As each year and decade advances, we see wins and losses in diversity and inclusion. 2017 was a notable year with many public steps forward and backward in the march toward inclusion, equality, and justice. From the global mobilization of the Women’s March early in the year to the firing of Matt Lauer late in the year, 2017 was in many ways a watershed year for the nation’s awareness of and response to issues of culture in the workplace and society. One of the most notable differences this last year, however, was the extent to which politics and other social issues crept into the workplace.
A Controversial Election and Inauguration
Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2016 were challenging holidays for many family gatherings and the celebrations that typically occur at the end of the year in many organizations. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) had even advised that organizations may want to consider giving some employees a day off of work who were seriously grieving over the election of Donald Trump. Who knows how many relationships between coworkers (and family members) changed because of the divisive election and all that followed?
The Women’s March
This Women’s March was a worldwide protest that was one of the largest single-day protests in US history. The movement swept the globe and in cities across the world women and women’s-rights supporters gathered to protest the Trump administration, and to speak up for human rights, racial equality, and LGBTQ rights. It brought together women in their teens, to those in their 70s and 80s marching for a common cause in a way that has been rare for women of different generations. This march helped encourage and embolden many who felt like they weren’t able to have their voices heard and helped set the stage for an increased mobilization of causes using social media.
Professional Athletes’ Silent Protests
The controversies around NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem continued from 2016 well through the 2017 season. San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, began this as a way to silently support the Black Lives Matter movement concerning excessive use of force and the deaths of African-Americans by law enforcement. As more NFL teams knelt or stood with linked arms during the anthem, President Trump told owners to fire players for this behavior. His support base cheered him on as if to say, “How dare those Black players with their multi-million dollar contracts be so ungrateful and disrespectful to our country?” A Yahoo Finance poll revealed that 77% of respondents believe the players are wrong. While the NFL has had meetings with players and owners to have a dialogue about these issues, Americans across the country have not had the benefit of meaningful discussion with those holding the opposite viewpoint, and the racial divide among us is growing. In fact, 58% of Americans believe that racism is a big problem in the U.S. – an increase of 30% since 2011 (Pew Research Center). There has been an increased conversation about protesting and freedom of speech in the media – but most of us are only talking about this with those who share our same point of view. How has this affected the comradery in organizations across the country where “Monday morning quarterbacking” was a favorite sport? Does tension about this spill over into workplace relationships?
Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Commercial
With the increased attention on police relations with minorities, Pepsi attempted to capitalize on that sentiment with a commercial that was not well received by the public. The commercial shows Jenner strolling through a crowd of protestors faced off against police, then handing a Pepsi to a police officer outfitted with riot gear. He smiled as he accepted the Pepsi, the crowd cheered and conflict was avoided. The poor reception of the commercial sent a strong message to corporations to take these movements seriously and not trivialize the dialogue with advertising.
Pepsi immediately apologized and removed the commercial. Even a D&I mature company like Pepsi can make a mistake, but rather than deny, make excuses or blame someone else, they just said, “We apologize. We missed the mark.” Hopefully, their actions will serve as a teachable moment for others.
In real life, however, Charlottesville was a difficult reminder of the growing divisions among us and the obstacles many face in the fight for equality. The Unite the Right Rally stirred a national conversation about freedom of speech, and brought the nation’s attention to those who actively fight against equality….and are proud of it. This resulted in violence, death, and more protests and anti-protests around the country.
Companies are beginning to increase not only the response to sexual harassment allegations, but are also increasing proactive measures to ensure there is not an unchecked culture that breeds this behavior. What began with a member of Hollywood Royalty being dethroned by his own company, has continued to spread throughout that industry, as well as media and politics. There is a new emboldened voice for victims who have suffered or been silenced for far too long. New phrases have emerged such as “the Whisper Network” – a network that has existed for decades among women who felt powerless to confront those who harassed and assaulted them – but did their best to warn other women who to avoid. The fact that TIME Magazine dedicated their annual Person of the Year cover and story to these Silence Breakers speaks volumes about the shift that is occurring in society and in the world of work. In Corporate America, the 38 pages devoted to this story would be called a ‘white paper.’ And it is.
There will be another ‘wave’ of sexual harassment prevention training that will sweep across the country, that has the potential to miss the mark. We wrote an entire blog about lessons learned from the past – and encourage you to read that if you haven’t already.
There is Hope for the Future
Throughout history, there is a pattern of complacency that follows hard-fought and reasonably successful movements in our society related to human and civil rights. The events of the last 12 months have reminded us that we need to focus on the progress that has been made and how far we still have to go. It’s encouraging to see men step up to take ownership for their bad behavior – and to also begin speaking up about the sexual abuse they too have experienced in the workplace. The Women’s Movement has gone through many phases – first fighting for the vote, the right to an education, and the right to work. We’re still fighting for equal pay – but there is no question about the big strides that have been made in the world of work. Women CEOs in the Fortune 500 are currently less than 6% – but women across the country recognize that if we want to see gender parity in our society, we too need to step it up even more. Run for office. Get involved politically. It’s happening as we speak.
And, we can’t deny that there has been a shift in the acceptance of diversity in our country in some other ways. A recent poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal indicates that a record 60% support same-sex marriage and 61% are okay with transgender people being a part of our military (CBS News/YouGov).
Culture Change is Not Easy
The theme throughout 2017 is that truly understanding the cultures of each demographic group, our own organizations (personal and professional ones), and our society as a whole, are vitally important to each of us. When any culture is allowed to operate without a voice for those who don’t hold the power, those in power tend to abuse their power.
At Pope Consulting, we specialize in facilitating this type of dialogue and culture change. Through our assessment tools and training, we are able to begin the process of positive change through meaningful dialogue and the ways to reinforce and sustain that change. From unconscious bias training to corporate coaching, we have helped over 250 of the Fortune 500 companies improve diversity, inclusion, and over time – their culture. Contact us to start the conversation.