.

Over to you! Please share your successes and challenges in creating a more socially conscious workplace?

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