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Speaking Up Against Discrimination and Racism in the Workplace
A door with a smashed glass window.

[Excerpt by Chris Westfall —]

Speaking Up Against Discrimination And Racism In The Workplace

How will you speak up when faced with racism and discrimination?

Is there a “right way” to respond to discrimination, racism and racist comments in the office? As a leader, you have to consider carefully the impact of racism within your organization. Imagine if you worked for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam—the leader who recently referred to African slaves as “indentured servants,” in a CBS interview with Gayle King.

Calls for the governor’s resignation are rampant, as of this writing, while Northam remains defiant in his denials (“This isn’t me,” referring to an alleged image of a younger Northam in blackface, standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood). Furthering his “defense”, Northam explained why he didn’t wear a lot of shoe polish (his costume of choice for an ’80s-era dance contest where he dressed as Michael Jackson): “it’s really hard to get off.” So is the stain of racism.

As a leader, you may have already faced racism and discrimination in your organization, or in your life. Whether you encounter anti-semitism, unwanted sexual advances, or misunderstandings about LGBTQ lifestyles, marginalizing others is poison for your company. How you communicate around discrimination will define your impact as a leader…and as a human being.

The leadership conversation is my focus: What will you do when you are confronted with racism and discrimination? Here’s why speaking up matters.

Here are four ways you can speak up against racism, and discrimination, in the workplace.

1. Not Welcome Here: As a leader, you set the tone for your team. Do you have a clearly stated zero tolerance policy against racism, sexual misconduct and discrimination? As the saying goes, “What you allow is what will continue.” Marginalizing others is easy, in this day and age – teamwork only comes with clear guidance from the top. Does everyone know where you stand, and why? The great coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, famously kept racism out of the locker room—as he led the Packers to world championships during 1960s. He refused to frequent restaurants and hotels that treated anyone differently due to their skin color. Lombardi, the namesake of the Super Bowl Trophy, coached the first openly gay player in the NFL, David Kopay (he came out after his NFL career had ended). Beyond Lombardi’s moral motivations, we know that he wanted to win—so he fostered the environment that created greater teamwork, support and productivity. Do you?

2. “Do No Harm”: What happens when someone pops off with a remark that is out of line, at a company function, meeting or event? How will you respond when the actions of the group (or an individual) are racist, sexist or hurtful? Consider the harm that starts with silence. When faced with inappropriate behavior, the time for action is immediate: don’t let inaction condone discrimination. As a leader, it’s your job to watch out for your organization. Tolerating intolerance lets the cancer spread.  How quickly will you speak up, when you see behavior that is tearing people down—and destroying your team?

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