I can only imagine what it was like in many corporate offices post the tragedy of Charleston on the Thursday that followed such a devastating event. I can remember many times when I was in a corporate environment not wanting to go into work because of national events that happened revolving around race. Not because I thought anything negative or off the cuff would be said, but because I feared nothing would be said at all, especially being the only African-American woman in the room most times.
Somewhere along the way there have been written and unwritten rules upheld around mixing business, politics, and religion in corporate environments especially when race is involved. However, there comes a point in time when it's no longer about a political agenda, religious differences, or even how will this make your brand look, but about humanity which includes all races.
The same way I used to feel in Corporate America about what I'll call, "The day after", is how I felt this past weekend about attending church, not in fear of what would be said, but what wouldn't be said. I attend one of the fastest growing churches in the nation, Elevation church, and while I love it, my pastor, and everything we stand for, it's still majority white. So even though I knew I was going into a religious environment where we all shared the same beliefs, there was still this small pit in my stomach with a fear of feeling invisible yet again like I would in the corporate world, while the hearts of many people were still broken and questioning, "Why?
I've wondered the last few days just what I could say that could impact corporate leaders. Each day I seemed to find myself at a loss for words and an inability to express the emotions that come along not only with a catastrophe of something like Charleston, but also the impact of how others react or don't react. However, my words found a voice after hearing the most life-changing message from my pastor, Steven Furtick, on Sunday, called, "It's In Your Hands." While I encourage you to watch, here are a few take-aways for me personally:
1. Your Silence is Deafening
While these words were heart-felt sentiments of one his pastoral colleagues, they ring true for many African-Americans and other minorities. Many people think that because they don't say (or do) anything in a harmful way that they are helping the issue, not realizing that it is just as hurtful to be silent. I would much rather someone ask me questions out of curiosity to gain further understanding than say nothing at all. I would much rather work for senior leaders, like CEO Howard Schultz of Starbucks, who held an impromptu meeting about race relations in Dec 2014 that partners deemed was the "most emotional, powerful discussion" they had ever been a part of. I even applaud his attempt at their #racetogether campaign in its locations earlier this year. All of it, even its backlash, is better than what most companies do, which is nothing at all.
I get it, business and religion, don't mix too well. However, I know of plenty of C-suite leaders that believe in a high power and even believe in God. The same way we try to separate business and religion we often times try to separate religion and race. However, just as Pastor Steven noted on Sunday, there is no way that someone can call themselves a Christian and love God on one hand while on the other think unjustly towards anyone that looks and acts different than them. The two just don't mix!
3. It's in Your Hands
He explained that what we know of and experience about race is generational. It's what we've been handed and taught by our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, unless as he powerfully stated, "Your heart is transformed by something greater!"
He ended by charging everyone with, "It's in your hands!" What we pass to others through our words and actions (or not) is in our hands!
But what do I do?
I know many times we can look at a tragedy like Charleston and wonder how in the world can I make an impact on such a deeply-rooted generational issue that keeps getting passed from one generation to the next. I've wondered many times myself. And realize (and remember) after Sunday that it starts with me, what's in my heart, and what I pass to others.
And while we all know that the magnitude of change required is not just personal, but it's also systemic like the confederate flag in South Carolina. I encourage all corporate leaders to look at what's in your hand? What's in your heart personally? As well as what can you impact systemically in your organization?
Does your leadership team, senior team, and corporate board look the way it does truly because there are no qualified leaders of others races or even gender? Is it really true that no one that looks like you fits the corporate culture? Or is it a matter of what's in your heart as the decision-maker? What will you pass on as a leader in your organization through what you say or even what you don't say? By what you do and even what you don't do!
The tasks of changing the world or even a country may seem unfathomable, but we can change ourselves and our teams, one decision at a time.