When Jamia Wilson, Carolyn Gerin and I turned in the manuscript for Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All nearly three years ago, we included the excerpt shared here about advocating for change in the workplace.
The theme of #RoadMap4Revs is that we can each be everyday activists, and that it’s often most sustainable if we start with our own communities. Since many of us spend more waking hours working than doing anything else, if you’re looking to make impact, why not start in your professional backyard, whether you own the company or feel like a cog in their machine?
Our focus was on helping your employer align how it treats their staff with your values, starting with benefits and policy, policy, policy. But if I were updating this section today, there are two clear areas to add to the list, ripe for your advocacy for positive change in the workplace:
1. In the wake of the resurgence of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, consider honing your focus on worker-related policy that explicitly calls for more accountability around achieving inclusivity goals.
Your employer may have policies in place to encourage equal-opportunity hiring, and they may have issued some nice statements in the last few years about, for example, supporting women or the movement for Black lives. But what happens behind the closed doors of how the organization operates day to day? Are they transparent about how diverse their workforce is? How about their leadership? How about who get promoted, or gets paid what, or gets to be in the room where the most important things happen? Equality activists often say, “You can’t be what you can’t see” to explain why representation is important, but the converse is also true: You can’t fix what you can’t see.
Let me add that you certainly can’t succeed if there are no defined measures of success. And finally this: Most people won’t stop doing unhelpful things if there is no accountability for doing them in the first place. Advocating for transparency and accountability can be that first step in more-sustainable change in an organization … resulting in real benefits for all, like new hires that stay and even advance, and values statements that are actually lived up to.
2. Consider your employer’s supply chain and position in the supply chain of other organizations.
If your employer is in manufacturing of any kind, their supply chain provides so many opportunities for creating socially-responsible shifts. From making their operations carbon neutral or integrating more ecofriendly materials into the supply chain, to making sure projects are bid out to diverse vendors, and that there are accountability metrics set and transparently available for review about vendor selections.
Any organization is also part of other organization’s supply chains, and who they choose to work with speaks to values too. Look at some of the movements happening around us … workers joining activists to push their employers to divest themselves from military contracts, or providing tech for government surveillance programs, or furnishing border detention camps, or providing funding (and even lodging) to ICE. Workers are rising up to have their say about who their employer does business with, not just how they do business.
I’ve listed potentially dozens of possible areas to address, and you may care about them all. If I could give one piece of advice on how to become the everyday activist you want to be, it would be to triage. Pick one. A small, manageable step you wish your organization would take to live up to your values. Then follow the guidance in the excerpt to marshal support for your ask.
Activism and advocacy can sometimes feel like there’s not a lot of winning, so if you succeed in driving change, take that win. And then figure out the next achievable win you want to have.
Build your road map, and get started on the road. Taking one step is better than taking no steps at all.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of Roadmap for Revolutionaries entitled “Where You Work: Company Policies and How to Advocate for Change.“*
Your workplace may be the institution that has the most direct impact on your daily life — more so than the government. Advocating for change at your company can shift conditions for you and your co-workers, but it can also have a wider impact by setting new precedents for your industry. This guide is meant to give you ideas on how to bring change to your workplace, even if it’s just one policy.
Depending on the size of the company where you work, policies and procedures may have been codified in lengthy tomes or hastily created on an as-needed basis. They may be based on standard templates downloaded from the internet, developed by consultants with a one-size-fits-all approach, or cribbed from the policies of the last place your HR manager worked. In other words, the policies may not reflect a huge amount of intellectual capital or a deep amount of emotional investment by management. If so, they are ripe for change. But where do you start to look for policies and procedures that could be updated? Here are a few ideas for institutional policies that you could tackle.
FIND YOUR COMPANY’S POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
- Start with your new-hire paperwork. What did you have to review and sign when you started? If you don’t have it, ask to see the latest new-hire package.
- Employee handbooks: Does your company have one?
- The benefits package: Does your company have all its benefit information available at an online portal or in a package to review?
- If all else fails, ask your HR person, or whoever handles the logistics of hiring and terminating employees and administering company benefits.
SAMPLE POLICIES TO REVIEW FOR POTENTIAL LEVELING UP
Look for: Medical benefits that indicate an outdated perspective, or even outright bias
- Is Viagra covered but not birth control? Vasectomies, but not vasectomy reversals?
- Is health coverage available only for spouses, particularly in heterosexual relationships, rather than same-sex spouses or domestic partners?
- Is infertility treatment coverage available?
Why it matters: Some health coverage policies seem to have been written before there were many women in the workforce, and before it became much more common for people to be openly gay in the workplace. If your company has a diverse workforce, they may be able to serve that workforce better with a few changes to their policies.
Look for: Time-off policies that indicate an outdated perspective, or even outright bias
- Can men take paternity leave?
- Is leave available for adoptions, in addition to live births?
- Is leave available for caregiving for sick relatives other than children?
- Does the company offer any alternative work schedules, for example, shifting to part-time or contractor status or job-sharing for employees who may need short- or long-term leaves, medical, maternity, caregiving, or otherwise?
