Over the years, many organizations have been notoriously apolitical. But this is changing. A couple years ago, I went to a conference where CEOs were talking about employee activism. Multiple CEOs admitted that they’ve previously felt it was important to remain neutral when it came to politics and social injustice. However, they were changing their stance because their employees were demanding it. Employees wanted to know that the companies they work for were going to support what’s just and right in their communities.
But I understand it can be difficult for organizations to do that. I recently interviewed Carmen Miller, CEO of McKinley Insurance Services, a full-service agency located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Carmen for over a decade. We first met as volunteers at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual conference in Orlando. And we spent several years working together on the board for HR Florida, the SHRM state affiliate.
I asked Carmen what advice she had for fellow CEOs who are apprehensive about making political and social statements. “CEOs should address issues that are directly affecting their staff and supporters. So, if there is no diversity in the workplace, then they know that’s the perfect place to start. It should be as personal to the CEO as it is to staff and supporters.
I believe this is also an opportunity to look within the company and see if what the staff is saying is actually happening. Many times, it is. This is where the confusion starts. Many CEO’s don’t know and/or don’t truly understand what the issues are, so the best place to start is within their own organization and the community in which they work and live. Know what affects them. Listen and take action based on your own staff. Start there and then work to support the drive toward resolution.”
Notice that Carmen’s comments didn’t say that everyone needs to be a protester. I think that’s important. Don’t misunderstand me. I have a lot of respect for people who are very vocal about their dissatisfaction with the status quo. That being said, not everyone has to display their views in the same way to be effective or create change.
I read a quote a few weeks ago in The Washington Post from Dexter Banks, a Black project manager, in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that said “It’s white people’s participation, that’s the difference. They’re the ones who have to see it.” His comment made me realize I need to find a way to do more. But I’ll be honest, I’m not a protester. I support Black Lives Matter. I understand that I’m a person of privilege and this isn’t about me. I’m listening, reading, and trying to find ways to do more.
As an HR professional, I believe that part of “doing more” means helping our organizations stay true to their word. We know it’s very difficult for organizations to balance all of the things they have to do. They need to make money so they can hire employees and offer benefits. They have to make products and provide services that their customers will love.
Over the past few weeks, many organizations have made declarations that they are opposed to systemic racism. But there have been numerous articles pointing out that sometimes what companies say and what they do might not always align. This is much too important a topic to let it drop on our priority list. HR professionals can help their organizations build more inclusive workplaces by regularly raising the question, “Are we still staying true to our culture and values?”
Organizations must remain true to their values and demonstrate their ability to stand up for what’s right. This means HR departments have to be prepared to do the same. It doesn’t mean that every organization will adopt the same approach. Nor do they have to. But it’s going to stretch many of us outside of our comfort zones and that’s a good thing.
Together Forward @Work is a call-to-action for the HR profession and broader business community to drive racism and social injustice out of America’s workplaces. Get the resources you need to create racial equity at work.