Where’s the Woke?

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This June marked one of the most visible observances of Pride Month that our clients have ever seen. The celebration was certainly ubiquitous in my own city of D.C. Rainbow flags appeared not only above the basement bars in Dupont Circle (as usual), but also (for what felt like the first time) as window banners of K Street law offices, on glossy promo cards at Foggy Bottom bank counters, and on nearly every coffee cup, commemorative T-shirt, and billboard in town. 

Add the glitter explosion that was my Instagram feed to the mix, and the outpouring of support for the LGBTQIA community suggested that Corporate America had finally turned a corner in embracing diversity and respect. It was inspiring to witness (albeit hard on my social budget).

Enter July. 

In a matter of weeks, things have returned to business as usual. Independence Day has dethroned Pride as the marketing theme du jour and my clients with nontraditional and underrepresented backgrounds for their fields are feeling the resurgence of exclusivity as the unspoken status quo. This whiplash effect has left me wondering: Where did all the “woke” go? 


Walking the Walk

As a communications coach in the professional services industries, I’ve seen the impact of exclusivity on people’s careers — and on companies — time and time again. Passing gestures of social enlightenment help, but we should be doing so much more.

That’s why I challenge companies to keep the momentum going from their month-long marketing campaigns — whether for Pride Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, or other efforts — for the rest of 2019 and beyond. 

I offer the following tactics to help your organization and its employees be more inclusive, respectful, and authentic all year long: 

  • Turn your “readers” into “writers.” To build anything that truly helps and resonates with your target audience, it’s best to include them in the process of creation. This tactic is a page out of (new) Hollywood’s playbook — screenwriters with personal knowledge of the experiences that their characters face are better able to write authentically and navigate the pitfalls of stereotyping (or tokenizing) than writers who rely only on secondary research. For corporations, this might mean having new parents co-author your family leave policy and having professionals of color co-define racial discrimination in your employee guidebook, for example.

  • Do as the Romans do. Similarly, you can improve your understanding of less familiar perspectives by (not surprisingly) walking in other people’s shoes directly. Rather than continue to embrace experiences and ideas that are comfortable for you, challenge yourself to seek out less-obvious choices. This might mean attending industry events where you’re the only person who looks like you — a shock for many white people but a common experience for many people of color — or reading trade news dailies that target readers outside your demographic. By expanding your personal inventory of experiences, you can become more open and receptive in moments that matter.

  • Above all else, give grace. Finally, while the old guard shouldn’t be given a free pass to offend or ignore in the workplace, they should be given room to be curious and engage — to ask questions to their peers without fear of being written off as an idiot or bigot. After all, many of our more seasoned colleagues are experiencing a workplace culture that was the same for three decades (or more) but that in the last five years has transformed dramatically. A change this significant would be tough for anyone. Forgiveness, curiosity, and empathy at work can help smooth the journey for everyone involved.

As we all gear up for the next big observance, let’s commit to doing better over a more prolonged period. Respect should not be observed only when it’s convenient. Diversity should not be a pocketed experience. The path to holistic, authentic equality is not yet clear. But employers have an opportunity to help their employees feel pride year-round — not just in June — in their organization’s approach to inclusivity at work. 

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