Roadblocks to Equity in the Workplace
As we close out the month of April where I have been intensely focused on equity from a variety of different lenses, we must ensure we recognize roadblocks to the work, particularly in the workplace.
The importance of equity in the workplace is becoming more and more widely stated and ultimately will be more widely accepted. When a company boldly champions an equitable environment, they are protecting their human capital and enriching their workplace culture. In an ideal world, simply understanding and implementing equity policies is enough to boost morale and productivity but it is not enough to move work forward, implement an equity agenda, and sustain efforts through an embedment within the culture! Successfully creating equitable workspaces presents its own set of challenges. Roadblocks occur to almost all visionaries and leaders with solid ideas and this is no different. As a matter of fact, some of the roadblocks will occur clearly out of sight while others will be in plain view. But, thankfully when we are aware of what recurring issues keep weighing us down, we can get aggressive and create long-term solutions for decades-old challenges. Because equity is so complex and requires the support of the entire leadership team, it may feel like the challenges keep coming but don’t get frustrated, be proactive and know what to look for. Based on my prior experience, while this can be hard, it is doable. And, being able to identify and address common equity roadblocks is essential. The most common equity roadblocks are:
How can you make sure your entire team has what they need to succeed if you are unaware of their needs because of your previously conceived false presumptions? Maybe you presumed a mother on your team would not be interested in leading a project because it would be time consuming and her hours are limited due to her responsibilities at home. Or maybe you thought the position given to your entry level colleague does not match the passions they studied in school or line up with their long-term goals and therefore they don’t need to be presented with a path to advancement. Perhaps, you think your business partner plans to lead with you long term, but they actually always had an exit strategy plan in mind that they need you to support. Maybe you assumed that your top performing colleague wants to advance to another role but actually prefers being a leader in their current position. Then there are a whole other set of presumptions that women and minorities are often mislabeled or stereotyped to be and that causes insecurity, stress, and disadvantages. Presuming any of the above scenarios is troublesome because it is solely based on your own perspective. When you think you know the needs and desires of those you work with but are completely wrong they no longer have what they need to feel safe, secure, succeed, and thrive. Equity will be stalled, and burnout will creep in.
As a leader, we must check our assumptions and own internal biases at the door! Get to know our people for who they are. Ask every person including partners and executives what their short- and long-term goals are. And don’t stop there. Get them to clarify and document what they need from you and the organization to reach these goals and plan accordingly. As you approach the strategy needed to address equity, don’t assume anything. Get to know your people, meet them where they are, and support them throughout the process knowing the goal cannot change, but the strategies to get to the goal must be based on individuals.
The issue with workplaces that struggle to have a successful implementation of equity is that sometimes we confuse equity for equality and fear a work place centered on equity. Equality would accidentally create completely even playing fields where it’s hard to identify leadership. Remember, equity gives everyone what they need to succeed. Equality gives everyone the same role, pay range, or even responsibilities. However, leadership is still needed. Checks and balances must still happen. So, when a team leans more towards equality vs equity, operational issues occur and establishing true equity is a challenge because now the focus is on establishing order and business operations in the midst of chaos vs focusing on establishing equity. When business operations stall, equity is placed on the back burner due to excuses that it is “not the right time.”
Ensure from the top that the Board of Directors or governing body in conjunction with the leadership team has established an equity policy with accompanying regulations. Establish ongoing equity trainings based on positions and all levels of awareness and readiness for implementation ensuring that Human Resources is a major department player. When everyone defines equity the same way and is aware of their role required to support it in the context of the work, operational issues won’t occur. Everyone will still be dedicated to their piece of the puzzle while being secure in their value and future because equity is successfully implemented due to a common vocabulary and a strategy for implementation.
Lack of Work-life Integration Support
The struggle to maintain a healthy balance between work and life is an ongoing challenge for literally every professional. True equity exists when you as a leader are aware of all of their needs including their need to establish balance. This also includes your own! Equity is in jeopardy when:
You are not aware of their ability or lack there of to manage large workloads and home life;
You make assumptions about their home life;
You are insensitive to their scheduling or flexibility requests; or
You have not set an organizational culture that appreciates and recognizes time off.
When a workplace is not aware or respectful of the needs that are beyond the four walls of the office, happiness, motivation, and retention become at stake.
Be creative. Does your team need to be in your presence 40 hours a week to be successful? Can you offer a flex day, half day etc. to give them more time away from the office to ensure more productivity when they are at the office? If they can take heavy loads one week and need a light load the next week, can you accommodate? Or simply, if the work gets done, does it matter where it gets done? Be flexible and be open and most importantly ask them what their needs are and genuinely determine how you can support them in getting those needs met! Remember, the power of relationships is huge in implementing any leadership agenda, especially one with equity at its core.
Equity works best when plans are in place and you are aware of needs within the organization from several vantage points. There are many possible roadblocks to equity – many of which may be institutional or systematic and feel beyond your control. But you as a leader control more than you realize. You can choose to not participate in stereotypes and presumptions. You can direct a positive work culture and experience. You can guard, establish, and protect equity when you are open, proactive, and responsive. And, when a roadblock presents itself, address it early, often, and quickly to eliminate it from becoming a long-term barrier.