Wow, what a doozy 2020 has been!
Remember all those great “2020 visions” we had at the beginning of this year? While those have changed quite a bit, in many ways, I feel grateful for how my vision has changed. It’s been challenged, and it’s pushed me in a different direction on my own personal journey. After the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing civil unrest and protests, I read an article from the Harvard Business Review that struck a chord with me: “U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism.” I encourage you to look up that article if you’d like to explore this more. There was a lot in that article that stood out to me, but here’s one that speaks directly to us as business owners: “Research shows that how organizations respond to large-scale, diversity-related events that receive significant media attention can either help employees feel psychologically safe or contribute to racial identity threat and mistrust of institutions of authority.”
What might it look like to be anti-racist? As the owner of a small chain of local body shops, how do I do that? If you have black members on your shop’s team or you’d like to engage people of color—or anyone, really—in a conversation, where might you start? Here are a few questions that the Harvard Business Review article mentioned earlier lists:
- What are the biggest barriers to your success and what role can I play in helping to remove them?
- Do you feel safe at work? To contribute? To belong to the community?
- What percentage of your time is spent on addressing exclusion or microaggressions against you or others?
- Whose voice or what perspective is missing from this conversation? How can I help amplify your voice and that of other underrepresented voices?
I’ve thought critically about these questions the past few days and I’ve had conversations with black friends who are also business owners and leaders. Regardless of your beliefs, I hope that you do the same. Times like these should cause us all to be more reflective. By all means, though, do something. Doing nothing is actually a contribution to injustice. Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in the situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Everyone is a part of this system and moving forward is about accountability. We need to be accountable to ourselves, our employees, as well as our businesses and the impact we have on our communities. We have the power and the platform to lead change and to make a positive impact. We have the power to create a workplace culture that is inclusive, open, honest, truthful, and where everyone feels comfortable. Have the conversations. Then speak up. And never stop learning. If you’re looking for resources, please reach out to me. I will be happy to share any resources I’ve found helpful as we navigate these turbulent waters together.
If you’ve read my column before, you likely know that I’m always trying to increase my capacity for understanding and knowledge. I’ve read key books, attended classes, and changed mindsets, but for me, I realized that is not enough. I felt a deeper call and obligation as a local business owner, father, and citizen. So, these are the steps and actions we have taken at the shops and in our community over the past few weeks:
- I participated in a protest with my son. Did I agree with everything and everyone at the protest? No. But it surrounded me with people who have felt marginalized for many years and helped me literally walk a mile in their shoes.
- We used our social media platforms to drive awareness of race issues. Our most controversial was about “driving while black” and it offered research and statistics on how disproportionately people of color are often pulled over.
- I talked to my black team members, black business owners and black friends one on one. I asked them for their perspectives on the recent civil unrest and how I might get involved in ways that would honor them.
I know that some people reading this might react negatively or emotionally to this column. But regardless of your beliefs, we all need our teams to function the best they can—and this is how we can do that. In an industry with a very real talent shortage, we quite literally can’t afford not to create workplaces that are inclusive and where everyone feels comfortable.