Buffalo - How can an ally respond?
“That literally could’ve been me” - Dominique Calhoun (NY times 5/14/22)
That quote was from someone who drove to a supermarket in Buffalo with her daughters to see people running out screaming as a gunman opened fire in the store with an assault weapon.
The incident is well documented at this point: the shooter planned the attack for months, drove hours to his target, wore tactical gear including body armor, live streamed his assault on social media, had horrible language written on his weaponry and armor and subscribed to white supremacist and racist ideology including “replacement theory”.
To say this is horrible is an understatement.
Much has been and will be written about the shooter, the completely false and ridiculous ideology, the media’s role, etc…
Unfortunately we have been through this before:
Tree of Life synagogue
Pulse night club
Atlanta spa shooting
Groups of people targeted simply because of their demographics: African American, Asian American, Jewish, LGBTQ+,…
And these incidents impact people’s mental health. People are understandably shaken. Particularly those in the targeted demographic.
And this impacts the workplace.
And yet often companies do nothing in response.
Life is expected to continue as normal. Deadlines are deadlines right?
But as a manager … as a person… I know trauma impacts work.
What I have done in the past is to first ask up the management chain if there is a company response to make sure I understand the official line. Generally there is none but I ask anyway. Often I try and recommend some form of response: an email, reaching out to the appropriate Employee Resource Group, something. I realize I can not actually move that needle but it is worth the try to at least give some form of awareness.
My next steps are to reach out to my management team and get their gauge on the team and perhaps some individuals. I advise them to be aware of people’s reactions and that if deadlines need to move to work with people to do so. I also make sure I am aware of any changes so I can also work with other departments or clients to manage the situation.
I always find the general corporate reaction to this odd. Universally I get push back on moving deadlines for these events. However when I have had to change things for a sudden flu outbreak impacting the department the reaction is that is OK and good job handling the situation. In my view this is the same thing. To put it into management speak: a sudden event has occurred which impacts productivity and you are adjusting accordingly where needed.
The next place I turn to are the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These groups valuable sources of information and advice at these times. Odds are they have already mobilized by the time I am talking to them. They have surveyed their members and checked in on people. They have given me a valuable insight into the community and its mental health. Even sometimes helping me to identify individuals in particular distress. After one such incident I learned that one person on my team had family in the area of the incident and had spent time hunting them down to find out they were safe. I would never had known otherwise.
I also get advice on how I should react. Should I send an email, swing by a desk, have a team meeting, etc… All the incidents are different and the communities and people impacted deal with things in their own way. I want to be respectful of that. So I listen intently on what the group might want.
Then I make sure they know they have my support for whatever they need.
If there isn’t an ERG I will try to reach out to some folks that are influential in those communities at work. Because even if there isn’t an ERG there is a community that is impacted.
Note what I am doing and what I am not doing. I am listening, gathering information and taking the lead from those impacted.
I have not yet reached out to individuals.
I want to respect an individual’s space to process. I also want to make sure I am informed so if I am asked to help I can help and in a correct, respectful way.
But I also want to make sure people know they can ask for help. So I will reach out to some individuals I know well and see how they are doing. I will let ERG leads know they can come to me or if they think it would be good for me to talk to someone I open up my calendar.
As time passes I may stop by a few desks or grab a coffee with someone and see how they are doing.
This is how I handle these events. It may not work for everyone in every situation but I hope it helps give some guidance.
As always I hope this helps. I look forward to continuing the conversation. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
All the best,