Challenge The Prof: Are you ‘woke’ at work

Last week we talked about what it means to be “woke at work.” This week I have some reader experiences to share with you.

Woke at work ProfPoll

Seventeen individuals participated. Their profile includes workers who are women in leadership roles, members of the LGBTQ community, workers of color.

We first defined “woke at work” as a person who is aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice, in the workplace.

This includes, but is not limited to, being aware of discriminatory labor practices, microaggressions (subtle bias against women or workers of color) exclusion and unfair treatment. It also is being aware of practices that promote inclusion, celebrate diversity, and provide equity.

Question No. 1:  Are you woke at work?

Yes                 71%

Sometimes     12%

Not sure          17%

Those who responded  “Not Sure” acknowledged that there are times they may have blind spots that cause them to be “unaware, oblivious or inattentive.”

A respondent raised the concern that use of the word “equity” is “code for socialism.” I have heard that argument before and believe it is an excuse to perpetuate systems (such as employment, healthcare and education, to name a few) that are inherently biased against workers and people of color.

Question No. 2:  What incident, knowledge or experience led you to respond as you did?

Respondents shared that:

• their company/organization stresses inclusion and being sensitive to these injustices, which is tied to their mission and culture• their company champions initiatives such as affinity groups, heritage awareness events, training programs• their company/organization has a DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) officer as part of executive staff• they learn about these injustices from co-workers who have experienced exclusion or discrimination, in one instance, this included their own child; these injustices include words or actions biased against orientation, gender, age, color, ethnicity, disability, etc.• they participate in company-sponsored training programs, task forces, affinity groups and empowerment initiativesthe election of President Donald Trump raised their awareness of these issues• their own experiences of discrimination have lead them to being “woke”being open and promoting openness has always been a part of who they arehearing others’ perspectives can awaken them from viewing the world only from their own perspective

Some specific quotes worth highlighting:

“Sometimes clients would ask for a certain race of females as their worker and we would decline the business.” If I’m interpreting this accurately, this company does not allow clients to dictate what race of people works with them — my assumption is the client is asking to only work with white employees.

“I just keep my head down and work. I would truly be happiest if I had no communication with anyone.” I’m assuming that this respondent feels the pain of exclusion or discrimination — if I am correct, this makes me sad. We all lose — the company, the workplace and the worker who feels the need to isolate themselves.

“I am very attuned to the ways in which workplace minorities, i.e., women and the BIPOC population, are subtly kept “in our place.” It has caused me to fight far harder than my white male colleagues to advance my career, and my success has occurred at a far slower pace despite performing as well or better than they do.” I have heard this too often — I don’t know how people have such strength and endurance not to give up.

Question No 3:  If you consider yourself woke at work, how have you used your awareness to benefit your workplace?

Respondents shared these ways:

— Personal approaches:• be present, vulnerable, kind• share experiences• think before speaking• speak up•adopt an “everyone is equal” perspective— Meet with colleagues to advance progress— Respond to concerns such as “we need more representation from X” and then work to achieve that— Don’t ignore something said or done that “feels off;” look at it carefully and make changes if necessary— Teacher approaches:• create opportunities to ask students about their culture• teach American History honestly

Specific quotes worth highlighting:

“I think WOKE has a negative connotation. I prefer aware. Are you aware that other cultures perceive this differently? Are you aware that men and women react differently?” I get your preference but not sure what the negative connotation is. If you’re not woke, you’re asleep — and around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, many are asleep.

“Very hard for me to keep quiet when I see or hear others being put down for lack of reasoning or understanding. Diversity, equity, and inclusion always make for the best environment.” A loud and important reminder that those who have power and privilege can make a difference by speaking up! It is very much a “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” reality!

A reader related this story to me, which I paraphrase below:  “I will only work for a company that serves all people, including members of LGBTQ community. I was considering joining a firm and during the recruitment process forgot to make this inquiry known. As we were moving toward the final decision, I asked if they served the LGBTQ community. The reaction I received was surprising — they laughed. And, then several senior members of the firm proceeded to tell me about their family members or close friends who are in the LGBT community. The answer was a resounding yes!” YAY, reader! YAY, their company! It’s simple “doing good” as you do your business.

Next Column:  Self-Talk your way into the New Year!

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website: ThePracticalProf.com; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.

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