A Way Forward

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There has been a tectonic shift in the employer/employee relationship in the past few years, and it’s still changing what the employment relationship looks like. I’ve been captivated by how other organizations have responded to the racial, societal, and political unrest that has been at the forefront of our current landscape. Some companies have gone “all in” on addressing these issues, some have dipped a toe into the waters, and some have determined that the workplace is no place for such discussions. As the Chief People Officer at DockYard, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we have navigated the current landscape of racial, societal, and political unrest and how to continue to do so.

After the death of George Floyd, our leadership team convened to discuss what, if anything, our response should be. There wasn’t a playbook that I knew of that told us what to do. This was a truly surreal moment for me. Very few times in my career have I realized in the exact moment I was at a crossroads that the next step would forever impact the direction we are going. This was one of those moments.

Do we say nothing and get back to work, keeping DockYard an insulated bubble that allows our employees a reprieve from the messages and actions of the outside world? Or do we take a position as an organization and realize that in doing so, we may alienate some employees and/or clients?

We decided that in order for people to bring their whole, amazing selves to work, they need to feel included and respected. With an organization committed to diversity and inclusion, we have to realize that no one’s daily experience is the same, and that the systems and institutions in place affect all of us differently. DockYard couldn’t, in our opinion, ignore the rest of the world any more than our employees could.

As a leadership team, we realized that we ultimately felt it was important to make a statement and make our position known. We had a very open, candid discussion about potential implications of making a statement both internally and externally. How will our employees react? Our clients? At the end of the day, we decided that we want to be a company that espouses and embodies our values in our work and our culture and dived in.

Our first priority was to address our employees and try to craft a message. Our first attempt at an internal message wasn’t exactly on the mark, but it tried to convey our support for our team. Next, we worked hand-in-hand with our employees to craft an external-facing statement — one that had true meaning, and wasn’t a low-risk collection of words compiled for public consumption. We knew that the statement without action was shallow, and despite a financially difficult year, we committed to matching donations made by our employees to racial and social justice causes. We also gave everyone a paid day off to vote on November 2nd because we realize that voting is imperative to political and societal change.

This isn’t to say that our approach has been perfect, nor that the decision to keep the workplace focused solely on work as other companies have done, is a bad one. As an HR professional with over 20 years spent focusing on balancing the needs of employees and those of the business while also mitigating risk, I understand why that approach works for some organizations as much as I understand why it doesn’t for DockYard.

I have had to confront my own fears in today’s climate. At DockYard, we have Slack channels dedicated to a number of topics including coffee, plants, food, and pets. However, we also have channels dedicated to social and racial issues, and even politics. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the existence of these channels went against every fiber of my HR-trained brain. I looked at the potential downsides of these channels and the discussions therein. I considered what happens if screenshots are taken and shared out of context. I worried about employees offending each other and harming the culture of the company.

What I’ve found is that the level of trust we showed our employees, is the level that they rose to. I have been consistently impressed with the ability and willingness of our employees to have tough conversations in a respectful manner, be open to feedback, and to come from a place of good intent. Our employees participate in open panel discussions about sensitive topics, they challenge leadership and each other to make sure we’re doing the right things, and they work to provide a supportive environment for all. I could not be prouder of the people I work with.

Have we done it right every time? Absolutely not. But our leadership team has determined how the company will address very real challenges in and outside of the workplace. We are committed to continuing to try to do the right thing for DockYard and its employees. We know we will fail at times, but our insistence on getting up and trying again will keep us moving forward.