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Your workplace: your frontier for anti-racism and anything else you care deeply about

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A quick business history lesson: when Starbucks was created, its vision was to create the third place. Not home, not work, but another place.

It’s come a long way from that vision – no offense, now it’s just another global fast food chain. But it was a great idea to build from.

That third place concept rightly acknowledged that most humans have two core “places”: Home and Work.

Much research exists on the power of Home. Your family of origin basically imprints you with a complete framework for right and wrong before you’re three years old.

The power of Work and how it influences each of us has been studied too, and it goes deep. I wrote a blog series about it last year called #whatiswork: A pastime, an energetic contract, a catalyst, a legacy.

Many of us expect work and “the workplace” to be… sub-optimal. I don’t think it has to be that way, and a large part of my work is to rewrite that narrative. Into something more like this:

Work is an ecosystem you are co-creating

Work is an ecosystem of which you are a product, a citizen, and a co-creator. 

Yes, a co-creator.

And right now, we’re in a unique portal of opportunity for co-creating from wherever you sit, and however you “rank”. The events of 2020 have served to level the playing field, first reminding us that no one is invincible (oh hi, covid), and second, inviting a more diverse range of voices to step up to the mic.

Let’s take advantage.

Want to shift your ecosystem? Want to know it’s possible? Here’s another brief history lesson to show just a few examples of how work has shifted in massive ways through recent history: from runaway pay levels (at the top), career transitions, incredible efficiencies, and our good friend burnout….

Examples of big workplace changes in relatively short periods of time       

  • The CEO to average-worker pay ratio has gone from a casual, possibly explainable 20:1 in 1950 to something more like like 350+:1 today. Public companies are required to disclose executive pay publicly. Enter: mega ego.   
  • The gradual scaling back of defined benefit pension plans has passed financial risk back on to individuals. And in the process, basically eliminated the employer-as-benevolent-parent and instead introduced the concept of changing jobs, even changing careers, and charting a path that is unique to the person and doesn’t always look like a ladder.     
  • The personal computer has basically given us super powers. We’ve experienced efficiencies we could not previously have dreamed of – a quantum leap in output quality per hour invested.
  • The internet has given us the ability to connect and collaborate from anywhere. Also, the workday-that-never-ends. It’s given us a paradox of freedom and burnout.

Taking responsibility for your ecosystem

I keep hearing this quote from Mother Teresa (and apparently attributed to others as well): “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole World would be clean.”

I hope you can see that your work culture has a massive impact on your life. And that change is completely possible, and in fact happening all the time. Now if we could just influence the trajectory of that change – and view our workplaces as our frontier for anti-racism, and anything else we care deeply about… that work would be incredibly powerful.

I work in a mighty team of one at the moment and I’m in charge. If I were in a larger environment, without the unilateral decision making authority I currently enjoy, here’s what I would do to demonstrate support for inclusion and belonging in my organization, and to influence change in the right direction.

Three strategies for getting started, whether you’re an employee, manager or leader

1. Engage the very top

Culture is modeled at the top. Wherever you stand in your organization, sustained change will come more easily by influencing UP. If you have an idea or point of view to promote anti-racism and equality, you could bring it to your direct manager or department. Recognize that individual may or may not have their own barriers, viewpoints and desire / lack thereof to get “involved”.

There’s another option. You can skip the line and contact the CEO directly.  This isn’t a business-as-usual issue after all. Plus, the good leaders are looking for bridges to connect to their employees and improve their employee experience. If you ARE the very top, look in the mirror. Engage your employees. Engage your peers. Figure out what actions make sense for your organization and take them. Without delay.

2. Request, support, create, improve and deliver education

If racism is a symptom of ignorance, let’s educate people. Attention leaders and learning and development folks: providing education on unconscious bias is powerful. Creating a space for everyone to unlearn and relearn a way of being that doesn’t put human beings on different footing based on skin tone, is powerful.

Who should get educated? Everyone. Offering this education to everyone demonstrates the equality you’re shooting for. Send that message. It’s also insurance: let’s say you only train managers and one fails to implement / model what they learned; if their employees heard the message, too, you’re good.

Whether your organization has 500 or 80,000 employees, just imagine the workplace culture and second hand community impact of educating each one of them? What a beautiful thing for a company to invest in. Another form of corporate social responsibility.

3. Become explicit about valuing Belonging

When you’re hiring people, screen on character. As a career coach, I hear from my clients what companies do to evaluate candidates. They are not shy about rigorous processes. Aptitude tests, assessments, presentations, case studies, panel interviews, trial weeks, the list goes on. Surely we can find a way to test for individuals ‘ prejudices and/or openness to unlearning biases, and the probability that they will support and / or impede a culture of belonging.

When you’re leading people, open the conversation about belonging. For example, ask: what could we be doing better to support you? What are some ways that we could make our culture more inclusive?

Where possible, be thoughtful about curating more diverse teams, departments, committees, mentor pairings, etc.

Your frontier

I think we’ve all realized 2020 is turning out to be a big year. Fun fact: astrologers have been identifying 2020 as a gateway year with strong energy for dismantling outdated systems and revealing the cracks in the foundation. With more to come in the decade ahead. In other words, this could be a bumpy ride.

However. we have an opportunity in our laps to rebuild, and I want to leave you with two thoughts:

  1. Your Work Place (even if that’s physically your breakfast bar right now) is one of only two core places in your life – rivaled only by Home. It’s part of the fabric of your life. How it makes you AND OTHERS feel matters immensely.
  2. You are a co-creator of your place of work – we can shape it together – into a place where you’d want to work. And a place where you’d want your loved ones to work.

Everything is under construction right now and we’re ALL on the job site. What if you started viewing your work place as your frontier – for anti-racism. For anti-discrimination. For anything you care deeply about. What would you do then?

OK. Your move.

PS! If you’re in need of a career alignment check-up, get my 12 questions to find your true north here.

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