E77: Social Injustice, Agile Practices, and The Workplace
Author: Dave Cornelius, DM
We are living in a time of great societal change. Every aspect of everyday life is under scrutiny, from our consumer habits to the way we treat each other. As society becomes more diverse (and as more progressive generations like Gen Z approach adulthood), more people are embracing inclusivity and social justice – and nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace.
Today’s young people aren’t just looking for steady pay and health insurance coverage; according to a survey from Glassdoor, nearly two-thirds of job seekers say that diversity is a key factor in the jobs they apply for and the offers they accept. This new generation of professionals wants to work in a diverse and inclusive environment, where everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the bottom line.
If workplaces want to stay relevant in today’s market, they need to invest in their corporate culture. The companies who support their employees, foster a collaborative atmosphere, and actively work to eliminate social injustices will be the companies who attract the best young job seekers – and ultimately, the companies who deliver the best work.
Luckily, it isn’t hard to create this thriving work environment. All you need to do is start using agile practices with your employees.
What is Social Injustice?
Before a business can mitigate the effects of social injustice, they must understand what those effects are – and how they might be (unintentionally) causing them. Social injustices vary from one industry to the next, from microaggressions and a lack of support from managers to a simple lack of diversity throughout the organization. Whatever they may be, these injustices are a common problem throughout many offices.
Perhaps your workplace only hires people of a certain identity – only white people or cisgender people, for example. This decision may be unintentional, but it is an example of social injustice. Even if a company does hire a diverse workforce, the environment can still be unjust towards minority groups. They may not feel that their work or their ideas are valued within the organization, and as a result may not feel comfortable contributing to projects.
If businesses want to thrive in today’s marketplace, they need to avoid social injustice as much as possible – after all, these injustices can have dire ramifications for your business.
How Injustice Affects the Workplace
Companies that have one-sided workforces (all white, all male, etc.) will likely have a limited perception of the world. This can limit the way a workforce views a problem, keeping them from true innovation that disrupts their industries.
Of course, there are many other ways that social injustice impacts a company. These include:
Damaging Workers’ Psychological Safety
The term “psychological safety” was first coined by Amy Edmondson in 1999. Her Harvard University paper, “Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviors in Work Teams,” posited that successful work teams must hold “[a] shared belief…that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
Companies plagued by social injustice can feel like unsafe environments for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups. These individuals may not feel like their ideas are valued (or even heard), which can put a strain on their mental health each day.
Stifling Contributions and Creativity
If a worker doesn’t feel psychologically safe among their co-workers, they are often less willing to share their ideas and collaborate with their team. This lack of contribution is doubly detrimental; it hurts the employee, causing her mental strife and a decreased sense of value within her company, and it hurts the business by stifling the flow of ideas. Businesses need creative people to take their products or services to new heights – and that means there can be no smothering of creative energy.
Limiting a Company’s Potential
Every business has one ultimate goal: to create the best possible product or service for their customers. With this in mind, it is imperative that companies strive to create a diverse workforce that welcomes one another’s ideas, as this is the best way to innovate and improve upon their work. Although it may sound cynical, it is true that social justice is rather good for business.
Additionally, today’s workers are standing up in the face of injustice more than ever before. While this is a great thing for employees, it can spell disaster for workplaces riddled with social injustice. The absence of diversity and inclusivity in a corporate culture causes friction, which directly increases a company’s risk of legal financial losses. The losses experienced by corporations could be used for other innovative initiatives, once again proving that justice is good for the bottom line.
An office needs to be diverse if it wants to be competitive and creative, as a wide range of viewpoints are necessary for innovation. But how can they change their office culture and open the doors to inclusivity? By using agile principles.
What is Agile?
Agile development was first designed by 14 leaders in the software industry. Their methodologies were intended to help software developers increase their productivity and value delivery, but their revolutionary methods are applicable to work teams in nearly every industry. Agile focuses on incremental goals and regular evaluation, as well as self-organizing, which allows teams to have greater contribution (and dedication) to their work.
