Compassionate leadership presents a gift to people professionals, writes diversity and inclusion director Aggie Mutuma.
Social justice, equality and self-reflection; these are terms that many of us have read, discussed and explored more in the past few months than in the rest of our lives. The backlash against the killing in police custody of an African-American man in the US, in the midst of a novel coronavirus pandemic, has led to an awakening in people across all walks of life; a sense that we have shared ‘enemies’ (the virus and racism) and shared goals to end both.
As with any seismic societal shift, this awakening has made its way into organisations, where leadership teams have had to consider the mental health of their staff as a result of lockdown restrictions, while having conversations about race and the lived experiences of under-represented people. Words such as ‘care’, ‘consideration’ and ‘compassion’ are becoming common parlance in leadership discussions.
The value of ‘softness’
Personally, I am encouraged by the ‘softness’, care and compassion I now see reflected in the thoughts of leaders; in this, I see an unparalleled gift for people professionals. Both staff and managers have joined the call for flexible working, for equity and fairness in the workplace and for leaders to listen, reflect and learn from their people. Never before has there been such an open conversation about employees’ lived experiences and the role that leaders have to play in this.
Now is the time for people teams to ride this wave of humanity in the workplace and make significant, lasting changes for their people and their organisations. We have a chance to do the following:
Review and reflect, taking stock of our organisations’ employee value proposition (EVP) through the new lenses provided by both the pandemic and the ‘black lives matter’ conversations. People teams should ask themselves whether their organisations are caring, fair spaces, within which there is equality and all voices are heard equally. If the answer is “no” to any of these, action is required.
Words such as ‘care’, ‘consideration’ and ‘compassion’ are becoming common parlance in leadership discussions
Engage in conversations, talking openly with employees. This includes their experience of the pandemic and the support they need. We must also talk to our people about race, asking about their lived experiences, what we need to do better and what changes they want to see. Our inquisitive listening, our desire to learn and the open sharing, will serve to build and strengthen organisational culture.
Take action after reviewing, reflecting and conversing, making tangible changes and talking to our people about them. Whether these includes changing policies and practices, introducing shared targets, developing inclusive competencies or committing to working with suppliers run by under-represented groups, every organisation has changes that they can make.
Globally, there is a heightened sense of consciousness and activism in society and this undoubtedly spills into the workplace. People professionals have an opportunity to step into their light and work to make their organisations the caring, equal and just workplaces we have always wanted them to be.
Originally published in Catalyst Magazine The Diversity Issue.