My friend Chad has worked in consulting for more than 20 years, so when he dialed into a conference call with the head of his national consulting group earlier this week, he expected a business conversation like the hundreds he’d sat through before.
But this call was different. The call leader didn’t get right down to business. Instead, Chad wrote, “he spoke about the current state of hatred in our country and our company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. He then asked for a moment of silence to reflect on the tragedy in Pittsburgh before talking about business. I’ve never experienced such a powerful and touching business call before! I’m so happy to be at Accenture.”
In many ways, the leader’s choice to acknowledge the news at the start of the call was easy. After all, hate-driven news — about the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the shooting in Louisville days earlier where two Black people were shot at a grocery store just minutes after the shooter tried to enter a predominantly Black church, and word from earlier in the week that the Trump administration is considering rolling back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law — has dominated the headlines once again.
Yet it might have felt even easier to say nothing — because it is often easier, in the moment, to avoid the elephant in the room and say nothing.
In the early years of Chad’s career, he was still coming out to himself. Even after he took that step, he was still closeted at work, separating part of himself from his co-workers. Gradually, he felt comfortable enough to come out at work, too. But even as he did, he still wrestled with the fear of being judged, penalized, or discriminated against for who he was.
He’s still coming to terms with the consequences of that fear. He’s only now starting to see how because of that fear, he held back his full self from people he worked with, which kept him from contributing his full self to projects he has worked on — and how that may have held him back in his career.
So while he is not a member of the groups targeted in Pittsburgh, Louisville, or by the White House, seeing a leader in the company he now works for demonstrate inclusion in action — as something more than just nice words on the company website — was meaningful. It made him feel he could be a little more himself at work. It made him feel a little more safe.
As a leader in your workplace, you help to set the tone of what is acceptable and what is expected. With your words and deeds, big and small, you help define the culture. That culture tells people whether they can bring their full selves to work. It tells people whether or not they can feel safe.
If you’ve already acknowledged the acts of hate we’ve seen the last few weeks with your team or co-workers, thank you. Your words make a difference.
And if you haven’t yet, maybe you could start today, with something as simple as, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the awful news stories from the last few weeks, and I’m sure many of you have, too — and I feel like it’s important to say something. Inclusion matters here, and it matters to me that you can bring your whole self to work. If you’re having a hard time, or want to talk, I want to listen.”
You don’t have to be an expert on anti-Semitism, racism, or LGBTQ issues to say something. You just have to be human, at work.
And if you need a nudge, remember the impact such a simple, seemingly small gesture had on Chad, what it communicated to him about inclusiveness at his company, and how it made him feel about working there.
It’s a safe bet he’s not the only one who would appreciate that kind of leadership.
Photo credit: Pexels
This originally appeared in The Mouse and the Elephant Weekly. Read the full email, explore other resources, and subscribe at https://tinyletter.com/mouseandelephant/.