Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Moment of Silence

There it was again. That nervous laughter when someone in a leadership role made an innuendo about race. The last time it was about being gay. What follows is always the same...an awkward moment of silence, and then the nervous laughter of those sitting around the table feeling compelled to join in, but obviously hating the moment.

The 1970's Were Bad...Right?
Thankfully I was raised in a household that held diversity as a core value. In fact, my parents share a story about me as a young boy that illustrates the point. One winter I saw a black man and a white woman holding hands as they walked down the street, and I exclaimed "that's bad!" In a panic, my parents tried to stay calm and asked me why that was so bad. I answered, "because he's not wearing a coat, it's winter time!"

Thank God for my parents.

It's Better in 2012...Right?
Sadly, the examples I've been exposed to in my professional life are not from the era of  leisure suits and disco balls. They're part of my adult experience, and over the years I've struggled with how to handle the moment when bigotry has shown itself to me.

Probably the ultimate let down is when someone we admire shows their feelings and lets a comment slip out that speaks to their real values. When I experience those moments I put them on a little mental list...a list of those that no longer deserve my respect.

Time To Speak Up
Quite a few years ago I decided I couldn't handle the silence anymore. Since that time I've lost friends, and become much more vocal about rights for people in the workplace. All people. I'm proud that my employer recognizes these same values not only in words, but in who we care for, and how we treat our employees. You see, as an HR professional you truly can advocate for changes to be made in your company that send very powerful messages about equality, difference, and...people!

How About You
What do you do in your moment of silence? Do you take a stand and rise above the others and say what's on your mind? Or, do you let the silence wrap itself around you in a blanket of shame?

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

photo credit


  1. Great blog Jay. I learned many years ago to politely express my discomfort and request that there be no more 'humour' along those lines. It's a balancing act between being strong in expressig this while showing respect for everyone involved.

    It's doubly hard when mediating between parties not to react, but I have to remember that it's not about whether I am offended, but whether the other person is. Damned hard not to pull people on it though. Apalling that we're still debating this in 2012, but thankfully more and more people are prepared to speak out now.

    1. Thanks Niki. I too am stunned that this continues to be an issue today, but I also feel strongly that we need to speak up, particularly those of us in HR leadership roles.

      Thanks for the comment!