Anger is Not Enough
I’m angry. I’m also sad and frustrated. Yet I’m not helpless. I work with people in HR. I know, to most people the idea of HR coming “to help” sounds more like a threat than the promise of a solution. But I’ve long said that the reason I work with HR is that, on a good day, we can help people make decisions that will change their lives and the lives of those in their company for the better. Every day is not always a good day, but the days that are good keep you going.
Now I don’t know if I’m a so-called Influencer or not. I don’t care if I am. That said, however, if I can influence even one person, I’m okay with that. Indeed, to paraphrase Gandhi, the commitment of one person is the only thing that has ever changed the world. I know who influences me. My parents, who served in the Peace Corps and marched against the Vietnam war and for equality. My dad, who taught in a predominantly black and Hispanic middle school . My mom, who held a master's degree and owned one of the first Apple Computer retail stores. And my first big client, the son of sharecroppers who became the CIO at a F20 company, who taught me about toughness, grit, and respect. And my fellow Parkinson’s patients, who fight stigma and disability on a daily basis. And here’s what I’ve learned.
It’s not about putting one African-American on your board of directors, or one woman on your leadership team. It’s about creating opportunities with every job opening, every internship, and every stretch assignment, and insisting publicly on a diverse slate. You reap what you sow, after all, and we must all sow diversity in every season.
It’s about getting what you pay for. It’s about designing fair comp models and benefit packages that are meaningful to a wide range of people and their unique experiences: daycare, eldercare, medical coverage, physical accommodation, leave policy, advancement opportunity. These all matter when finding and keeping diverse candidates.
It’s not enough to say, “This is who the recruiters sent me.” Get involved. Make sure they’re looking in the right places to find diverse candidates. Better yet, make sure your recruiters themselves are diverse, and support their efforts to widen the talent pool that we know is out there.
It’s not enough to say what you think, although it’s a good start. In today’s transparent, social-media driven world, however, your words will be measured against your actions. How you responded to the pandemic. How you responded to a national outcry for racial justice. How you create physically-accessible workspaces, and adapt to neurodiversity. It’s okay to say, “We’re always learning and we will do better.” But it’s not okay to be inauthentic and create marketing messages based on what you think the public wants to hear, and not who you actually are.
It’s not okay to ignore the data. Anyone not using data to help them understand the health, wellbeing, anxiety, fears and accomplishments of their workforce is simply losing out, because at this juncture that’s just willful ignorance, and therefore totally unacceptable. We need to be clear about what the workforce and the world are telling us. Data will help us find the issues, but humans will need to repair them.
I know full well that I’m bathed in privilege. I’m a white woman in her 40s with health coverage and a safe home. My life, despite some real pain, is better than 99% of the people in the world. I know I can’t understand the pain of George Floyd's family. I know I haven’t had to say goodbye over Facetime to a dying parent in a hospital under lockdown. But I can try to empathize. I am only one person. And so are you. But you may be a person who can stand up. Who doesn’t have to wait to be asked to make a change but who will make it based on their own awareness and outrage. If you’re reading my blog, you’re likely individuals with some agency who can make decisions and choices for themselves, as well as positively impact others.
We’ve all been through a collective trauma. First our world shut down, and now it’s exploding. It’s hard to think about work right now. That’s okay. That’s also why we need diversity. Those of us who are able to act now must think of those who are in the midst of active crises and those who are numb with pain. Later, they will pick up the ball for us when we stumble. Our care for each other in this collective trauma can lead to our collective triumph.
HR has tremendous power. So do business leaders. Let's use that power. Get angry. Get frustrated. Listen closely. And then act to make a difference.
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