One of the most common agile processes is known as Scrum. Teams who use scrum focus on five key principles in their work:
These principles make team members feel comfortable and psychologically safe in their workspace, which enables them to make greater contributions to the team and deliver greater value overall. But these principles also have one other, sometimes overlooked, advantage – the creation of the ideal environment for DEI.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
“DEI” stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. These three terms are the key ingredients to success in the modern business environment – and while they are widely-discussed terms among professionals today, they are worth defining here.
Christoph Schell, President of the Americas Region for HP Inc., says that diversity is “a mindset that needs to touch every aspect of a company so that organizations ensure everyone embraces and contributes to the DEI culture.” As we’ve discussed earlier, the term refers to the personal identities of a work team – their race, sex, gender, faith, etc.
Equity refers to the way a company treats its diverse group of workers. In an equitable office, all workers feel like they can make meaningful contributions to their team and advance within the company. These opportunities – ones that have long eluded certain minority groups – certainly benefit those employees, and the collaborations that result from equitable workplaces benefit the company overall.
Finally, inclusion refers to the feeling of welcome that an individual experiences in their office. If a workplace is inclusive, all employees will feel like their work and their ideas are both wanted and valued.
An organization must practice DEI if they want to be truly innovative and competitive in their industries. This means implementing key strategies into the corporate culture, such as:
- Empathy for everyone: Take the time to understand and feel what others are experiencing. Without empathy DEI will not be sustainable.
- Inclusive agile leaders: Help people achieve their awesomeness without unconscious bias.
- Support authenticity: Allow people to bring their whole self to work; do not expect employees to conform to the culture of the silent majority.
- Network and visibility: Ask leadership mentors and sponsors to help people engage in emergent leadership. Make sure that each employee feels a sense of purpose in what they do.
- Career paths: Remove impediments to career path mobility. Create opportunities to work on high visible initiatives.
- Diverse hiring policies: Widen your net when building your team to allow opportunities for a more diverse group of professionals.
- Understand DEI: Make sure your teams understand the basic competencies of DEI. Offer training and resources on understanding unconscious biases, microaggressions, civility, social justice development, organizational learning, and more.
- Appropriate evaluations: Teams and organizations should evaluate performance with regard to DEI, as this will allow for more inclusive teams going forward.
Using Agile to Implement DEI
Today’s businesses must make significant changes if they want to mitigate social injustice among their teams, and agile thinking is the way to make it happen. “Agile” refers to the ability to respond to change and adapt to it, which makes this unique mindset a great way to incorporate DEI principles into an organization.
Team managers who want to promote DEI in their offices can use the four pillars of agility: awareness, building, elevating, and sustaining. These pillars can support leaders and their teams in creating an environment that is inclusive and collaborative.
Companies cannot eliminate social injustice from their teams if they do not notice or acknowledge it. Therefore, agile leaders must practice awareness. Leaders must be on the lookout for scenarios that seem psychologically damaging to his or her team members and seek to create situations that allow for DEL for all employees.
Once a team is aware of the challenges to DEI in their organization, they can begin building a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive atmosphere. The best way to do this is by creating a people-centric environment, rather than one centered around productivity. If a manager or leader builds trust and empathy among team members, they will be more likely to work well together – which means that they’ll improve productivity in the long run.
It is no secret that marginalized groups have historically faced tremendous obstacles in the workplace. It is more difficult for BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+, and disabled individuals to advance in their careers – largely due to unconscious biases and other forms of social injustice. If a company is dedicated to a DEI culture, they must take steps to elevate all their employees. Mentoring young professionals and allowing anyone to advance (regardless of their personal identity) is the first step toward true equity.
The work of creating a DEI culture is a marathon, not a sprint. Once a company practices awareness, implements inclusive policies, and diversifies their workforce, they must begin the work of sustaining this new culture.
They must develop learning communities within the organization who can self-organize and develop stronger allies. They must make sure their workplace recognizes individuals who are allies and advocates for the DEI culture, as this will energize others to participate. And they must continue to lift up and support those marginalized individuals, as this will allow for a more creative and innovative business.
We live in a highly diverse country, filled with talented individuals with unique perspectives and ideas. If your business can make that diversity your strength, there is no telling what your team can accomplish.