As educators, we’ve noticed a polarity between two distinct groups in the classroom: those advocating for social justice and those resistant to change. Proponents of social justice want people to own their labels and demand for immediate change. On the other hand, resistance to social justice rejects challenges to the current (perceived) meritocracy and doesn’t want any mention of bias at all, as they believe that the entire movement has gone too far. Some even fear that they will be unfairly marginalized in retaliation.

This polarity means that individuals who are curious don’t have an environment that fosters learning. If you want to build a workplace that promotes true transformational learning, it’s crucial to recognize and address these diverse perspectives.

What we’ve realized is that both ends of the spectrum actually want the same thing: fairness. Traditionally marginalized individuals want true equity and inclusivity – a workplace where they can simply experience the same opportunities as others without barriers based on their demographics. They want an environment where they can feel safe without microaggressions that suggest they don’t belong there, and without their competence or position being questioned as tokenism.  

Similarly, allies of the marginalized seek not to be chastised as outsiders who don’t really understand the social justice cause, but recognized for their support and sincere attempts to help. The resistance group also support an idealized future of pure meritocracy, but fear being labeled or blamed for behaviors they may not have realized were contributing to the problem.

To create a truly safe learning environment where individuals from all backgrounds can share their stories, challenge assumptions, and make mistakes without feeling threatened, we recommend integrating the following tools into your learning space, and ultimately into your workplace: 

  1. Psychological Safety: Fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or repercussion.
  2. Neutral Space and Facilitators: Creating a safe space for open dialogue with facilitators that encourage unbiased discussions.
  3. Data and Facts: Grounding discussions in objective data and facts to prevent assumptions.
  4. Sufficient Time to Reflect: Giving individuals time to reflect on their beliefs and assumptions.
  5. Meet People Where They are: Recognize that individuals move at different speeds and support their growth at their own pace.

For more information on how to provide fairness throughout an organization, check out our book “The Next Smart Step, which provides a roadmap for organizations to create an equitable organization. The roadmap prompts individuals to recognize their biases and understand how they impact their decisions and interactions so that your organization can truly embrace transformational learning.

Through “The Next Smart Step” and our other Training and Development solutions, your organization can finally bridge the gap between opposing perspectives and build a workplace rooted in fairness.


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