During our quarterly Level Up, we held a panel discussion with 5 representatives of underrepresented communities at Blinkist to talk openly about their experiences with diversity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace and what challenges they face.
by Samantha Roberts — November 10th, 2022
Going into the discussion, there were some collective nerves felt by the panel. Being vulnerable in everyday life takes effort, but it’s important to recognize the significant effort it takes to bring your authentic self into a workplace-related conversation. Luckily a shared goal for the session helped alleviate some nerves: to create an environment where we openly share stories, hear each other out and start the process of understanding.
What was shared was intensely personal and insightful. For example, to kick off the discussion our panelists were asked if they could share a moment when they have felt alone at Blinkist, or even in their life in general.
One participant recalled a recent time, when they were the target of racism right before cycling to work, and felt that the only way to cope with their emotions was to “shake it off” before arriving at the office because they felt they had no one to process it with. They worried it would turn into a discussion of perception or intention rather than an empathic conversation where they were simply heard.
Another panelist shared that sometimes they feel alone by having to constantly advocate for themselves as a person with an invisible chronic illness and disability. While they recognize and appreciate that Blinkist has always encouraged them to bring their authentic self to work and share their needs, the people around you need to help you balance showing up authentically, and the extra emotional labor that comes along with it.
So, the focus of the topic becomes: how can we do better?
Firstly, there needs to be space for a conversation around how our reactions set the tone. When there are current events that have a personal connection to identity, as one of our panelists shared, it’s impossible to hide.
They went on to say that it can feel like they have to show up to work and be the version of themselves that everyone else expects. While work can be a welcome distraction in these times, it’s very telling to see how your company and your colleagues react, too. While starting the conversation is the first step, continuing it, even after the news cycle moves on to other topics, is just as important.
As we initiate and continue these conversations with our colleagues, we must not label anyone based on assumptions around their identity. One panelist shared an experience at a previous company where they were selected for a certain project, based on an assumption of their sexual orientation. It made them feel that their work experience was meaningless, and they were only selected because of something they presumably “are”, instead of what they can do.
When incidents in the workplace like this happen, the burden of educating our peers seems to always fall on those who have been affected by their actions. It’s important to recognize the emotional labor that underrepresented communities continually have to provide. While one of our panelists shares that emotional labor isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it needs to be recognized for the value it provides. If people take the time to educate themselves, ask questions, and be curious, this extra effort would be reduced on the people it burdens the most.
If our intentions are good, is that enough to drive necessary change?
Even the best-intended comments can be hurtful, so if you receive feedback about how your words affected someone, try to learn from it and be curious about it. One panelist shared that intentions are based on your own personal experience in an interaction, so you have to take into account how your comment may not be relatable to another person based on their own personal experience.
On an organizational level, we need to shift from a passive environment, in which sensitive topics are only brought up and spoken about by those who are directly affected by them, to encouraging proactiveness, where we call out our peers on how we can be more inclusive in our language, behavior, and approach towards others. If a shift to a more proactive approach to these topics doesn’t happen, a statement about how an organization prioritizes such topics is certainly made.
On a personal level, it’s equally as important to be proactive. While we may have good intentions and are ready to listen and accept feedback, the conversation should not always be originating specifically from members of underrepresented communities. If we consistently ask them to show up in these spaces, we reinforce the notion that “it’s their problem”.
These are topics that should be talked about by everyone, including white, cis-gendered, heteronormative, and able-bodied people—people who are prospering in this global system that was built to give them power. Silence on these subjects not only makes others complicit but it’s an expression of privilege and disinterest. If you are benefiting from the systems in place, the most significant changes will happen when you recognize its pitfalls too, and do something to change them.
The discussion concluded with five final recommendations from our panelists on what we can start doing better today to make our teams and organizations more inclusive.
If you’re curious how you can start learning together as a team, we recommend the following Blinks as a great place to start. If you’d like to get started on an organizational level, our Head of Culture & Community at Blinkist, Mertcan Uzun, guides you through a 7-step playbook on How to Launch D&I Projects.
Thank you to all the amazing people on this panel for your vulnerability and honesty!
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