Great Leaders Foster More Human Workplace Cultures
The recent events in the United States have sparked numerous conversations about racial injustice and what workplaces can do to create more inclusive environments. A greater number of conversations about diversity and inclusion is definitely movement in the right direction. However, we must go beyond diversity and inclusion, and more deeply examine how to achieve equity and belonging for all.
We cannot lose sight to the cultural differences that exist between the different groups that we seek to fully integrate into our work and our society. It is important that we discuss and embrace these differences, rather than have everyone assimilate into the dominant culture prevalent in our current environment. Allowing space for multi-cultural expression can convert a hostile working environment into one where everyone can feel free to show up fully as who they are, and to contribute all that they have to give to the cause or goal at hand.
I have been a student of multi-culturalism for the greatest part of my life, as someone who has lived, moved, and worked in a variety of cultures across the world. And that global view, together with a deep exploration of my own needs as a human being, has given me insights that could help make our work environments more human and therefore more welcoming and embracing of everyone that is currently excluded.
I would like to propose three basic but transformational practices that leaders can access to create more human working environments:
Connecting with our own bodies and emotions
Our dominant culture promotes disconnecting ourselves from our bodies. The prevailing thought is that the more disconnected we are from our bodies, the more productive we will be. By numbing ourselves to what our bodies may be signaling is needed, we manage to continue to show up at work and produce value, even when what we may need is rest or even a quick trip to the bathroom. One of the legacies of enslavement in the Americas and a deep flaw of our capitalistic culture is that we regularly attach a person’s value to what they can produce.
By emancipating ourselves from the thought that we are only as valuable as what we can produce, we liberate our bodies and emotions to FEEL, so that we can respond to the needs that those feelings unveil. Our dominant culture places far more value on what we think, rather than what we feel, and thus we must find a way to balance mind, body, spirit, and emotions to live more integral lives. The key to access that connection to our body is our breath. By taking just a few minutes first thing each morning (and perhaps even a few times a day) to connect to our bodies and emotions through our breath, we create space for mindfulness of our own needs, which then opens up to be more present to the needs of others.
Connecting with others
Our dominant culture is based on and perpetuated by a ‘divide, control, exploit’ mentality that is so deeply embedded in the way we do work that we do not even notice it anymore, and many consider it a normal part of doing business. Competition over collaboration is deeply embedded in our work culture, as is the need to control other human beings. This desire to control, rather than empower and respect the agency of individuals is one of the key factors leading to revolving doors of high turnover in organizations seeking to diversify their staff. People outside the dominant culture are brought in to diversify organizations, but because the environment they come into is deeply enmeshed in practices that dehumanize everyone (and especially anyone considered not to “fit in”) they end up exiting the organization prematurely.
Edgar Villanueva, in his book “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance,” proposes that the antidote to ‘divide, control, exploit’ is ‘connect, relate, belong’ and he suggests a seven-step process to healing divides that includes: grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest, and repair. These are all relational actions and require being willing to look at the humanity of another, and understand how to have everyone’s needs to be met as we work towards our shared goals. Any work worth doing requires building relationships with other human beings, which is why leaders must master and encourage others to use non-violent communication techniques that promote understanding and embracing of differences.
Connecting with nature
Our dominant culture pretends that human beings are separate from nature. We pretend that we are not affected by changes in weather and in seasons, and that we are somehow not part of the ever-constant cycle of life and death. By slowing down enough to take note of the environment which we are blessed to occupy and identify ourselves as part of nature, we expand our capacity to learn from the adaptive capacity of nature. In the middle of a global pandemic, combined with social unrest due to systemic inequality and oppression, many of us are coming to terms with the fact that the only constant is change.
Our survival on this planet is directly related to our capacity to quickly adapt to change, and to make choices in our lives and in our work that do not sacrifice people or planet for profits. Indigenous communities believe that as human beings the land does not belong to us, but rather, we belong to the land. They have been wisely warning us for generations about the need to live sustainably and in harmony with nature for the long term. It is time that we heed their valuable wisdom and begin to understand that the fate of our planet and our fate as humankind are inextricably linked, therefore presenting us with different choices we can make.
Itzbeth Menjívar is the Founder and Chief Bridge-Builder of BridgePeople LLC, a racial equity, peace-building, and cultural competencies consulting firm. She is also the Co-Founder of The Healing Collective Global, a virtual platform for healing that centers and elevates Black and Indigenous wisdom to advance a more balanced multi-cultural world.