It’s been 14 days of protesting, and 14 days on not hearing too much about COVID-19 but instead America facing it’s hidden shame, systematic racial injustice. It’s been incredibly encouraging to see people band together and say this is unacceptable. There have been talks about what Trump is doing wrong (almost everything), and videos of continued police brutality and anger. There have also been glimmers of hope amongst the darkness. All 4 police officers who were there during George Floyds murder are facing charges, government officials are speaking out, and cops are quitting to show they will have nothing to do with the brutality being shown by their co-workers. It’s amazing to see people refusing to let this be another incident that is spoken about briefly and then quickly lost in the sea of similar incidents.
As I have mentioned in the past, as a consultant you work with clients from different companies during projects. This client in particular I have had direct contact with and been intertwined with other employees in his organization and I am able to see what is happening behind the scenes. I have always been impressed with the transparency, diversity, and drive shown by him and his employees, but on Friday I saw something much bigger. At the beginning of the week the client mentioned in the monthly team call he wanted to go over some “business as usual” agenda items, but he also wanted to take time to have a hard conversation. In order to drive the conversation he asked me to put together a number of surgery questions that went from big picture “how are you feeling about current events” and evolved to “how can I, and this team do better”. It’s not necessarily new to see these types of questions be introduced. As a first draft I decided to tread lightly and respect that as the head of 9 teams with hundreds of employees under him, he may not want to ask too sensitive a questions. As we reviewed it the day before the meeting he emphasized to me he did not want to say “how do you feel about ongoing events?” Because he felt that was insulting to the reality of events. He wanted the question to say “How do you feel about the ongoing events surrounding the systematic racial abuse and the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, amongst many others”. I was a little concerned that this may turn into a bit of an HR nightmare, and asked him if he wanted to be as on the nose with it. Thats when he stopped and asked me, if I’d rather have someone beat around the bush or call it what it is.
It took me a minute to decide if I wanted to be a professional in this moment and consult him (what I was hired to do) to dial it back, or if I wanted to be a person who stands up for what I believe is the right thing. We talked about it and agreed that he wants to have people working with him that will have the hard conversations, and are willing to do what they think is right, and express their thoughts. We updated the surgery to be reflective of what we thought was right and forgot about the possibility of making someone uncomfortable and focused on the importance of transparency within his organization.
He started the meeting as planned, speaking about who did what and what was coming up, and then he switched gears. As we went through the survey we spent time reading responses (they had been made anonymous to allow people more comfort in sharing their true opinions). I have never been as impressed with a group of leaders as I was in that hour. There was open and honest conversation. People spoke up, and didn’t hold back. Through it all we all turned back to the client to say, thank you for having this conversation in a work environment, because usually nobody wants to do this. Ideas were shared, and I think we all felt depleted for what was happening, but hopeful to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people who were able to say “this is wrong and we HAVE to do something about it”. With 9 minutes left, the manager said he wanted to honor George Floyd by having 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence and black screens. His voice shook and he said, “because that’s the same amount of time it took this cop to put his knee on his f****** neck and murder someone in cold blood because of the color of their skin.”
This will not go away. Americans are the first to voice opinions and shout about being the land of freedom and equality. Black people have no freedom and are far from being treated equally. America needs to continue to speak up, and the world has to stand behind and agree.
Thank you to my client for showing me he is not scared to have this conversation, and that it needs to be talked about in all environments. Have the conversations, back those conversations up with action, and don’t stop.
Black Lives Matter.