Most recently, associates have had the chance to attend several sessions around race, discrimination and the social injustices Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other minority racial groups have been facing in the workplace and in society at large. These hour-long sessions foster constructive dialogue amongst people from different backgrounds and aim to educate members about privilege – while also providing resources to help strengthen allyship.
Below, Gartner associate Victoria Speakes, Sales Recruiter, and Nick Smirniotopoulos, Account Manager, share their personal experiences with racial injustice as well as how they’re working to educate their colleagues on the importance of taking action and standing up for what they believe in.
What is your reaction to the statement “Black Lives Matter” (BLM)?
Victoria: My reaction to BLM has always given me a sense of pride in myself and my greater community. BLM, for me, identifies that there has been a challenge within our society to acknowledge the full humanity of BIPOC people through equity and equality. It is a movement that is intended to draw attention to the fact that Black lives have not and do not always matter for the simple fact that they are Black. BLM is NOT a movement that dismisses that other lives also matter. BLM is also NOT a movement that means other groups cannot and should not care because they are not Black. It simply means that we all have a duty to ensure that discrimination and injustice towards the Black community no longer effects our quality of life as greatly as it has.
Nick: My honest reaction to this statement is, “How could anyone argue with it?” And if your initial reaction is, “All Lives Matter,” then chances are you probably don’t fully appreciate, understand or acknowledge the adversity the Black community faces in our country. Yes, all lives matter, but many years of discrimination have left the Black community wondering if their lives indeed do matter. So, I see BLM as less of a statement in and of itself, but more of a response to the racial injustice that has gone on for far too long in this country.
What does privilege mean and how does it show itself in the workplace?
Nick: Privilege, especially “white privilege”, has become this offensive term, but it really shouldn’t be. I think the reason for this is because of unconscious bias. To me, privilege means there are things I don’t have to think about or experience because of my background. In the workplace, this could mean how I’m perceived in an interview or for a promotion isn’t impacted by biases and structural inequalities. It also means that the norms and social cues of workplace culture have people who look more like me in mind. This is why it’s so insidious – I may not think I am “benefiting” because it’s unseen, but the Black community sees the difference and feels the pain.
Victoria: Privilege can be related to anything but it essentially allows a person to not have to experience certain challenges because of a certain trait, characteristic, or status. What frustrates me about peoples’ reaction to “privilege” is the lack of understanding around the term. When it comes to “white privilege,” it does not mean that if you are white, you have not worked hard for where you are and what you have achieved. It means that as a white person, you have likely not experienced losing out on opportunities because of your skin color. It also means that you’ve also not been treated unfairly because of your skin color in the majority of situations. To deny that white privilege exists is to deny that racism exists. In the workplace, many of the professional standards that make up an appropriate company culture derive from what can be considered traditional white culture. For instance, for many years, hairstyles like braids and dreadlocks have been considered unprofessional in the workplace. These styles are norms within Black culture but have been considered unacceptable at work- causing Black people to sometimes change who they are to fit into company culture and or risk losing out on opportunities.
What actions are you taking to advocate for racial justice in your community?
Victoria: Advocacy regarding racial justice has always been something that I’ve cared about but it wasn’t until this year that I really started taking action outside of my immediate circle of influence, which is my family. To start there, the conversation started early with my own children by teaching them to stand up for injustice anywhere. Empowering them to have a voice for themselves and those around them has been important to instill in their little hearts. In my community, I host a podcast called Victoria Speaks that covers topics such as racial justice, as well as injustice suffered by other diverse groups. It’s a way for me to educate others and also learn myself by having guest speakers talk about their personal experiences. Then here at Gartner, working within the Diversity & Inclusion Council as a Lead, Mosaic as an HR Ambassador and within my own BU to drive change for our company culture has been deeply important for me to be involved in.
Nick: I would divide community into three key areas – home, work, and social. At home, I’m doing everything I can to educate myself and think deeply, critically and empathetically about these issues. At work, as the President of our Mosaic ERG community, I’m trying to implement new programming and resources to create a more equitable and inclusive space for all races and cultures. A big component of this work includes educating our white associates on what they can do to support this kind of change. In my social circles (which are usually pretty diverse), I’m trying to have honest, but difficult, discussions and seek solutions together.
What does allyship mean to you and how can you show it in the workplace?
Nick: I think privilege and allyship go hand-in-hand. It’s hard to be a true ally if you haven’t acknowledged your privilege. That’s because in order to be an ally, you need to have a posture of humility and understanding to seek out and empathize with other groups, in this case, with the Black community. Thus, allyship is not self-imposed, but it comes through social acknowledgement when members of marginalized groups feel you are supportive and empowering. In the workplace, I think some of the biggest ways to show this are to create inclusive work environments and have the courage to call out “microaggressions” (or comments that might have racial undertones). In this way, you are helping to lift the burden of injustices, no matter how “small” they may seem to you, the Black community is experiencing and inserting yourself into the narrative to make a positive impact.
Victoria: Allyship is extremely important for true advocacy and justice work. When you think about the sheer number of people that make up a diverse group, specifically African Americans, there is no possible way to drive true change without the acknowledgement of injustice by white allies and their willingness to use their own privilege for said change. Allyship is being willing to step outside of yourself and challenge the status quo. Someone who is wanting to be an ally for justice, must be willing to first do the work to understand what the challenge is, why it is a challenge, and identify how they can spark change. Allyship is understanding that you don’t have to have a certain level of status or influence to move mountains. At work, being an ally can mean joining Employee Resource Groups like Mosaic to listen and learn. It can also mean taking the diversity training provided to actually change innate behaviors like unconscious bias to ensure it is not affecting your decision making process at work. Being an ally also can mean something as simple as genuinely asking “How are you and how are recent events affecting you?” when you recognize that your BIPOC colleagues are struggling.
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