Maybe Starbucks closing their 8,000 locations on May 29th for racial bias training was a swift publicity stunt– in hopes to deflect the incident that involved Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson— or maybe their crusade was a lot more sincere. Whatever their motives, Starbucks did set in motion a chain of thought about how companies should address inequality in the workplace.
Similarly, the revolution of the #MeToo movement brought to light the multiple sexual harassment stories that went overlooked in companies for years. This led to a massive overhaul in what is considered appropriate workplace behavior after the exposure of CEOs in major corporations and celebrity figures were intertwined with lewd sexual harassment accusations.
A recent study reveals that people are talking about gender and racial equality with friends and family, but not with their peers and leaders at work. The study, conducted by Fierce Conversations, a global training company that teaches organizations how to facilitate controversial discussions in the workplace, finds that only 25% of employees have talked about these social movements with a co-worker and only 3% with company leaders. This is a huge comparison to 44% of respondents who have spoken to friends and 40% who have spoken to family members.
“These are clearly important topics, however, there appears to be a barrier in place when it comes to discussing these issues within the workplace, said Stacey Engle, EVP at Fierce Conversations, despite the fact that these are real issues that every organization should address.”
The survey suggests that open discussions on topics such as BLM and #MeToo in the workplace creates clearer boundaries among employees. Without these conversations, employees who are affected are more likely to feel isolated and their issues minimized, eliciting poor performance and lack of efficiency in a business. Colleagues who don’t suffer the same discomfort may not feel a sense of empathy towards another coworker, due to lack of knowledge about these issues, which can hinder team projects and camaraderie in the workplace.
The study also reveals that more women than men and younger age groups tend to talk about social movements more often. This is concerning considering that the majority of people in leadership positions are older men. Social issues may not be a priority for company leaders but it is crucial for them to address social movements in an organization if those issues are affecting employees and being discussed outside the workplace.
As a new discourse, there is hope that social movements like BLM and #MeToo will start higher up and trickle down to junior members of staff, reinforcing a healthier work environment and efficiency in the business.
So what are the benefits for employees from these kinds of workplace trainings? The study shows that people are more likely to feel empowered and speak up for themselves, report workplace harassment on behalf of themselves or a colleague and are more inclined to ask to get their needs met.
However, there are ways for companies to get conversations about social issues started. Company leaders can let their employees know that they are available to talk to about inappropriate workplace behavior, whether that is racial jokes or unwelcome flirting. Leaders can also encourage employees to stand up for themselves and offer their support when people do speak up. Leaders can also make a point of addressing issues head-on instead of minimizing or ignoring them altogether.
Some companies may not find it necessary to have conversations about social issues in the workplace, but in the long run it does establish boundaries around workplace behavior that if not addressed can spiral out of control. These methods are not only conducive for the safety, trust and peace of mind of its employees, but also for the production of a company. Workplace discussions about social issues can also sustain an organizations reputation and longevity as well as the prevention of costly lawsuits.