Depending on when you read this, it might be tomorrow, or it might be today – or it might have already gone down.
For the past several weeks, a dialogue about racism in our society has been brought to the forefront in our nation, states, cities, neighborhoods and workplaces. For me, this dialogue had only extended to informal conversations with my friends and family. But now it has taken formal precedence among my colleagues. They’ve labeled it, “Continuing the Conversation: Racism, Diversity and Inclusion.”
My company has three divisions: newsroom, editorial and sales. The team I work with falls under sales, but only narrowly. Several months ago, leaders within the overarching division of sales started holding town hall-style meetings to talk about racism and inclusion. Attendance in these meetings was optional. The intention was “a safe space for colleagues to share their experiences.” I think they had two sessions, total. I haven’t seen any invites in quite a while. My immediate team, a much smaller troop, has picked up the slack. You might call us an active group of movers and shakers!
Our meetings, too, are optional, and up until last week, I opted to NOT attend. I only participated in this last one because I needed to know (for myself) how close or how far apart I am from my colleagues. I’m surprised to admit this meeting was one of the most notable meetings I’ve attended in the last decade. And here’s why…
Our fearless leader (aka, Chris) kicked off the meeting reminding everyone the purpose of this conversation: to discuss strategies and actions we can and will take as a team, and provide an open forum for continued dialogue surrounding racism, diversity and inclusion. A vast portion of the hour centered around the group complaining about “the company” and its lack of action to change.
Honestly, I was a bit lost.
What “changes” do they want the company to make? Are these changes surrounding the operations of the business? Our interactions with each other as a team? Or regarding the work we produce? I don’t know; maybe this was flushed out during the meetings I opted not to attend. The conversation continued with people agreeing, “We have to be change agents” and that we need to “be our authentic selves.” Man, how I hate buzz words.
Either way, the conversation evolved, and Chris said something that sparked one of those beloved “Aha!” moments. He said (and I quote): “Before we can answer the question ‘what action will we take,’ we need to define our ethos.”
Noun, the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
Chris is right. We can’t decide how we will change or what needs to change until we first define what we stand for.
While I don’t think I really needed to attend the meeting for that revelation, I could have waited for the summary email, complete with slide deck. What I did appreciate is that Chris (unknowingly) was making me think about my personal ethos.
Personal ethos is your own framework for making moral choices. Knowing where you stand on morality and why you stand there.
In my opinion, this is an essential first step before anyone can consider becoming an agent of change. Being aware of your personal ethos is more than just a matter of being honest with yourself. It’s about setting boundaries, setting your bar, setting your priorities, and knowing how far you will go to protect and defend and stand on the line. And these days, there is plenty on the line.
And something else.
I’m expected to be my authentic self – after all, it’s encouraged – but what if I don’t see eye-to-eye on an article I’m publishing for a client? I doubt I can just say, Nah, I’m taking a pass on this one. (Oh, hello, revenue.) Up until now, I assumed I didn’t have to agree with what we publish. But now it begs the question, am I being true to myself if I publish something I don’t agree with. There’s a real-world fact: I have bills to pay. How do I reconcile this?
In the day-to-day, I always treated the client as the most important person. I think I’ve been wrong. It should be the reader. (I don’t know what value this epiphany has, but I thought it was worth mentioning.)
But then again, I work in branded content (which is, essentially, advertising). I don’t work in news or editorial. Can you imagine if I told my boss I don’t want to publish this client’s pro-mask article because I’m anti-mask? What in the world??
So, what does it all matter? If I want to get paid, I’m going to publish the article.
It’s my personal ideology that matters; the boundaries and priorities I set for myself. Am I OK with publishing an article I don’t agree with? Or am I not? Can – or should – a small marketing team be defining the company code?
I’m all over the board on this one. And this is what my meeting with my boss’s boss will be about.
Or I’ll just give him a high-five and say, “thanks for a great meeting.” I haven’t decided.