Portland, Oregon is a very woke place. Never have I been somewhere with more Black Lives Matters signs, pins, clothing, banners and judgement from white people about other people being racist. I have also never experienced as many un-self-aware people in the workplace. Huge Zoom background banners with "STOP RACISM" while having a conversation with a white manager about disciplining the only black person on their team for behavior that no one else had been held accountable for. Explaining to employees and managers alike that just because you appreciate differences doesn't mean that you are equitable or that you aren't upholding white supremacy culture. It also doesn't mean that you can stop learning. Above all, we must keep learning.
When an employee makes an accusation against a manager for discriminatory behavior or comments, how should that manager react? I've seen different responses to these situations. Most common is: "I'm (offended/troubled/disappointed in you/shocked) that you would accuse me of (racism/harassment/discrimination/bias/unfairness)!" Here's my question for managers who react this way: Are you perfect?
If your answer to that question is no (which I'm going to assume is the case, since generally readers of my blog are human), then I invite you to consider the remote possibility that your behavior could have been perceived as biased. Just consider it for one moment. Even if you didn't intend it, could someone with a different life or workplace experience have possibly perceived your words or behavior as biased? Spoiler alert: YES.
Okay. Now that you know that it's a remote possibility that your words or actions could have been perceived differently, how could you change your response next time, so that you aren't defensive? Perhaps something like: "I'm so sorry that my behavior has felt biased. While that wasn't my intent, I know that I don't experience my words or actions as other people do. I would like to consult with Human Resources about this, so that I can make sure that your complaint is taken seriously."
Your obligation to report harassment and discrimination complaints includes complaints about you - if an employee is perceiving you as being biased, you need to contact HR immediately, so that they can take the proper steps to investigate the complaint and ensure that the employee feels heard. Then - you need to amp up your self-reflection. Are you treating the employee the same as you were prior to their complaint? Have you cut them out of any processes in a way that could be considered retaliatory? Are you feeling short-tempered around them? Do a mental inventory of your interactions. Check yourself for behavior that could be retaliatory. Check yourself for motivation - why are you taking action with this employee's job duties? Why are you moving them to a different area? As long as you have credible business reasons for making changes, you should be okay - but it's very important to intensify your self-reflection to avoid any retaliatory behavior because there might be a few things that get by you. Make your self-reflection purposeful.
Stop being offended by employees bringing concerns to you and start self-reflecting instead. You aren't perfect. (No, really - even if you think you are, you aren't!) There is always room for improvement and learning. Don't just be woke. Be self-reflective. Be equitable. Be willing to admit mistakes. Apologize when needed. Just because you are a manager, a director, an executive, a 30-year industry veteran or the owner of a company - your title, longevity, company, social status - they have nothing to do with whether or not you are right or whether or not you were biased. Look at your actions. Look at your words. Look at how they affected the person complaining. Take notes. Adjust your behavior accordingly.
You will get much better results, I promise.