There are many definitions or descriptions of social justice. It is a term that conjures a plethora of emotions, from pride to anger to discomfort. The concept of social justice has been politicized in terms of community and education. It relates to equity for all, regardless of culture, gender, gender identity, age, ability, economics … the list goes on because these are all areas of our intersectionality — the parts of us that make the whole. For example, I could identify myself by reference to my age, but there are other pieces to the puzzle of who I am. I could supplement that description with my gender, height, education level, where I live (or have lived), and where I work. In fact, there are many other facets to who I am that are not listed here.
Taking all the components of people’s selves into account when it comes to the ways they are treated is just a small part of what social justice is about, especially for the R-Leader and the organization they work for.
R-Leaders go beyond human resources basics, like expectations of equal pay for equal work or diverse hiring practices. These are important, but R-Leaders dig below the surface of those expectations, giving careful thought to the big picture. From a corporate perspective, leaders have to consider the organizational space and place, and how the institution ‘fits’ in the community.
How Does Corporate Social Justice Energize the Team?
Every company had an energy. When customers or videos walk in, they feel the joy, tension, hurriedness, fear, or other emotions of the people who work there. Even if they never see anyone beyond the people who they see once they cross the threshold, those feelings permeate the atmosphere.
Employees feel it every day and carry it on them like clothing. Those emotional residues however are not as easy to take off and can either empower people or give them stress and anxiety.
Corporate social justice, when put in place as a positive measure, empowers team members because everyone is encouraged to be themselves and to use their skills for the benefit of the organization, the surrounding community, and their colleagues in the workplace.
Have you ever worked for an organization where the leaders didn’t know your name, what you do, or what department you work in and when you tell them, they reply with a generic ‘Oh, that’s nice — thank you for being part of our team!’? If not, you are very fortunate! Such an experience makes a person feel like a number, like the ‘brick in the wall’ that Pink Floyd sang about so many years ago.
R-Leaders see each person they work with as individuals, rather than viewing everyone in a bunch as ‘Employees of Company X’. R-Leaders are not shy at having a variety of team members represent the company to the community. R-Leaders invite colleagues to serve on community boards, lead local events in the name of the organization, and lead other internal and external opportunities.
Seeing people from across the organization serving in these ways gives hope to all people working there that they too could lead in some way, could represent the company in some way. It helps everyone feel valued as well.
What is the ‘Corporate’ Component of Corporate Social Justice?
Corporate responsibility has also received more attention these last few decades as well. The ways organizations present themselves, function in society and community, and stand for (or against) a cause is the way the institution has a face to the world.
An example that can be viewed now, three or so decades since the incident, relates to Denny’s. What occurred resulted in the restaurant coming under scrutiny for their treatment of Black patrons. The issue was so severe that a California federal court intervened to inform company leaders that they couldn’t refuse service to Black people. The same day their judgment came down, several Secret Service agents in Maryland alleged that they had been discriminated against in a Denny’s. Needless to say, the reputation of the company in those areas and beyond were not so positive.
Unfortunately, negative examples like this one, where people face ill treatment because of their culture, religion or religious expression, gender or gender expression, dis/ability, or other visible or invisible element of their being, are not new or infrequent. Such incidents create tension for the people who work in these places as well, particularly if they have faced challenges from within (the Abercrombie and Fitch example from an earlier post includes a discussion about this sort of experience).
Corporations that, as a unified group of people — meaning the ways they face their communities through messaging and presence — support inclusion, diversity, equity, and access provide positive examples. Further, corporations that take a stand on broader issues, like food insecurity, water rights, treatment of the unhoused, economic instability, and many of the other societal challenges also create opportunities to potentially empower or disempower the people who work there.
R-Leaders are open to talking with their Board members to encourage opportunities for a positive social presence. Further, they want to hear from their team members, to gain a broad understanding of their needs, wants, and experiences to ensure the message is supported by the largest percentage of the constituency.
How do you advance social justice and responsibility as a leader, and support the diverse groups of people in your organization? What is the impression of your organization in the community? If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.