by Judith H. Katz
The world we live in is more divided than ever. The last election and its aftermath have created and surfaced greater fissures in our society and in our organizations, among friends and even families. More and more I am hearing people say – I can’t talk to X; I don’t want to be around Y. I heard on a recent NPR show how the great political divide is even impacting dating websites – where people don’t want to even consider dating someone of a different political stance.
All of this is happening at a time when organizations need us to bring more of ourselves rather than less. On the one hand, organizations talk about the need to create a workplace in which everyone can be included and do their best work together. And yet, we know that the larger societal climate is also being brought inside our organizations.
We see examples of people experiencing greater hostility in the larger society every day. People who are not white may be overtly told to “go back to where they came from,” graffiti “white only” messages are appearing more frequently on schools and churches, there has been an increase in defacing Jewish cemeteries and other examples of anti-Semitic statements and actions, and immigrants are fearful to go to church or other places for fear of deportation.
So how does all of this impact our organizations and people’s ability to do their best work? Recently, I was working in one organization as part of an inclusion effort. An African American man in the group related that his son came home from school asking his parents if they will have to move because when he went to school that morning there was “white only” written on a wall at the school.
A Muslim man talked about receiving a call from his wife, who was fearful because a man was following her as she shopped at the local mall. He stayed on the phone with her for a half hour until he knew that she was safe.
A Christian woman said she felt unease and uncertainty about whether she could share her values about her faith with her colleagues and whether they would accept her.
An Indian woman who is married to a white man described how her mother-in-law assured her that she will be okay and not have to worry about any hatred directed to her because she was “born here.” Another Indian colleague worried about the harassment her 15-year-old son was beginning to get from peers who were bullying him and calling him a terrorist.
While most of these experiences are happening outside of work, they are impacting individuals every day, each bringing fear and concern for themselves and their families—fear and concern that erodes a sense of safety everywhere they go, including the workplace. Yet few people are feeling safe enough to talk about this at work. It is the hidden barrier – that more people are feeling a level of anxiety and fear – and yet there are few safe places to get support.
People are feeling the effects of a society where judging has become the default setting. That judging is creating more walls at a time when people need inclusion and a community of effort in their lives and in the workplace. Now more than ever, we need to find ways to join with one another and see each other as allies and partners at least at work, if not in our communities.
Our organizations are places where we are connected by a common mission and common objectives. We need to seize that opportunity to not only join with each other to achieve those goals but to do so in ways that enable people to feel safe and not have to keep silent about those forces that are impacting their lives. We must recognize that the world outside of our organizations is not outside after all. It’s time to stop judging and start joining.