Those who work in organizations that operate in potentially dangerous environments, such as construction, manufacturing, energy or mining, will be familiar with the regular practice of conducting “safety moments” at the start of meetings. These are short, usually no more than five- to 10-minute reminders about recent incidents or general practices that keep a safety mindset front and centre in all the things the organization does.
Periodically, many organizations will designate a particular day or even just a few hours to pause routine operations and reflect on recent occurrences more deeply or to remember those who have been injured or killed on the job. Anyone who has worked at those companies will remember the impact those moments have; it is sobering to think that there are workplaces where the risks of not coming home at the end of the day are substantially higher than they are at other jobs. The more specific purpose of these discussions, however, is to make sense of the traumatizing incidents in question so that they can be prevented in future.
But what about when the incidents that affect us don’t occur in the workplace, but in the wider community? In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen shocking revelations about the substantially under-reported deaths of Indigenous children at a residential school in Kamloops, as well as the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in what police have called a hate-based crime. Societally, both events can profoundly affect the sense of well-being for employees in your company.
Within workplaces, what are the options to help one another heal in the wake of such tragedies? Unfortunately, while the incidents in question may be mentioned during meetings or informal interactions, they usually aren’t the focus of deliberate discussions to raise awareness in the same manner that we usually address safety issues. This needs to change.
In recent years, more and more organizations have developed a range of diversity and inclusion networks that try to increase opportunities for understanding among different groups of employees. Commonly, these include promoting awareness and connection around social identities such as gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation, among others. In a business context, such networks can serve to give voice to these groups and help them advance professionally within an environment where they typically have been under-represented.
In the case of starting to heal together, such networks can offer a potential avenue to start addressing some of these societal incidents that affect the way we show up at work. Especially where these diversity and inclusion networks are open to all, they can be a place where members of the network can provide insights on their experiences and expand the mindsets of colleagues about issues of importance to their identities.
I have several friends and colleagues who belong to Indigenous awareness networks within their companies, which give them the opportunity to build greater cultural awareness and connection through activities led by their Indigenous work colleagues. This includes sharing circles on various reconciliation issues, conversations with elders, and participating in shared cultural experiences, such as smudging ceremonies, which they might not otherwise have in wider society.
For all concerned, the network serves as a safe place to build mutual awareness and advance reconciliation. With June being National Indigenous History Month, and June 21 being National Indigenous Peoples Day, these are great opportunities for companies to bring focus to the role of such networks in healing around injustices such as the Kamloops residential school, whose shameful legacy touches all of us in Canadian society.
If you are a leader in your company, take time to explore what types of networks have been set up. This might have occurred informally, without specific support from management. If that’s the case, you have an opportunity to make them more formal and visible to others, and to bring their voices to the forefront in future. As we’re just past the important Muslim celebrations of Ramadan, you might ask people in these networks how employees can help support their Muslim colleagues with next year’s observances, where fasting during daylight hours might mean a temporary adjustment of work patterns.
In meetings, consider setting aside time to have diversity and inclusion moments that, like safety moments, serve to build awareness and start giving voice to concerns that need to be heard. And, if you can, set aside deliberate time to acknowledge and discuss significant societal events that you know to be on the minds of your people.
The safety of our society – and our people within it – demands that we give voice to a different way of acting.
Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary Alberta
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