Diversity Insight

A Barrier to Discussing #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #TimesUp

Yesterday we looked at some research from Fierce about how well the topics of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter were discussed at work. Today we are joined by Stacey Engle, EVP at Fierce Conversations to briefly discuss their research.

Source: Josie Desmarais / iStock / Getty

HR Daily Advisor: In the press release, you mention that there is a barrier to discussing things like #MeToo and #TimesUp in the workplace. What would you say to companies that want to remove that barrier?

Engle: I would first say that companies should work to remove these barriers. The workplace is not immune to the cause nor the impact of these social movements—they are incredibly relevant, and it’s important for leaders and employees to feel comfortable discussing them openly.

To create the kind of culture where both employees and leaders feel safe enough to have these conversations, it’s going to take a bit of courage on behalf of leadership to initiate these conversations. When a leader brings these topics to the table, with honest curiosity, it sends the message to his or her team that discussing issues of inequality is not only acceptable but also encouraged.

We believe curiosity is a key trait of a good leader. During team meetings and one-on-ones, facilitate a discussion about these movements. Ask questions to gain a sense of how everyone is feeling about these issues and if there’s anything you can do, as a company or team, to improve your current work environment based on the responses provided.

HR Daily Advisor: I imagine that some companies are concerned that encouraging more open dialogue surrounding these issues might “open a can of worms.” In other words, they might be concerned that people would feel okay making comments or asking questions that are offensive. Can you address this concern?

Engle: Although the majority of these conversations are happening outside of work, they are happening. Personal issues follow us wherever we go, and the workplace is not exempt. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away—and when we don’t talk about these issues, they get swept under the rug. This can lead to secrecy, dishonesty, and a workplace culture that isn’t authentic.

If a leader is worried, afraid, or reluctant to have these conversations, we encourage him or her to examine that fear. What are you worried will happen? What are you trying to avoid? Is there a larger issue that needs to be addressed?

And let’s be real. Sometimes, things don’t always turn out the way we had hoped when we enter these conversations. But that’s what courage is about—it’s being willing to set an intention and take action despite that uncertainty.

We understand that these conversations can be difficult, but they are worth it. In the end, it’s the conversations we don’t have that end up costing us the most.

HR Daily Advisor: According to your survey, people are becoming more emboldened to stick up for their coworkers and address a colleague directly for inappropriate behavior than they were a year ago. Does this mean that movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are having a real impact? Are these numbers likely to continue to improve?

Engle: While we can’t make a direct correlation between these movements and increased feelings of empowerment, our safe assumption is that yes, they are impacting the workplace. Our survey data clearly show that these are topics a large majority of individuals are having conversations about; these are movements that are affecting how we view the world.

Social movements are contagious—when people stand up for themselves on the news, on social media, or among their friends and family, it inspires others to do the same. This also translates to the workplace, leading individuals to feel more inclined to speak up when they encounter issues such as discrimination and injustice. They are aware through these movements that they are not alone, and this helps build confidence to do the right thing.