Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and not once did I think it would come from listening to an activist behind a social movement. Recently, though, at the HRPA annual conference in Toronto, I found myself pondering some of my existing thoughts through a different lens.
Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist from New York, founded the #MeToo movement when, in 2006, she began using the phrase “Me Too” to call attention to the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in society. The movement began to spread virally on social media in October 2017, revealing the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.
How powerful — two small words that bring people together and build community. Yet it took Burke 11 years to build a significantly sized community to affect change. “Why is that?” I wondered.
Only at the end of her talk did it all come together for me. “When the world is ready to hear, they will,” said Burke.
Remember when people were allowed to smoke at work? The time before designated outdoor smoking spaces. The time before smoking was allowed only at lunch and on breaks. The time when desks had ashtrays. When smoking was even permitted on airplanes. Only when the connection between lung cancer and smoking was revealed, and research about second-hand smoke was conducted, did the culture begin to shift. People learned that they had a voice, and they used it. The world was ready to hear. Only then could change occur. Here is my spin on cultural change: this is not just about global social movements. This is about you and me. I think there are many worlds in our whole wide world.
In 2013, I remember watching the new released film 42, inspired by a true story. This biopic portrayed Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in major League Baseball when he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He faced considerable racism in the process. He also opened the doors for many others to follow in his steps. The world of baseball was ready for change.
In my small world called family, I knew many years ago that my beloved partner would never eat yogurt regardless of the nutritional qualities I espoused. “my father would turn in his grave if he knew I ate yogurt,” he said. I was unaffected. Yogurt always had a place in my fridge. Fast-forward a handful of years to when, at a bed and breakfast, he is served a morning meal that contains yogurt. He eats it willingly before exclaiming that it is the best breakfast he has had in a long time. Aside from my shock and slug response, my beloved was ready to hear, and he did.
You may be working on an initiative for your workplace that will make things better. You’ve invested your time in research; you have formulated a plan. You have built a bulletproof case, yet your people are not responding. You think to yourself, “I don’t get it. This initiative will make things better.” You continue to have conversations. Still you are not getting buy-in. Do not despair. have faith and the courage to continue doing the work that needs to get done.
I have learned that our work will never be done. There is no end date. It is always evolving. Do not throw in the towel prematurely. You are probably ahead of the pack. Wait for your team to catch up. Continue eating the yogurt. Ignore what naysayers are saying. This is your world, and when those who are in it are ready, they will hear.