Last week was a difficult week for women.
Sarah Everard’s murderer was sentenced. The man accused of Sabina Nessa’s murder appeared in court. Kate Wilson faced in court the police officer who had deceived her into a sexual relationship so that he could investigate her environmentalist campaign group.
At one point, all but one of the headlines on both the Guardian and BBC News were about violence against women.
And, unsurprisingly, a lot of men had a lot of opinions.
We know you mean well
Most of these opinions came from a good place. They came from wanting to show that they understood the issue and that they cared about it and that they wanted to do something.
But most of them totally missed the mark.
The last thing that most women needed last Thursday and Friday was a load of men telling them how they should handle an issue that they’ve been struggling with since they were children.
Similar incidences of sometimes-well-meaning-but-always-tone-deaf advice occurred after the murder of George Floyd and during the Black Lives Matter protests. A lot of white people had very strong views on how we should all deal with racism.
But here’s the key – if the issue isn’t about you, you might not be the best person to say something.
It’s not about you
If you’re a leader in an organisation, you’re used to giving your opinion a lot and leading the discussion probably most of the time. People wait to hear what you have to say on any crisis and major event, and you will always be listened to. So when tragic events occur that impact the lives of your staff and your customers, it’s not surprising you feel that you have to say something.
But you don’t.
Your Black staff and customers will have been feeling a huge amount of emotion during the Black Lives Matter protests and when George Floyd was murdered and then when his killer was sentenced. Your female staff and customers were feeling a huge amount of emotion when Sarah Everard was killed, and when Sabina Nessa’s body was found, and now that Sarah Everard’s murderer has been sentenced there is a lot of anger and raw feeling. None of this should go unacknowledged. But you don’t have to be the one to do the talking.
A lot of white people and a huge number of men – and so, let’s be honest, most white men – are used to being given the floor to speak. They’re used to taking the mic. And that’s not a criticism – it’s what society encourages and expects, and why wouldn’t they take it when it’s offered? But at times like these, the most valuable and powerful thing you can do is hand the mic to someone else.
Sometimes the best way to say something…
Here are a few top tips for leaders on handling major world events that impact underrepresented individuals to support your team without taking over the narrative:
Start by asking your team how they’re feeling. Ask if there’s anything you can do for them. Ask if they think there’s anything that should be done more widely that you could support (as yourself or as your organisation). Don’t make any pronouncements about how things should change or what should be done until you’ve listened to input from people with lived experience.
If your organisation doesn’t already have networks specifically for certain demographics, consider starting them. Allowing your Black, or female, or LGBTQ+, or disabled, etc. employees to support one another and discuss ideas for change together not only benefits them but can benefit your organisation when they bring you lots of considered feedback and new ideas.
You can also offer sessions, for those employees who want to, to gather together to discuss major world events and share their feelings. They may also have some ideas about how your organisation could be a force for positive change, both internally and externally.
Pass the mic
Sarah Everard’s murder isn’t a time for men to be showing how clever they are, and George Floyd’s murder wasn’t a time for white people to be leading the fight against racism. Rather than rushing to show how enlightened and progressive you are, centre your employees, clients, customers, partners and other connections with lived experiences of issues like misogyny and racism and let them speak. Both in your internal and external comms. This is a time to listen and learn from those who know.
It’s ok to admit that you don’t know everything and that you want to learn – everyone else will have a lot more respect for you if you do.
Different groups are affected disproportionately by certain events. For example, when police advised women to avoid being falsely arrested as Sarah Everard was by refusing to be arrested by a lone officer, a lot of people of colour were furious. There are more than enough horror stories of police brutality towards people of colour for us all to know how that would end. So be aware that some people have several different identities at play in any given situation, and if you’re not sure of how this would affect different people, then ask.
Commit to real change
Maybe events like this make you realise that you don’t actually have any Black employees, or that you only have women in junior roles. Or maybe it might help you to reflect on times you’ve not behaved as well as you could towards colleagues, or times that you’ve turned a blind eye to hurtful or discriminatory actions. Rather than getting defensive or writing in guilt, let this be a moment of change.
This is where you pledge to do better. Acknowledge that you haven’t met the standards that you could have, but recognise that knowing this means that you have learned and grown. So take that as a positive and figure out how you want to move forward.
Put concrete objectives in place to work towards, and break down the steps you need to take to get there. Then identify the resources and time you will need to devote to those steps.
Then make it happen.
This is the moment everything changes.
If you want help in shaping your response to real world events, or in planning a better future for your organisation, get in touch and we’ll support you every step of the way.