Overcoming Silence

It occurs to me that as I was writing this article, the timing falls at a critical time in our country’s history where bigger and more important conversations are being had. It has been nearly a month since the unjust killing of George Floyd by law enforcement has sparked protests nationwide. As I wax poetic about brands’ need to have a concrete plan of innovation, I realize that to just write about that and fall silent on the racial and economic injustices that are plaguing our country couldn’t be further from the case.

To be silent is to be in a seemingly safe and quiet place where one can escape and stay relatively immune to any backlash. Rather than speak up and subsequently subject oneself to judgement, criticism or ridicule, silence offers a refuge to those seeking to avoid conflict.

Using your voice, signing a petition, organizing a campaign or movement, are all actionable measures to ultimately making a government serve its people. These are not easy things to achieve, but that is what a democracy requires us to do– to task ourselves with these difficult duties and use our power to affect change.

As an American History major, I have had an opportunity to understand racism from both a personal and academic perspective. Racism is an infection that has made its way into every facet of our society—it is demonstrated in both hatred and oppression, whether blatant or subversive, active or passive. Racism took its hold in this land long before we ever called ourselves the United States of America and that is why it is so pervasive today.

Combatting racism isn’t easy. It is not just about the overt and blatant acts of injustice and oppression. It is about working to create and influence change, encourage understanding, yes across institutions, but also with the people we interact with on a daily basis. In the workplace, this can seem daunting or even dangerous, but we cannot let our working environment become a deadzone for understanding, compassion and enlightenment. It is about overcoming the deafening silence we’ve seen too often to take a stand on those matters that we don’t think affect us.

We are at another seminal moment in our nation’s history, but these formative moments bring about change not only when the collective society acts upon the opportunity and participates actively – but when we as individuals take a stand. Making the difference for one employee, opens up opportunities for all. What can we do on an individual, one-to-one level? Listen, learn, and then invest across time, money, coaching and promotion. Make an upward climb for BIPOC employees as open as it has been for our white colleagues. Ensure that we are not only supporting but offering allyship – that BIPOC are afforded the same platform to storytell, teach and learn in return. Otherwise, this movement just becomes another blip in our vicious cycle of history repeating itself time and time again.

As a business and across the industry, our collective efforts can help turn conversations in to action. Hope is a motivator. Dreams are an inspiration. We have the opportunity, as individuals and as a business, to leverage our voices and actions to help achieve hopes and dreams not just for ourselves but for the greater good of our society. That is the power we wield.

It is important to acknowledge that, in the journey to become a great professional, we must also focus on being better human beings. This includes utilizing our designated workspaces to call attention to societal events that sometime take precedence over work or have a direct impact on work culture. How we use team meetings and individual 1:1s plays an important role in the continuing education and enlightenment of our employees on matters beyond our normal day-to-day work. 

How we choose to apply our voices beyond just work becomes the next step. Applying our voices beyond just work becomes the next step. When organizations are cognizant of this responsibility to foster a socially conscious environment, they can help nurture an inclusive and collaborative network with support groups, discussion forums and resources to help educate their employees.  The long-term benefits are twofold: 1) it shows that the company cares just as much about important social issues as it does their bottom line, and 2) it sets a great example that these are also things we should be collectively thinking about.  There is a phrase we use on our team— highest common denominator. Simply put, it means that we take the best qualities of our colleagues and aspire to manifest them so that we can all be great examples.

We have the power to voice our concerns and actively debate in conversation of economic and racial injustices. We have the power to support movements through petitions, protests or donations, and to highlight the more important matters.

With great power comes great responsibility. We all have unique special abilities to positively drive change across our communities. When history looks back on this moment, we will be judged on how we chose to leverage our power, how we chose to participate, or how we chose to remain silent. Where will you stand?

“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.” – Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King