In the past few months some of my colleagues were bullied while facilitating sessions on workplace safety.
As DEI practitioners, we somehow get used to people not agreeing with us. We know that not everyone has had the same lived experience. Defensiveness towards their own majority group may make a participant feel uncomfortable. We are used to (internally trained to) deal with these situations. We never close the opportunity to raise a question, we ask questions in return, we try to understand where the person is coming from. We use data. We talk about our collective experience of dealing with 100s of cases of SH.
But sometimes none of these tactics work. Sometimes conversations become volatile. In one of the above situations it became personal, with subtle hints towards my colleague’s religion.
That was not ok. If there is one place we draw the line, it is to protect our own employees. We took a stand.
But it was beyond just taking a stand and standing up for a colleague. This incident broke my heart. I have been discriminated against at work. At that time I was young, I was not able to speak up and no one spoke up for me. If there was one thing I wanted to do when I started my own company it is for everyone to feel safe, never have to face discrimination and never face bullying.
This incident led to us starting a collective introspection and conversation on religion. We wanted to understand, how does the team feel about their own religion? Does anyone ever feel excluded? What should we all watch out for?
We started talking. We started a conversation about telling each other our religious and spiritual beliefs, our experience with institutions and our childhood.
Lesson #1. We are pretty diverse! We have quite a few different religious identities –
And the traditions and subcultures were so different from each other! A brahmin tradition or a food habit was very different from a person growing up with the same religion but at a different state. We learned that the Kodava community has a loving relationship with guns which has no correlation to violence.
Lesson #2: At heart all Sereinians are rebels! From questioning gendered traditional norms to taking an egg sandwich to school we have tried all tactics to question the norm 🙂
Lessong #3: There is just so much beauty in open conversations. Once we opened up we realized how comfortable we were to talk about our own identities and childhood experiences in front of each other.
This may not change the world, but it was one small yet deep step for us to learn what to say and what never to say.