If you have watched the American sitcom mocumentary The Office, you know that casual racism, sexism, and other forms of stereotypical and discriminatory behaviour is deeply entrenched in our work culture. Even if you haven’t, you must have come across memes or jokes referencing its characters.
The Office garnered huge popularity by doing merely one thing- causing discomfort. The show problematised everyday office experiences in the most hilarious ways making their audiences realise that what they had been putting up with at work is not okay.
Today we live in one of the most enlightened eras in human history where information is available and accessible freely to most and as a result, we also live-in times when assertion by marginalised and oppressed groups is increasing, causing the necessary discomfort we needed to get rid of toxicity from work cultures.
However, as necessary as it is to be politically correct in our actions and in what we speak, it is quite challenging to do that. Most of us have internalised a vast number of thoughts, beliefs and linguistic slangs born out of discriminatory practices without even realising their context or ways in which they can be offensive to certain groups. We use these casually in our everyday conversations and jokes without knowing if somebody out there felt offended with what we said.
At a progressive and democratic workplace, everything we say is a subject to scrutiny and even a minor tongue slip can cause serious damage to our reputation. What we consider civil today is defined a lot by our understanding of political correctness. However, studies suggest that political correctness has done some good but equal amount of damage that needs our attention. On one hand it has helped people from marginalised sections in feeling at an equal footing with the rest but on the other hand it has inhibited people from developing effective relationships across gender, race etc. The fear of offending a colleague by saying something politically incorrect and the tendency of hurriedly reaching conclusions about a person and not giving them the space to learn from their mistakes has prevented people from bonding freely.
Instead, these conflicts and tensions should be used wisely to overcome cultural and political differences, enable free association and garner mutual trust and respect among employees. Here are a few ways in which you can create a healthy environment that enables association and shared learning-
- Create a safe space- This is probably the most important aspect of creating a healthy workplace for political correctness. The employees should feel safe in being vulnerable, questioning themselves and their ways or in feeling offended and coming out to demand answers or apologies. If they know that these things will not affect their reputation at work and are able to see it all as a great learning and unlearning process, it will get easier to shed off the baggage of political correctness and make it an opportunity of growth instead of a scanner on one’s head.
- Practicing Pause- Connect-Question yourself- This three-step process has been crucial in discouraging rash and angry reactions to offensive remarks and initiating a healthy conversation instead. Upon getting slammed with something against your core principles, an angry outburst might make you feel better but it doesn’t help your cause. Pausing for sometime to let go of the anger, connecting with why a person said what they said and in what ways has it been offensive to a community or person or you, and then initiating a constructive conversation on the same is bound to get better results. Educate your employees on this and schedule workshops to help them inculcate this behaviour.
- Learn about their experiences- As a manager or leader, you need to seek out experiences from people from diverse identities to understand their perspectives and everyday challenges better. This will not only arm you in making the right calls when a situation arises but also create a safe space for those from marginalised sections in their leader. This will ensure that a couple of experiences will colleague does not make the entire workspace anti their identity.