Now more than ever: head off inequity when leading

Now more than ever: head off inequity when leading

Editor's note: Andrew Grimm is a contributing columnist at GreatNews.Life.

I grew up in an underprivileged housing community with my divorced mother fighting to bring herself an education and lift us out of poverty (which she did).  No one paid for my college; I carry college loan debt like so many others.  At one time, when I encountered those who had their way paved for them, I would feel resentment over the opportunities they had, the struggles they never knew, and the life of privilege they don’t even recognize as they complain about something others would love to know as a problem.

I’ve learned that everyone, those of privilege and of struggle, have the opportunity to choose to be good.

My wife was born and raised in South Africa before coming to the United States, a little over a decade ago, to be with me. She left her country, her culture, and her family to be here and become a U.S. citizen. Could you imagine trading everything on a hope and a prayer and precious little else? Her bravery and strength astounds me every day. Sadly, I watched her get turned down for jobs, her foreign degree get undervalued, her accent get mocked and leave her minimalized, and people have gone as far as to follow her into a parking lot to scream at her because she’s different.

I’ve learned deep and profound respect for any foreign-born person who takes on the journey to become a U.S. citizen.

A colleague in technology leadership, with an education beyond my own and a resume that would burn up in your hands, was treated very poorly several years ago when pulling over for a traffic violation. He’s one of those people who grew up with a lot more than I did. He’s also led a model life, more so than almost anyone I’ve ever known. There was no reason for this man to even be detained, aside from getting a ticket for speeding.  He used sir, he kept his hands visible at all times, he had both his license and registration in order, and he spoke with great respect throughout the encounter. Yet, he was removed from his vehicle and backup was called for a minor speeding violation.

I’ve learned that not everyone is treated equally in this world and this man being African American strips him of his education, character, and integrity without warning or consideration. 

How does all of this enter into the realm of a conversation about leadership?

It is your job as a leader to ensure you never allow inequity to live, breath, or so much as raise its head. 

That means a lot of things and the commitment is big. These rules cover any difference including race, age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, marriage, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or really any difference that should add to your diversity and be seen as a benefit. 

To lead change at work, you mush challenge your own unconscious bias, and learn yourself so you can be a better leader in the march to stamping out inequity.

·      Do not give additional opportunity to people because of familiarity to the person or their conditions in life. Support this by building your positions, promotions, and training material to be objective and built around needs and not any form of implicit or explicit bias.

·      Do not allow discriminatory and / or sexist language that singles out a group or excludes one. This includes anything that makes a group feel vulnerable.

·      Do not follow rules if you see evidence that they are wrong or have implicit or explicit bias within them. Seek human resources guidance if you find something of concern in procedure or policy.

·      Do not be afraid to get advice or have someone outside your team sit in interviews ensuring you are hiring for efficacy and team / organization fit, avoiding your own inherent bias.

The answer is for everyone to do something to disallow inequity, on all levels. Society will never change until we challenge it to change, so control your own sphere of influence and disallow discrimination in the corner of the world you can influence. 

When it comes to the social inequity that we all witness and for which we all develop strong feelings, stand up and do something. Walk with people. Stand with people. Support someone fighting for the end of these inequities. Don’t just like things on Facebook, get active on some level so it’s not just closet disgust for injustice. That doesn’t actually create change, as nice or cathartic as it is.

Embrace movements and educate people on them. I read a great point yesterday. If you say “save the rainforest” that doesn’t mean you don’t care about any other forests, it means that one in particular needs attention, love, and advocacy. This movement is here because attention and change were needed but all forms of expression were denied. Look to the peaceful protests for change and the great stories of unity that are coming from it.

If we all work every day to make a difference, a difference can be made.

Andrew Grimm holds a master's degree in healthcare administration and a bachelor's in science for IT management. He’s worked in healthcare for over 20 years and he’s been in leadership positions for well over a decade. Andrew’s early experiences with leadership include being a team leader in a fast-food franchise and a leadership position as an intern for Walt Disney World. He’s presently a vice president for a health system in Northern Indiana. Andrew is a La Porte native, where he lives still with his wife and two children. He has several hobbies including gardening and various attempts at woodworking and remodeling.