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Yes, you can be a champion of equality

Hispanic woman

In my last NEW blog, “Equality starts with a courageous conversion,” I wrote about a client session in which a group of corporate leaders and I discussed the dreaded, but vitally important “talk.”

The “talk” isn’t about the birds and the bees. It’s about the conversation people of color must have with their teenage children about what do when encountering the police. This talk is especially important for minority boys. During that session, the corporate leaders and I discussed how, whether we like it or not, there are no boundaries between what happens “out there” in society and what happens within the corporate structure.

Everything that happens in society enters the business world, and, more importantly, impacts the way we view and treat one another. Bias knows no geography.

During the session that day, some leaders were concerned they wouldn’t be able to empathize with employees who worry about having a child pulled over by police — or worse. These leaders felt they simply didn’t have the same life experience, so weren’t equipped to be an equality champion.

I pointed out this couldn’t be further from the truth. To be an equality champion you simply must be willing to empathize with another human being. You must be willing to step out of your bubble and pay attention to the things that may not directly impact you.

It’s not difficult to learn to be a champion for equality if you’re willing to admit that you don’t know what you don’t know. You are already on your way.

Equality champions recognize when there have been injustices, even when they haven’t been impacted directly. They choose to create change in the world where they live, work and play. At the end of the day, we all want to be loved, respected and have a sense of belonging.

You can be a champion

Equality champions are aware of their own biases and are willing to learn. They believe in their head and heart that everyone has value. They believe equality should be afforded to everyone.

Equality champions are willing to call out bias when you see it and are willing to challenge the sacred cows to ensure that all employees are afforded equal opportunities for success. They are willing to look at how they lead and who is on their team and make the course corrections needed to ensure their team reflects the face of the consumers they serve and the culture is rooted in deep democracy, where all employees have a voice and their voice is heard, valued and respected.

To influence others to become champions for equality, every leader must be willing to tell their own story. Champions meet people where they are, so that they don’t feel judged.

The truth is all of us are biased. We simply must take ownership for the choices we make in terms of how our biases impact others. No one has to be racist, sexist or homophobic. We can make a choice. We must be intentional about choosing behaviors that open the door to authentic connections.

Bringing others along

When you’re an equality champion, you have the power and the responsibility to bring others along. This requires certain actions on your part, such as being authentic in your position – walk your talk. You need to be willing to be vulnerable and share your biases and how you have overcome them or are working to overcoming them. And finally, you need to be willing to ask people outright to become a public champion for equality.

When you are an equality champion and are bringing others along, don’t expect a smooth road. You may bump up against some resistance from time to time. Some folks may resist the idea of becoming equality champions not because they are being difficult or “anti-equality,” but because they may be making decisions or judgments based on information that fits or doesn’t fit with what they already know.

We are living in the most diverse culture the world has ever known in the most divided society our world has ever known. Companies in the 21st Century must lead with an equality mindset or be doomed to be disrupted by companies that are more in tune with a diverse employee and customer base.

Consider these actions:

  • Walk your talk.
  • Seek out opportunities to intentionally engage in at least one courageous conversation about differences every month.
  • Meet people where they are without judgment.
  • Be willing to ask others to be become equality champions.
  • Expect resistance, show empathy and grace. We are all walking wounded from negative influences.

The opportunity to become a champion for equality is available to you today. Are you willing to learn how?

Members: Post your comments in our NEW Member Community.

Trudy Bourgeois is founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence and the author of four books, including the most recent, Equality: Courageous Conversations about Women, Men and Race To Spark A Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough. She previously held senior leadership roles in the consumer goods industry. 

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.