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We often witness organizations trying to straddle the middle line, claiming to be non-political, and in some cases, asking their teams not to discuss politics at work. 

What organizations often perceive as “political” is usually quite personal and, therefore, connected to our professional experiences. Many of us cannot leave our personal and political lives at the physical or digital door in the name of “professionalism,” especially in a world with 24-hour news cycles that impact people’s real, tangible lives. 

The workplace is not a neutral space. It does not exist in a vacuum, and it is not disconnected from the countless isms forms of systemic inequity that impact so many of us each day. Many cannot simply “opt-out” of their lived realities. It is a privilege to be able to do so. 

As we begin to unpack these ideas, we ask ourselves: Can we expect people to separate their humanity from their professional lives? Why is it deemed “unprofessional” to talk about issues that affect people? Should we accept that we are just a means to an end as workers in a capitalist system?

Organizations that understand the relationship between our personal, political, and professional selves are better equipped to lead happier, healthier teams and reach their goals.  

Use the following resources to continue learning and dive further into this topic. 

Difficult, Messy Conversations 🗣

It is not a failure of leadership when an organization reckons with its past mistakes or has difficult, messy, complicated, and emotional conversations. However, it is a failure of leadership when they don’t create a culture that allows this type of conversation to happen so people can grow and thrive. 

These conversations can be uncomfortable for many in the workplace, but if leaders can approach them with ownership and openness, it can be productive. MIT Sloan lecturer Malia Lazu, a social justice and inclusivity practitioner and researcher, recommends leaders make three social agreements to foster those conversations: 

  1. Listen to be changed.
  2. When possible, call in, instead of call out. (More on this below!)
  3. Question your first assumptions.
When mistakes happen, we can either call people in to conversation or call them out for what they said. Both are valid approaches depending on the subject, your relationship to the person, and what you are comfortable with.

Here are some ways to call people in:

  • Paraphrase or repeat back what was said. For example, “So you’re saying that…?”
  • Express your feelings. For example, “When I heard you say X, it hurt me because of my experience with Y…”
  • Challenge the stereotype. For example, “That’s interesting, did you know…?”
  • Share your own process. For example, “I used to use the term X but learned that it can hurt Y.”
  • Feign ignorance. For example, “What do you mean by…?”
  • Respond in one word; express the ‘ouch’.
  • Ask for more information. For example, “I’m wondering what led you to believe this about…?”
How to have productive conversations about race at work

Technology Bias 💻

As much as organizations -- especially in the tech industry -- want to believe they are creating subjective or unbiased products and services, they’re not because human beings make the products and services. When these human beings exist within an organization that does not consider significant social dynamics, they will fail to create products that adequately engage with a wide array of communities. Even worse, it could result in products that actively reproduce inequitable and harmful structures.

Basecamp Is Failing Its Own Future

Professionalism in the Workplace: An Extension of White Supremacy and Heteronormativity 👔

What does it mean to ask team members to “act professionally,” “speak professionally,” or “dress professionally?”

How we define “professional” is rooted in racism and heteronormative culture. This often asks people to hide important aspects of their identity and lived experience.  

So, how do we reimagine standards of professionalism? Start by asking four questions that can help decenter whiteness in your workplace's standard of professionalism:

  1. What is your personal relationship with pre-determined standards of professionalism?
  2. How have you witnessed these standards of professionalism play out in your workplace? How have you contributed?
  3. What are some ways you have witnessed others challenge professionalism standards at an organizational or individual level?
  4. Who might be an ally in changing your workplace culture? Is there additional funding that can support creating a committee in your organization to undertake this emotional and difficult work?
The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards

Resources for Solidarity 📚

Digital Land Acknowledgement

Feminuity was founded on land that is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples and is home to many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.  

As a remote team, we encourage our team members, clients, and partners to reflect on colonialism’s enduring legacy and engage in reconciliation meaningfully. We encourage everyone to action the Indigenous learnings of this web page and this Indigenous Ally Toolkit by Dakota Swiftwolfe.

Creator Feature 🎨 

Eddy Robinson is an Indigenous speaker, consultant, educator, and author. In their TEDx Talk, they delves into belonging and kinship and describes how we -- as human beings -- seek it within our personal, academic, and professional lives. Moreover, they share about an overwhelming sense of placelessness plaguing the identity of many urban Indigenous peoples across Canada due to the impacts of Imperialism, colonialism, and methods of colonization.

Engage with Eddy Robinson’s video
P.S. If you’re having difficulty centring diversity, equity, and inclusion
within your organization reach out at hello@feminuity.org.
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