Why it matters: One way that women are held back in the workplace from the outset is through the assumption that they are the primary (and sometimes sole) caregiver or parent, even when they’re partnered or co-parenting. Additionally, the lack of subsidized childcare policy sometimes siphons women off from the workforce after they do a cost-benefit analysis. Policies that offer men the same leave opportunities, that recognize that giving care to our parents or bonding with newly-adopted children is as important as the act of recovering from childbirth, and that acknowledge that going from short-term leaves back to immediate full-time work is challenging, can help equalize the priority given to all caregivers. Companies typically also benefit from retaining great employees with strong institutional knowledge … a fact that you should make sure to point out when advocating for updated policies.
Look for: Hiring and pay policies
- If the company is seeking to diversify its workforce, does it require a diverse interview panel for prospective employees?
- Are there prescribed pay bands (specifying minimum to maximum salaries) for specific job titles or levels? Are they available for any employee to review?
- Is there a stated policy that pay equity is a company goal?
Why it matters: Diverse interview panels not only generate diverse perspectives on prospective employees, but they send a message to the prospective hire that the company already values a diverse workforce. Pay and benefit transparency, in general, makes it harder for inequities to be established and to widen.
Look for: Telecommuting and flex-time policies
- Is there a documented policy, or does it seem haphazard?
- Are employees compensated for their telecommuting expenses, such as high-speed internet at home?
- Is the policy explicitly designed to accommodate parenting-oriented off-site tasks, but not other off-site tasks a nonparent might need to take care of?
Why it matters: With women still bearing most of the burden of child-rearing and caregiving, telecommuting or flex-time policies affect moms most. If they are the only ones who take advantage of them, the lack of face time can affect how their performance on the job is perceived, even if they are productive working remotely. There are many documented advantages to remote work, from increased productivity to lower environmental footprints, but it can be a cultural adjustment. Conversely, nonparents may feel at a disadvantage if the only flex-time requests granted are related to child-rearing.
Look for: Prospective and current employee review and evaluation policies
- Are employees guaranteed performance evaluations?
- Are managers trained to give actionable reviews?
- Does the company document objectives? How granular do those objectives get? Company-wide? Departmental? Individual?
- Are you entitled to update your documented individual job objectives if the company’s or department’s objectives change?
- Who gets access to your evaluations? Can you get access?
Why it matters: Understanding how job performance is measured is great. Knowing changes outside your control won’t be held against you is even better. Knowing the company’s official HR position on you is great. Knowing who gets access (for example, how much a new boss is privy to) is even better.
Look for: Company conflict reporting and resolution policies
- What avenues exist for reporting issues? This is especially pertinent if someone’s direct manager is the one causing the issue.
- What is the policy to prevent retaliation for reporting issues?
- Are there avenues for anonymous reporting (and what are the company’s policies around validating anonymous complaints)?
- Is there a clear definition of what constitutes unacceptable behavior and treatment of colleagues?
- Is there a definition of what kinds of actions would qualify as (hopefully unacceptable) retaliation?
Why it matters: Having a fair, documented process to address clearly-defined inappropriate behaviors without putting the reporting employee at unnecessary risk should be the gold standard for organizations.
HOW TO MAKE THE ASK
- Start by asking questions. Don’t assume you know why the policy in question is in place. Don’t assume you’ll encounter resistance to changing it. Start with a positive, open approach: Is the company aware of this policy or benefit? Was it defined that way purposefully, or is it a legacy or default policy? Has the company ever investigated changing it — and is there a cost involved, or a liability issue that’s not immediately obvious?
- Once you understand the circumstances behind the policy, think about the levels of change that might be possible. Are there interim steps that would be helpful in the short term? Are there steps the company could take to share the cost or mitigate the liability, for example? Try to avoid a binary win-or-lose, on-or-off demand that backs the company (and you) into a corner.
- Research the policies of the most-innovative competing companies. If your company has trouble filling positions with or retaining top talent because it goes to a competitor, modernizing policies could be helpful on several fronts.
- Talk to fellow employees. You’re more likely to get a policy changed if you build momentum with a larger number of employees. If the subject matter is sensitive, you can conduct an anonymous survey. But do your due diligence so you have an idea of what the outcome of that survey will be. Share your concerns with colleagues. People don’t necessarily have to share personal details to give you an idea of their perspective.
Pick a policy that impacts you, learn its pedigree, and go find colleagues who agree with you that change would be an improvement. That can be your sole goal or the start of process. Either way, bringing change to your own company is a great way to revolutionize the workplace.
*Reprinted with permission from Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All by Elisa Camahort Page, Carolyn Gerin and Jamia Wilson, © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Best known as the founding COO of BlogHer, Inc, Elisa Camahort Page was there at the birth of the social web revolution, building a grassroots phenomenon into a national women’s media brand with 100 million web users and thousands of conference-goers. After selling BlogHer and leaving the acquiring company, Elisa turned her attention to social and civic engagement in the wake of the 2016 election, becoming the co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All and the host of a new podcast, The Op-Ed Page with Elisa Camahort Page. Elisa lives in San Jose with her spouse and her cats, and is dedicated to helping people figure out how to operate at the intersection of technology, media, inclusivity and social impact.