Omari Jahi Aarons, Director, Customer Experience - Customer Advocacy Office, Global Retail Markets U.S. Liberty Mutual Insurance
The year 2020 has redefined what it means to be disrupted. In February and March, the COVID-19 global pandemic began shuttering our workplaces, restaurants, movie theatres, and schools, and the freedoms we enjoyed moving about the world. Thanks to a great many technologists, many of us shifted from office life to home life relatively smoothly, with only a few more steps to ensure we stayed connected to the network and each other.
“See you in a few weeks!” was a common refrain in my office as we all packed up. Now that a few weeks have stretched into a few months with more to come, what was a shift in working from home behaviors has taken on a steady presence in our lives and permanently disrupted our everyday routines.
I wonder why this permanence eludes racial justice.
In June 2020, the world stood still, and our eyes turned to Minneapolis to watch their police force’s encounter with George Floyd. 8 minutes and 46 seconds that many described as life-changing and brought front-and-center conversations with our colleagues of color about their real-world experiences in and out of the office.
The use of #blacklivesmatter was common on our social feeds, be it LinkedIn or Facebook. It took me two weeks to respond to every text, email, and voicemail I received.
Over the weekend, Rayshard Brooks was murdered in Atlanta, GA. Cautiously, I returned to my work inbox that Monday bracing myself against the flood of messages I was sure were there, thinking about how I would get work done and offer perspective for allies. There was nothing. Not one email or voicemail was carrying the same sentiment of support, care, and concern, or shared outrage. What happened?
The world moved on without Rayshard and George in it, and without Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and several others whose names and stories may have crossed your newsfeed. I wish my experience was uncommon; it resonated deeply with my friends who identify as racially diverse.
As HR technologists, I must implore you to stop and think about what this means. How can we profess to be so profoundly moved, some of us to tears, in one moment and unblinkingly look our colleagues of color across a Zoom or Skype interface in the next, completely oblivious (or willfully ignorant) to yet another tragedy?
Every workplace has its values with standards that include supporting each other as human beings, examining the root causes of problems, and fixing them. We do this for every business imperative: new systems deployments, mergers, and acquisitions, launching a new call center, or rolling out a new strategy.
This field sits at the intersection of every organization, fueling both the people who make the organization run and the systems they use to do it. Few are better positioned in their scope of responsibility and breadth of perspective to tackle the deeper, systemic changes that will propel our organizations forward.
Take an honest took at your virtual table. Who’s there and who’s not? Go find people to join the conversation and be their champion.
Consider reasonably, radical approaches. What we’ve been doing is not working. Let’s embrace ideas that once were viewed as radical.
Courageously disrupt, with care. Inclusion starts with you. It’s your responsibility, too.
Let’s make the world and our workplaces better.