In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a turbulent ride! This year has presented unprecedented disruptions in different fields of life. The flows of commotion have barely left any part of the globe unscathed. Yet in all the gloom, a lot of reassuring changes have manifested.
A pure sense of community sprang up and ignited many fires of altruism, resulting in wholehearted acts of goodwill. It has been inspiring to note that we do live in a caring world. The general sense of community that prevailed across the globe could not be drowned by the pockets of selfish malice orchestrated by a few vicious individuals. The perception that compassion and cooperation are basic elements of a natural human response in the face of adversity was unequivocally demonstrated during the peak of the pandemic outbreak.
I have deliberately decided to take stock of the positive wonders that have been visited upon humanity over the past few months. I believe that in line with Heritage Month we are currently celebrating in South Africa, we should take courage in the knowledge that even though commonplace acts of kindness do not make it to media headlines; it is still worth fighting for the preservation of these values. Good stewardship, kindness and resilience are by no means scarce, they are just scarcely broadcast. It is our empathetic treatment of our fellow humans and the unbending spirit of fighting for good that we need to bequeath as a heritage to the next generation.
What corporate heritage do we want to hand down to the next workforce generation?
As we emerge from the national lockdown, I invite you to reflect on such questions of meaning. Whilst the mainstream and social media have extensively published the horrendous events such as the brutal killing of George Floyd in America and the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I will not exhaust that exercise here. In our own country, the cry against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide has been upturned. Insensitive advertising by Clicks has been met with fitting protesting publicity from civil society as well as the government. These are few distasteful events that have received prominent coverage on different media platforms. Progressive organisations have been visible and vocal in expressing their disgust at these incidents of prejudice in many parts of the world. A symbolic knee-bending gesture before sporting events, formal statements by big corporates and material pledges by many socially-conscious organisations have marked a welcome response to these unfortunate events.
These horrific incidents of prejudice should prick us to strive to create a more equal world of work. We owe it to the next generation of our organisation to sanitise the work environment of all traces of racism, sexism, religious intolerance and other forms of bigotry.
We can achieve this by doing the following:
Boldly challenge injustice in the workplace
The general, noble-sounding position of saying: ‘I don’t want to talk about religion, race, gender issues’ must be reconsidered. Firstly, this avoidance stance does not help the process of healing that we must all participate in- none has escaped the force of injustice, either as a victim or a perpetrator. Secondly, it is unfortunate that the decision to keep silent on these matters is, at times, a lame excuse to mask arrogance. It is not uncommon for perpetrators of workplace injustice to not want to be confronted about their foul play. Thirdly, the choice of silence may be encouraged by voluntary ignorance and a lack of consciousness that resists protecting what is right. Fourthly, not facing workplace injustice festers feelings of anger that might have disastrous effects at a later stage. Instead of avoiding the topic of prejudice that so fundamentally craft the workplace lived reality, controlled settings need to be created to meaningfully, responsibly and robustly engage on these matters.
Dismantle the dismissive attitude of denying the existence of workplace prejudice
The misleading punch line that: ‘Things were bad but they are okay now’ has been the escape route for individuals who have been historical beneficiaries of skewed systems. The guilty party has been adamantly repudiating the chronic existence of injustice in the workplace. Some on the receiving end of injustice have boarded the boat of denialism in order to be discharged from the consequences of standing on the side of justice. This oblivious, sometimes flippant attitude only serves to trivialise and undermine the gruesome experiences of employees who are on the receiving end of unjust acts and attitudes.
Expose unsafe spaces where professionals have been caged
It is disheartening to note how an unjust workplace can turn bland what was once vibrant talent and gallant professionalism. The demonising workplace injustice gradually erodes the confidence of brilliant professionals by second-guessing their abilities, downplaying their contributions and actively painting a picture of false incompetence. Professionals who have been exposed to noxious doses of the injustice venom have been paralysed into professional comma. Excellent scholars, technicians and managers have been dwarfed by the unjust system. Many victims of workplace injustice have been forced to commit intellectual and moral suicide in order to remain obtuse to the sting of prejudice. Accountants, doctors and lawyers who have been historically categorised as suitable candidates for injustice have been told: ‘I can pick a man in the street to do what you do’. For the fear of known consequences, many victimised professionals have kept the proverbial silence, which has turned gorging.
The craftiness of the abusive system of injustice has graduated to employ the unsteadiness of some historically excluded candidates as satellite prefects of workplace injustice. This, in order to mask the origin and ownership of the evil masterplan. In this malicious design, you have a glorified victim set on a demonised victim, both of the same prejudice category. Instances of individuals being challenged for not developing workplace injustice receptors by those with the same melanin strengths as theirs are conventional. In other occasions, people of similar sex chromosome complement have been used to release the prejudice sting on their own kind. Poor victims of abuse have heard captive-wisdom lines like: ‘I am in your position but I am not responding as you do’.
Wouldn’t it be noble in this National Heritage Month, after an extended period of global cleansing, a period of awakening humanness and a period of nurturing resilience to use these tools to advance the equality and justice project in the workplace? Wouldn’t it be worth it to confront the beast of injustice, putting aside apathy, bias, fear and all privilege of an inhumane system?
Wouldn’t it be worth it to leave such a future?
Article by Silungile Mlambo