Welcome to AllVoices Experts, a series discussing emerging trends and technologies shaping the Future of Work. We’re on mission to create safe, happy, and healthy workplaces for all and we’re excited to learn from experts who share our mission.
Dr. Shindale Seale is the CEO and Founder of SEADE Consulting. Dr. Seale is a cultural equity and diversity strategist who employs leadership and performance optimization concepts to help entrepreneurs, corporate and academic stakeholders, and Diversity & Inclusion professionals identify and reach their organizational culture goals. In addition to her consulting services, Dr. Seale is the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Program Chair at the University of California Santa Cruz - Silicon Valley Extension, and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Redlands.
SEADE was born from the vision of academic and professional environments that embrace, value, and empower diverse people equitably. It’s a vision stems from the experiences I have had, as have many other people from underrepresented groups, of being the only one of us in classrooms or organizations where the instructors and leadership had no idea what to do with us to help us succeed. It comes from us enduring bias, microaggression, and sometimes flagrant discrimination masked as meritocracy and this thwarted so many of our trajectories. SEADE seeks to combat all of that by providing a unique blend of intense historical and foundational instruction in the origins of discrimination in all forms, while using research to craft best practices for mitigating discrimination.
Now, this is assuming you have the privilege to work from home at all, which many don’t. But on a platform like Slack, it’s important I think to set company guidelines ahead of time so no one is caught off guard or surprised that their off-color comment is being reported to HR. Additionally, Slack and Google Hangouts should be monitored for conversation that borders bullying, discrimination, or even cues for people who may be experiencing unchecked stress. That should be going on anyway, but certainly during this time. Zoom is a whole other situation that is driven almost entirely by the meeting initiators. So to practice inclusivity, I always encourage my clients to consider the frequency and length of meetings, the times of day that they are planning to meet, providing an agenda ahead of time, and truly considering if the meeting is mandatory…because we know not all of them have to be. An email might be just fine. And when you’re in the meeting there are several strategies leaders can use like engaging the participants early in the meeting through a quick one-word weather report or something like that that gets the juices going and everyone participating. A strategy I always suggest to my clients is to ask junior members or people from underrepresented groups for their thoughts first and hold space for them to be creative and out of the box and innovate. This actually goes a long way in creating inclusivity through building a psychologically safe environment.
It’s almost an afterthought that some peoples’ homes are not ready for prime time. Some people have kids that they’re homeschooling during the meeting. Others have roommates who are competing for wifi and space. And then there are some who have offensive artifacts and décor prominently displayed in their virtual environment. Some companies require that participants on virtual on-camera calls activate a virtual background, some do it with the company’s logo or with a preferred background. This provides privacy and reduces the opportunity for excluding others. There are some companies that provide lunch by GrubHub or Postmates for mandatory lunch meetings like when you’re in the office. That’s a thoughtful perk. Some have suggested that companies pay for their employees’ internet, since it’s now being used for work and some have especially considering that it can’t be deducted from your taxes unless you’re self-employed or under a certain tax category. One benefit that is being utilized much more now and should be expanded is mental health offerings. And this is not just about the shelter-in-place, there’s social unrest that people are handling vastly differently. Then there’s the election which is causing a great deal of anxiety on both sides of the political spectrum. And all of these elements can negatively impact workers’ productivity. So that’s a big challenge, I believe for employers.
There are so many layers to this. First, we’re dealing with where the organization currently is because not all are at the same place in their cultural awareness and equitable policy structure. So when we define performative, that simply means that the company is doing this as a means of appearing “woke” or “allied” with a particular community while not doing what is necessary to advance the cause they are verbally championing. For example, this summer “Black Lives Matter” was huge. Everybody put up their banners and companies far and wide posted their commitments to doing better with their recruitment, retention, and advancement of blacks in their organizations. Then, well, they didn’t follow through…some because of the additional stresses that COVID placed on their budgets, employees, and markets. Others because it really isn’t a priority and frankly never had been. And truth be told, many leaders don’t believe that there’s any ROI in it. Then there’s some who, even though they see the ROI, are hard pressed to address their biases to move forward on DE&I initiatives. These are performative behaviors. Actual progress is when organizations are soberly investigating the systemic and structural inequities that have marginalized BIPOC, women, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ members, older workers, and other groups. And the companies delve into their company assets, that’s their policies, procedures, handbooks, marketing, pays structures, even the spatial environment and be intentional about eradicating the inequities that prevent their workforce from succeeding. And companies, regardless of what their demographic make-up is, will need training and guidance in doing this.
Racial justice strategies can be tricky. The PGA did one that I liked. They wanted to attract more Blacks in their corporate space. They actually went into the communities and surveyed to determine what the barriers were for Black people joining their organization. It was interesting what they found, and it was not at all what they thought they would. The PGA thought it was that Blacks weren’t interested but in fact, there was a great deal of interest just a lack of information and access to the entry point. So the PGA got to working on that and created more resources and access and now the program is going well. When companies consider racial justice strategies, it is vital to hear the voices of those you’re trying to help. You don’t want to be the savior riding in telling people what they need and how you are their only hope. You want to give them voice and agency, empowering them to determine their destiny and then the organization provide the resources for that to happen.
When possible, HR and People Teams should curate separate events to celebrate the arrival of the new employee or employees. Onboarding is one thing…that’s kind of a requirement. But new employee’s department should plan a virtual welcome party funded by the company where the new employee can meet everyone virtually, while having an opportunity to tell everyone about themselves, if they choose and have their team members talk about themselves. They can play cool games that give the new hire insight to who they’ll be working with like a treasure hunt or Kahoot or just anything fun…and like I said, it could be totally optional for the new hire but their team members should certainly be participating. Now as far as equity in the workforce, learning about the new hires’ work styles (do they like constant interaction or to be left alone), their meeting time preferences, their identity (regardless of how they are perceived, a person may identify very differently…get those pronouns straight and honor them). I think it’s a really good practice to be more member-focused than leader focused. And this means allowing for variance of experience and preference and working to accommodate.
One of the most endearing acts is when someone who doesn’t have to, reaches out and just says “hey, I see you’ve just joined us. I’m not on your team but I just wanted to say welcome and feel free to reach out if you ever need anything.” Can you imagine how safe you’ve just made that person feel? Another thing too is you could invite them to a virtual coffee to connect and get to know each other. That’s kind of a next step thing. Individual contributors have sometimes broader perspectives than do the members of specific teams and their reach can sometimes be even more robust and this is quite valuable to someone who is learning to navigate this new terrain.
I honestly want to see a world where historically marginalized people can enter classrooms and corporate spaces and be valued and empowered for who they are and what they bring. That’s the driving force but it can be very taxing because those same issues that motivate me and those who do this work are the same issues we face and sometimes even more so. That knowledge can be challenged significantly if you’re not on your game. I haven’t personally had this happen but I have colleagues who have had their credentials and content questioned by participants. Some people flat out deny the information, or directly resist DE&I training or workshops or any participation and that’s their right. Part of the knowledge though is understanding how to create that psychological safety that creates an environment where people will actually listen regardless of if they agree, at least we can hear each other and that is the start of respect, which hopefully can lead to the impact we seek. But that’s what keeps me motivated, that hope of a more culturally equitable academic and professional space.