The Holocaust numbers are so large, so unfathomable, that we tend to talk about it only in general terms, and solely as a historic event. However, many of the intolerances and racism that existed then permeate our societies and workplaces today. To better illustrate current biases and the effect they have on our employees, let us equate your business to a business in Nazi Germany. Then, we will discuss the Ongoing Solution to workplace discrimination.
Imagine that Canada today is under the rule of Hitler. You are “Aryan” and own an accounting firm. Two of your six employees are Jewish and your Jewish friend owns the bakery next door.
Today, you overhear talk among your non-Jewish staff surmising that the baked goods next door are probably contaminated and the kitchen is very likely filthy and teaming with vermin. The most vocal of the group, Karen, advises the others that she will be turning the owner into the authorities. She comments that furthermore, the Jews in this office are probably embezzling money, so she just might report them as well. Most of her audience nod in agreement, but Tim just returns to his desk and starts working. He is obviously not in agreement, but he certainly doesn’t speak up.
Your two Jewish employees have heard the entire conversation; the group made a point of ensuring they did. One of them continues working, not acknowledging the discussion at all, but you can tell he is uncomfortable. The other takes a bathroom break. When she returns, it is obvious she has been crying.
In Hitler’s Canada, it would be difficult, and probably dangerous, to reprimand the employees. But these kinds of conversations and attitudes still poison workplaces today, largely unacknowledged.
I believe the younger generations will be much more successful at eradicating racism than we have been. For the most part, they have grown up in a much more enlightened society. Most of us Gen-X and older grew up with common-place phrases like “nigger-toes” (Brazil nuts) and “nigger-babies” (licorice babies). We “Jewed” someone down (tried to get a reduced price). And let’s not forget “Eeny-meeny, miny-moe…”. We were desensitized to the meanings of the words and most of us unintentional in our cruelty. Many business owners and managers today are from these age groups and unwittingly enable racism and intolerance at work simply because they don’t recognize it or understand its impact.
Hitler’s “Final Solution” was to eradicate an entire race. In contrast, the “Ongoing Solution” aspires to eradicate racism. The first step is to acknowledge our own biases. Write them down. Beside each one, write down the negative impact it could have at work – be honest. Then, list three things you will do to change each item: a personal development commitment, a policy change, and some form of communication to your employees and supervisors (training, posters, newsletters, a meeting, etc.).
Change begins at the top. As an owner or manager, that is you. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Rather, take this opportunity to embrace change and improve working conditions for all of your employees.
If you would like help improving tolerance or dealing with racism (systemic or blatant) at work, TMT can help customize a strategy that works for you.