If you walked past a fight on the street, what would you do? Call the police? Try to break it up? Walk away? Watch? Not many people would do something if they inadvertently stumbled across a fight. Would they intervene if something happened in the workplace? Would you?
We live and work in a fascinating time. We’re being forced (some are being dragged kicking and screaming) to look at our workplaces, see the inequities, evaluate the poor management, and do better. This is hard. Like really, really hard. Citigroup recently published its finding that on the aggregate, it pays women nearly a third less than men. When the numbers were adjusted to reflect pay at comparable positions, the difference was significantly less, placing the organization in a defensible position. Yet, the aggregate numbers are a wake-up call. Citigroup vowed to change, adding more women in high level positions across the globe, and I applaud both their transparency and their efforts to improve.
What Citigroup did was look and do something. While Citigroup was pushed to look by a new UK law and an activist shareholder, the looking was an important step. Because once we look, we can’t simply walk away.
In the past two years, we’ve been forced to look at harassment. #MeToo has riveted our world. The headlines have opened our eyes to what has been happening in plain sight for decades. We’ve found that it is the rare occurrence of harassment that no one in the company knows about. Someone overheard a conversation, witnessed an odd touch, or saw an inappropriate text message. Yet, we have looked away, justified our willful ignorance as “it’s 20XX, that can’t possibly be happening now.” It’s this shrugging of our shoulders that has allowed harassment continue and worsen.
The same is true for other forms of harassment and discrimination. Racial and religious epithets and symbols, putting the only black sales executive in a closet, offensive costumes that have a direct impact on students are all news items from the past eight weeks. In the last eight weeks! We see so much more now with more and more avenues for targets of discrimination and harassment to share their stories. It is as if we are walking past this fight and are being asked “what would you do?”
For me, staying silent is not an option. I avoid conflict as much as the next Midwesterner, yet, we are at a time – just like so many other times in our history – where staying silent makes the situation worse. Today, we stop and think about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Looking at what’s happening in our workplaces and work, these two leaders ask us, what are you going to do?
I encourage you to look. You can start by following #BlackBlogsMatter. This group of amazing individuals have put together a movement designed to raise their voice, speak their truth, and teach us all how we can be better allies and simply do better.