Witnessing our nation react to recent events of racism and racial injustice has been heartbreaking. The civil unrest has revealed systemic racism in a polarized society that is filled with a staggering level of animosity and division. The consequences of this polarization are significant. We engage in philosophical standoffs that perpetuate conflict and inaction, maintaining an antagonistic mentality of “us vs. them,” rather than finding the common ground and compromise necessary for an optimally functioning democratic society.
Our country is at a critical point in history. We can either continue the destructive dialogue, tearing one another down with hateful taunts and insults or we can choose another way, the way of clear, open and honest personal dialogue that unites us toward a shared goal. These constructive conversations can be difficult, uncomfortable and even painful at times, but a commitment to civil discourse, along with positive action, will enable us to reach our collective resolve. Fear and bigotry cannot exist in the midst of understanding.
Workplaces tend to be more diverse than the places where we live, worship and play, uniquely positioning corporate America to initiate meaningful discussions about racial equity and justice.
Workplaces tend to be more diverse than the places where we live, worship and play, uniquely positioning corporate America to initiate meaningful discussions about racial equity and justice. Businesses have the opportunity to leverage diversity to foster innovation and drive growth. We also can use the camaraderie created among employees to help tackle the complex issues permeating across American society.
At Southern Company Gas, we have developed thoughtful and deliberate actions in response to the systemic racism that plagues our nation. I have led company-wide conversations on race—specifically the Black experience—to let employees know that leadership stands with our employees in support of racial justice. We have Employee Resource Groups (including women, LGBTQ, veteran, Latinx, generational, new employee and Asian groups) to help us understand the experiences that are underrepresented in our business and society. We are committed to continuing the discussion on the issue of inequity and identifying areas where we, as a business, can do better.
More importantly, the culture we are establishing around these conversations is a culture of respect and understanding. While we are far from perfect, I am energized by the fact that so many of the employees across the business—from executive board meetings to morning muster calls—continue to have dialogue about race and are engaged in learning opportunities to understand how to be part of the solution. All of us are committed to becoming comfortable having uncomfortable conversations and learning the skills it takes to do so. It is my hope that our employees take these conversations home with them, to dinner with their families, to virtual happy hours with their friends and even to conversations on social media.
Recent incidents of racism against Black people have loudly entered the forefront of our society, but the injustice has been in place for generations. Black people continue feeling a lot of hurt. Significant change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to develop processes and practices that ensure equity and justice, but the purposeful dialogue that should be happening already will generate action to address underlying bias and inequities.
Business leaders across America are in a position to facilitate civil discourse, learn from those discussions and help unify polarized groups. If our employees can have respectful and productive dialogue at work, then they can also use these skills in other environments. By making this an active part of everyone’s job description, we can cultivate the business culture we desire and help create communities where tolerance grows and our country thrives.