Making The Workplace A Safe Space In An Unsafe World

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I was devastated to read about the second fatal police shooting of a black man in fewer than 48 hours.

I don't have more eloquent or insightful commentary to add to what already has been shared widely in the press and social media, including those by some of our own network members like Justin Cohen and Carmita Vaughan.

But I still feel compelled to say something. Compelled to acknowledge that despite the outrage, the hashtags, the cellphone videos, the body cameras, the petitions, the demonstrations... this keeps happening, and it is not right. We can do better. We must do better.

America is struggling with several problems of our own creation, problems we could choose to resolve. Eliminating structural racism is a daunting challenge, but there are actual, practical things we can do to dramatically reduce its existence and impact. Eliminating police violence is a daunting challenge, but there are actual, practical things we can do to address it. Eliminating bias in our culture is a daunting challenge, but there are actual, practical ways to help people acknowledge, understand and reduce them.

Those of us working to eliminate inequities in our public schools cannot ignore this. I urge everyone to take some time to think about what you can do. What you do will, no doubt, be different based on your background, your personal experience, your community, your job, your political ideology, your personal belief system, your access to power. These are complex issues that will not end thanks to a single solution. If anything, complex issues require a variety of strategies, making our diversity a strength. If we all act toward a shared vision of a more just nation, our diverse viewpoints and solutions can work together for a better future.

I also offer one practical suggestion for organizational leaders: Ensure your workplace is a safe space for people in the immediate aftermath of horrific events like these. Human beings can't watch graphic, brutal videos of another human being shot and killed and simply turn off their emotions as they walk through the office doors. Your colleagues are reacting and processing this week's events in different ways, which may be more or less apparent and harder or easier to keep in check as they go about their daily work.

I know from connecting with my colleagues who wept through their entire morning commute. People who were up all night watching the news coverage of these killings, unable to sleep. People who live in fear for their own safety and the safety of their husbands, brothers, cousins, nephews, sons. People who arrived at the office this morning feeling helpless, hopeless, broken and afraid. People who are essentially working two jobs -- taking care of their work responsibilities and trying to process what is happening in the world around them.

The reality is that for white leaders like me, we can feel lots of things about what we've seen over the past two days. But we will never know what it feels like to process these events as an African American. And no one of us should assume that we can -- nor should we assume that all African Americans will react in the same way.

As a leader, you can't isolate your organization or your office from what is happening in the outside world. You can, however, work to create an environment where people trust they can show up with raw emotions and have the space they need to process and deal with heavy emotions without concern of judgment or reprisal. Where it is okay to express grief and fear. Where, most importantly, people feel safe and supported.