From #BlackLivesMatter to #TimesUp: New Fierce Survey Reveals Conversations on Current Issues Are Missing in the Workplace

Over the past year, a number of social and political movements intended to address inequality, including #metoo, #timesup, and #blacklivesmatter, have surfaced as a response to discrimination both inside and outside the workplace.

We wanted to know the potential impact of these recent political and social movements have had and are continuing to have on organizations, including who is being invited to the conversation on these topics and whether feelings of empowerment have increased over the past year.

Today we released the results of our survey of over 1,000 full and part-time employed individuals in the U.S. We asked questions about current social movements, along with areas of discrimination they have witnessed and experienced, and how their personal outlook has shifted as a result.

The Fierce survey revealed that people are talking about these movements:

  • 64% of those surveyed have had a conversation about racial equality (including the #BlackLivesMatter movement)
  • 57% have discussed gender equality (including the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements)
  • 40% have discussed religious equality

Most of these conversations, however, are taking place among friends and family, and not at work.

While the survey found that colleagues are talking about these issues to some degree, there are very few discussions between management and their employees. For example, while one in four discussed gender inequality with their colleagues, just three percent discussed this topic with company leaders, and just seven percent with their broader team.

It's clear based on our data that employees are still experiencing discrimination, and yet conversations needed to resolve this problem are rarely happening between leaders and employees.

Here are some noteworthy findings from our survey results:

1. Women and millennials are leading the conversation around issues of inequality.

Based on the data collected, women more than men, and millennials more than boomers, are discussing issues of inequality.

Over 60% of women discussed gender issues; just fifty-three % of men say the same. The same trends apply for racial inequality (68 vs. 60%) and religious inequality (43 vs. 37%). In addition, women are less likely to believe the employees in their organization are diverse. Survey results found that nearly 70 % of men state their workplaces are diverse, while just 60% of women feel the same.

The other noteworthy gap this survey found was between generations.

  • 79% of those aged 18-29 have had a conversation around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, vs 64% of those over 60.
  • 72% of those 18-29 have had a conversation about gender inequality, while just over 50% of those over 60 say the same.
  • 47% of those 18-29 have had a conversation around religious inequality vs. 38% of those over 60.

The fact that older generations and men talk about these issues less often than their counterparts is concerning given the majority of CEOs and company leaders today, statistically speaking, are older men. These social issues may not be top of mind for them, but it's imperative that they recognize their employees are discussing these matters outside of work, and in turn, address them directly within their organizations.

2. Women continue to be judged based on gender, and age is a top cause of discrimination.

When asked what people have felt personally discriminated for, age (26%) and gender (25%) top the list, followed by political beliefs and values (16% each). Nearly 32% of women have felt discriminated against for their gender; just 15% of men say the same.

Although we don't know the specifics around these instances of discrimination, it's clear that these instances have and continue to cause issues for the general workforce.

3. People feel more empowered than they did a year ago.

While individuals still experience and witness discrimination taking place, the past year has made an impact in terms of how empowered individuals feel to change that. Almost half (48%) of those surveyed said they are more likely to stick up for themselves than they were a year ago, and another 40% are more likely to stand up for a colleague. Thirty percent are more likely to address a colleague directly for inappropriate behavior, such as a racist joke or unwelcome flirting than they were a year ago.

This data varies by gender; 55% of women are more likely to stick up for themselves than they were a year ago; just 36% of men say the same. Forty two percent of women are more likely to stand up for a colleague; just 34% of men say the same.

While the results show a slight increase in empowerment among men, the shift is slightly higher in how women are feeling when it comes to speaking up. These positive trends can continue and be supported by ensuring women, and all employees, are given the tools they need to have effective conversations.

Why it Matters

These topics are clearly important if the conversations are happening with friends and family, but it is not translating to open discussion in the workplace—and this is coming at a cost to individuals, teams, organizations, and even the world at large.

There are likely a number of causes for these missing conversations—for one, both employees and leaders may be afraid to have conversations around topics that are sensitive in nature, and we don't want our intentions to be misinterpreted. Another reason could be that at work, we often find ourselves talking about tasks, projects, and goals, without venturing into human issues. But no matter where humans go, their problems follow.

Whatever the reason may be for avoiding these conversations, they are absolutely necessary, and every employee should feel comfortable discussing these issues, especially if they have experienced any type of discrimination. What happens anywhere matters everywhere. Whether at work or at home, unresolved issues impact our relationships, and the quality of our relationships impacts our results.

We know these conversations are not easy to have, but it's the missing conversations that cost us the most. As Carl Jung said, "What we do not make conscious emerges later as fate."

Taking Fierce Action

We strongly encourage leaders across organizations to begin engaging others in the inequality conversation as a first step. Many struggle with how to come up with an organizational perspective on these issues, but the reality is that you can't take a position without inviting others to the table. Based on our findings, it's clear that as leaders and as individuals, we need to challenge our own context and get curious.

We also urge leaders to not create a strategy in a silo. Talk with your employees, engage with them in a real way on these issues to get an understanding of how they feel, and what they would like to see addressed, if anything. Your employees are having these conversations—it's time to bring them into the workplace. 

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