Activism isn't new. Companies and organizations speaking out, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. As younger generations are entering the workforce and others are re-entering after the pandemic, they're expecting more from their employers. Take the month of March, for example. With social media posts going around about Women's History Month and International Women's Day, it begs the question: Are organizations walking their talk? Is leadership aware of what they're inviting inside their organizations when they do speak out?
Other organizations prefer to remain "neutral" but that doesn't always work out in their favor. In October of 2021, a third of Basecamp's employees quit after the company enacted a ban on "societal and political discussions" through their company messaging. Recently, Disney's CEO has been called out by employees and fans of the brand for his attempts to remain neutral on Florida's recent so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill. Disney appears to support LGBTQ causes by celebrating in their parks with rainbow-themed merchandise during Pride month. Many of their creators are also part of the LGBTQ community.
Dr. Brené Brown, research professor, and leadership consultant suggests, "We’ve got to bring humanity in the room." She tackles the topic in a recent podcast episode, Leading in an Age of Employee Activism, with two leadership and workplace researchers.
Inviting a discussion around activism can be tricky for organizations and leadership. For instance, it can be unnerving for leaders to recognize that they may get something wrong around an issue. But leadership must also recognize when they aren't listening, encouraging or allowing the conversations to happen. Brown suggests that unless a leader brings the topic into the room, no one is going to speak up about it. And if no one speaks up about it, there's a potential for employees to feel unheard, unsupported, and generally unhappy.
Does Your Organization Welcome Activism?
If your business is tweeting their support for International Women's Day, are they not only celebrating women's achievement but also raising awareness against bias or donating to groups providing support for women's causes? When they talk about their DEI initiatives for hiring, are they also listening to those groups and welcoming discourse that reveals where things need to change? Employees no longer want to hear empty speeches about how your organization supports a cause unless there is action behind those words. Learn more by listening to Dr. Brené Brown's podcast or reading the supporting article on the MIT Sloan Management Review website.