By Ellen McGirt
July 7, 2016

The concept of inclusion, the idea that people from a variety of backgrounds can “bring their whole selves to work and thrive,” is a lofty and beautiful one. But when a traumatic event occurs– like the most recent two police shootings of black men — that means employees are going to be affected emotionally.

And as horrifying as these events may be — and things have been particularly horrifying lately — that presents employers an opportunity to incorporate compassion into their management systems.

First some background. On Wednesday, Philandro Castile was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and was shot in his seat in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. The encounter was live-streamed on Facebook by his distraught partner. Things were already tense. On Tuesday night, Alton Sterling, a father of five, was pinned down and shot by two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, setting off a wave of protests and triggering a federal investigation.

Graphic video and images of the two shootings have been widely circulated and discussed online.

Now imagine a young associate watches a video of one of the shootings, shares it on Twitter, expresses fear and outrage, gets attacked by a troll, then walks into a staff meeting.

“Maybe she’s upset, even visibly shaken,” says Dnika J. Travis, the vice president, Women of Color Research & Center Leader, Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice. “And she decides to sit in silence, unable to participate in the meeting, because she’s afraid her feelings will be dismissed.” How will her colleagues or manager interpret her silence? Is she not a team player? Are aspects of her job suddenly worrisome – for example, driving to visit accounts in heavily policed neighborhoods?

Things get complicated when the event is a highly-charged one, like those involving systemic racism and state violence. “This isn’t a natural disaster, where everyone is aligned right away. This is difficult stuff to process,” says Alison Davis-Blake, professor of business and former dean at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “But a compassionate organization cultivates a sense of empathy for those who are suffering. And the first thing is for leaders to be present, talking, listening, and acknowledging that something specific has happened, and that some people may have concerns.”

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