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  • Writer's pictureMike Bensi

Moving from Silence to Action

Growing up, I was the quiet kid in the classroom. I didn't jump up to participate in class discussions. I didn't raise my hand to answer questions from the teacher. Or even to ask to go to the bathroom - which made for some very long days.

It wasn't until my first real job when my mentor asked - during an all team meeting - when I was going to share my ideas with the group.

I had no response. It hadn't occurred to me that people might want to hear what I had to say. Or that I had anything remotely worthy of sharing. That conversation with my mentor opened my eyes to the impact of my silence.

These past weeks since the murder of George Floyd, I've felt the same feelings of discomfort of not knowing what to say - or do - as others demonstrate. As others hurt. And as others continue to face racism and injustice.

As leaders - especially privileged leaders - we have to go beyond this discomfort and break the silence within our own organizations. Not only are people expecting companies to respond to racial inequality, but companies are also seeing the impact of ignoring the issue - or creating communications that fall flat on action.

Areas you can take action on within your own organization include:

Lead through your values. Most organizations I've worked with over the years talk about, and even specifically list, respect, honesty, or inclusion. Your values are there to reinforce the behaviors you desire in your team. Have you pointed back to those values? Are you coaching and training your team on what inclusion and anti-racism need to look like in the workplace?

Create space for others. Give employees time to share feedback or to speak up regarding their opinions of your organization. Adidas is just one example where early external communications went against many of the feelings from inside the organization from black and minority employees. Only until after internal employees voiced their opinions shared their feelings did the company respond with larger actions.

Insist on intentional recruitment. Not only Adidas, but many other companies are coming out in support of Black Lives Matter while being woefully behind in their own recruitment of minorities. Actively recruit diversity into your organization results in higher performance and engagement. Building internships and other opportunities for black and minorities to enter your organization also supports.

Improve pay practices. Now is the time to ensure you're paying people in a fair and just way. Only by reviewing pay equity by gender, race, age, etc. on a consistent basis will you ensure you're paying fairly.

Support the community. And especially the black and POC community. Review how you donate to causes within underrepresented communities. Invite others to create volunteer events in those communities. Utilize black and minority vendors for all services within your own organization.

As I try to understand and learn more, I've been reminded that communication is the most important tool we have. Not communicating can be viewed as ignoring others and the issues that exist today.

Now, more than ever, your team needs to hear from you - and to see action. They need to know that diversity in the workplace and standing for racial equality are not just buzz words to you. They want to hear what steps you’re taking to address racism. Only through that, will things get better.

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