This week, I was reminded again of the importance of equity for worldwide wellness. I spent time at the National Women’s Studies Association conference – you should check them out! While we often talk about organizational psychology, I also have a background in gender and women’s studies. Gender and women’s studies is basically a field that focuses on how power plays out in society.
The attendees at the conference are academics and community workers who want to ensure that all people have the ability to create the healthy, happy lives they want and deserve. I have been to the NWSA conference several times in the past and decided to return this year. It’s always a good thing to get out of your normal routine and to hear the conversations that are happening in other places. This year was no different! Learn my biggest lessons about wellness through equity below.
Creating Equity Requires Work
There are all different ways that people experience injustice in society. As human beings, we tend to favor those who are most like us because we feel comfortable with them. We also tend to associate more negative characteristics with those we don’t favor. It’s easier to believe bad things about members of other groups, compared to our own group, because we don’t know as many people to disconfirm our stereotypes. All of these good attitudes about people like us and, even slightly, lower attitudes about people who are not like us can add up to a lot of bias and discrimination in society.
It’s a lot to dismantle. When we discuss diversity and inclusion climate in companies, we find that it’s the work of creating equity that is often most intimidating. But, things can’t change unless energy is exerted toward the change you want to see. So, it’s really crucial to get ready to do hard work if you want to make a shift toward a more just company culture. It’s hard because you aren’t just getting rid of old systems that were not as fair as they could be. You also have to replace those systems with newer, more just systems that honor the dignity of others.
But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Many people at the conference, community organizers and academics, talked about how tiring it is to continually be educating others about issues affecting their communities. But, they also talked about the progress they had made. It was so impressive how far their efforts had taken them! There could be a new “normal” that honors the people who work for you in a much better way. But you first have to be willing to put in the time to get there.
But, Equity Work Can Be Inspiring!
While working toward equity is difficult, it can be energizing as well. Think about the groundswell of energy that emerged during the #MeToo movement. Women who had been suffering in silence for years suddenly felt free to talk about the sexual harassment they had faced on the job. Sexual harassment and assault are extremely challenging issues to tackle. But, seeing the way in which people rally together to create change says something beautiful about the human spirit to thrive.
One theme that emerged at the conference was the usefulness of turning frustration and anger into productive action. Based on my work as an academic, community volunteer, and citizen, this is so important. When something negative happens in life, it’s normal to feel sad, upset, and angry. When the same negative thing happens to many people (e.g., 9/11, a school shooting, patterns of gendered or racialized violence, etc.), the group may feel collectively enraged or helpless.
It’s ok to honor your feelings and to give them space to take shape. But, many people at the conference were talking about the power of connecting with those who were affected by similar issues and turning their anger into change. There are no unproductive emotions unless they become a hindrance in your life.
If you eventually turn negative emotions into positive progress, it can spur change, which is energizing. For example, I went to a panel discussing how collective grief can motivate people to start non-profits that help others dealing with the same grief to go on. Thinking about how you can turn collective attitudes, even negative ones, into positive change at work is important. Sure, people might have a lot of issues they complain about at work. But, that creates an opportunity to allow that frustration to drive a new and better version of the organization.
Relationships Are at the Center of Driving Equity
Throughout the conference, I saw so many people getting together with folks they hadn’t seen in a long time. I also got to share a room with a good friend from graduate school. I also got to connect and reconnect with some folks who were doing really impactful work. Relationships are also important in organizations and in communities. When we talk about creating a place where people feel they can actually achieve equity, we mean that we are building a culture of trust.
Trust comes from strong relationships. If you trust that your boss has your best intentions in mind, you are more likely to let them know when you’re experiencing challenges at work. If you trust that you colleagues care for you, you’re more likely to tell them about your struggles and your wins. In other words, if you feel strongly connected to one another, you’re better prepared to do the hard work of creating equity. You’re also more prepared to joyously share together in the positive outcomes associated with it.
Working together through tough issues and being honest about what you’ve experienced isn’t easy. But, it can help bring people closer together. If you are all there with the same intent – to make your workplace one of dignity and respect for all – you can work through the details of how and when you tackle systems that are creating inequity. You can share and trial ideas without feeling judged. You can truly solve problems and come up with collective solutions. That’s the hard work, but also the work that makes it all worth it.
We have talked about the importance of inclusion before. What would a workplace that truly valued human dignity look like? How can you grow relationships that would support creating that environment? How can you turn negative sentiments about your company into change for a better future? We would love to hear from you below!