Last summer, the shocking deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor prompted waves of protests across the world in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many businesses re-evaluated their diversity, equity and inclusion policies as a result.
Some 96% of CEOs now say diversity, equity and inclusion – DEI – is a “personal strategic priority” for them and want to invest in it across their businesses, according to a survey conducted last year by Fortune and Deloitte.
Definitions of DEI vary according to a business’s focus and culture, but they generally encourage and support fair opportunities and participation across the workforce, regardless of the age, race, gender, personality, religion, sexual orientation or education of the employee.
“Almost every company says they want an atmosphere where all employees can belong, contribute and thrive,” says Jesse Bridges, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at EVERFI. “That requires deliberate, intentional action and measuring the impact of those actions.”
Jesse argues that DEI needs to be “reframed” so that it has compassion at its core.
“Compassion is about how to see the world from someone else’s perspective – it’s empathy plus action – and this is sometimes lacking, or missed as a cornerstone of efforts, when we talk about DEI nowadays,” she says.
“Too often, we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in terms of what we shouldn’t be doing, but to understand why some actions are not inclusive and might actually harm another person and an environment of equity and inclusion within an organisation, we need compassion. DEI needs to be reframed with compassion at its core.”
Jesse believes this is all the more important in the current climate.
“We’re living through a time of polarisation and fear. We bring our feelings and our different perspectives to the workplace, sometimes without even realising it. Compassion allows us to consider where another person may be coming from – it’s essential when it comes to embedding an inclusive culture in any organisation.”
Inclusive leaders can set the tone when it comes to ensuring compassion is at the heart of DEI, Jesse says because, among other things, they understand that we see the world through different cultural frames and understand the biases they hold.
Jeff Weiner, for example, has built his leadership on compassionate management. In a recent speech, he told graduates to “create a culture where people take the time to understand the other person’s perspective, and not assume nefarious intentions; build trust; and align around a shared mission”.
“After nearly 10 years,” he said, “I still celebrate the fact we can make important decisions in minutes or hours that some companies debate for months. Create the right culture, and you create a competitive advantage.”
Brene Brown is another example of a leader who shows courageous and compassionate leadership. In one of the lessons in her book, Dare to Lead, she writes about empathy and forging authentic workplace connections, but not at the cost of criticising or gossiping about others.
But could a compassionate leader be seen as ‘soft’ by some or as someone who expects less of their employees?
“Compassionate leadership doesn’t mean a lack of accountability – it’s just the opposite, “ Jesse says. “Compassionate leaders require the courage to have hard conversations with employees because they want them to thrive. Compassionate leaders know that you have to convey the expectations that you want from employees because if you don’t, you create anxiety for them – they don’t know what is expected of them.”
The Compassion Project
EVERFI has launched a free course for all UK schools called The Compassion Project.
It is designed for seven to 11-year-olds and was originally the brainchild of Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s Executive Chairman, who says: “I’m not sure that I can think of anything more important than teaching compassion. The benefits are myriad in terms of … improving [children’s] sense of self, their self-esteem and the way they relate to others.”
It’s already been a runaway success in the US, reaching about 20% of all primary schools there.
The course uses real-life scenarios and role play to help young people understand how to practise compassion.
One pupil says the course taught her “not just to understand where others are coming from with their feelings, but to change my own actions based on how others feel or how I will make them feel”.
How my business can get involved
If you or your organisation is interested in supporting the teaching of compassion in primary schools across the UK, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us here and we’ll be in touch.