What We Can Learn about Workplace Inclusion from Martin Luther King Jr.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That by far is my favorite quote from the late Martin Luther King jr. because it spoke to the courage of the convictions he had when he was alive. I find that this same attitude is essential as you strive to create an inclusive work environment. Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs but I also feel like there’s one lesson that we can learn from the life he led and that is…

Lead By Example

“I neither started the project nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman” – Martin Luther King, 1958

Love this particular quote because Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that there was a problem and simply took it upon himself to be the symbol of the change he wanted to see represented. Another important thing here is that he sought to be a spokesperson of a group of people that weren’t being included in America. SO important!

As a leader in your workplace, you should know what is important to all the stakeholders in your company and why.

  • Seek to understand what you don’t understand
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable

To inspire the type of change you want to see in your organization, you have to lead by example and set the stage. Your title is just a name but your action is the real game.  To play the game the right way, consider the following:

  • Create opportunities for staff to interact in settings outside of work so that employees feel more comfortable: This allows you to learn about the interests, cultural backgrounds and motivations of your colleagues. It also increases trust and understanding which ultimately creates inclusion.
  • Ensure all employees have the opportunity to take part in decision-making and planning for social activities: Whether it is potlucks or lunch and learns, let every employee get a chance to be part of the decision making process.
  • Revamp your calendar to include multicultural, religious and international days:  Chances are you work with people fro multiple backgrounds and with that being the case, there’s bound to be a day that aligns with them culturally, religiously or otherwise. Include things like International Womens, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, International Day to End Racism, & Gay Pride celebrations. If you want to score extra inclusive points, you could offer a float day for employees to use at their discretion to observe such events or days

These are all ways to lead by example. You set a good example by valuing each individual’s opinions and making everyone feel comfortable sharing and expressing themselves fully in the workplace.

So What Can You Learn?

Beyond the significant contributions Dr. King’s made to our society, his methods and reactions remain as important lessons for us to apply in any challenging situation. From confronting difficult relationships with peers to challenging accepted social norms to even overcoming unconscious bias, he left a trail of lessons that each of us can apply in our own lives and workplaces.

So what can you learn? Lead by example.

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