APU Business Careers & Learning Podcast Politics in the Workplace

Removing “Us versus Them” Dynamics Leads to an Inclusive Workplace

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Podcast featuring Dr. Linda C. Ashar, J.D.Faculty Member, School of Business and 
Laura Kriska, business consultant and author

Every organization has divisions, which can become deep and disruptive and affect the organization’s ability to reach its goals. In this episode, American Public University professor Linda Ashar talks to author and business leader Laura Kriska about her new book that aims to remove the “Us versus Them” dynamic from the workplace. Learn her practical three-step process to help people build trusting relationships with people who aren’t like them, why leaders must recognize who’s on the “home team,” and how WE-Building can bridge the gap to create an inclusive workplace.

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Read the Transcript:

Linda Ashar: Hello, everyone. This is Linda Ashar, your host for Politics in the Workplace. Thank you for joining us today. Every workplace challenges people to work together in harmony. My guest today is Laura Kriska. Laura is a noted international cross-cultural business consultant who has devoted her career to understanding and meeting these very workplace challenges.

Now she has written an exceptional new book called “The Business of WE,” which is packed with valuable advice, tools, and examples for management. It is an outstanding privilege to introduce Laura and her book. Laura, I absolutely love this book. Welcome to our podcast.

Laura Kriska: Oh, thank you, Linda. It’s so nice to hear you, especially when you called it exceptional. I really love that description, thank you.

Linda Ashar: You’re quite welcome and it’s well-deserved. We appreciate you sharing your time today, I know how busy you are. I’d like to begin, for our audience, explain what is meant by “The Business of WE?” Intriguing title.

Laura Kriska: Well, I’ll start by saying, Linda, that my life’s work is helping people from different backgrounds build trusting relationships across any “us versus them” dynamic, so The Business of WE is all about bridging us versus them gaps.

Now I don’t know about you, but in any organization I have ever visited, been in, been a part of, there have been us versus them gaps. Some of these gaps are related to the business mandate. For example, manufacturing versus engineering, or marketing versus sales, front office versus back office.

And these divisions are inevitable, they are predictable, and sometimes they’re not a big deal. But as I’m sure you have experienced as well, sometimes these divisions get deep and disruptive and they impact the day-to-day interaction among people, which has a negative impact on the organization’s ability to reach their goals, whether that’s revenue goals, meeting customer needs, innovation.

I mean, just the other day, I was talking with a client who said they have two departments where the people don’t speak to one another, two departments that don’t speak. How can an organization reach its optimal potential if you have individuals not speaking to one another because of some issue?

And I’m not saying that we all need to be friends. Not at all. The “Business of WE” is not oh, kumbaya, let’s all hold hands, it is a practical how-to guide to help people build lasting trust. My goal is for people to build trusted level colleague relationships with as many people as possible.

You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to agree with how they think or live. But if you can build trust, then the entire organization will, first of all, lower complaints, possibly lower legal costs, certainly lower a lot of heartache and misunderstanding. And instead get much better teamwork, better co-operation, better communication, better productivity, all the things that we want.

And Linda, one of the key factors is this WE-Building, what I call this process. WE-Building can be done without spending a dime because we have the tools to take the steps. The steps are not complicated, and we can talk about those steps. But what I have seen in a 30-year career is that if people have two things, if they have an ability to be honest about themselves and if they have a genuine wish to narrow a specific gap, they can make progress to narrow a gap. And this will have an immediate and positive impact on the organization and on people’s day-to-day lives.

Linda Ashar: Well, you said a lot of key things right there, but one thing that is important is intent, and I know you talk about this in your book. What do you do to foster that intention? Because we both know, and I’m sure our listeners have experienced, not everybody has the intention to get along or at least doesn’t express or manifest that intention to get along. How do you deal with that?

Laura Kriska: Well, I’ll say two things. The good news is there are more people with the intent now than ever before. I have seen this, it’s been evident in our society over the past year with all that has occurred. There are more people onboard with the intent to achieve unity. You hear it. People say it. People in polls will say they want to move away from division.

So the good news is that the intent is higher than I’ve ever seen in my professional career. And dealing with people who don’t have the intent is a real struggle. I would say that there are two ways to approach it.

One is to encourage people who don’t have that intent to take steps to build relationships with people who are different from them for business purposes. It is good for business to have these relationships in place. It’s also, by the way, good for society and good for improving people’s intent once they build trusted level colleague relationships with people who have different backgrounds.

I’ve noticed that people who don’t have the intent often have lived very homogenous lives. I’m going to go back to my experience of working with lots of Japanese executives for the early part of my career. And lots of the executives would be sent outside of Japan to work in London or in Houston or São Paolo. Most or all of them had lived very homogenous lives. Japan is a country that’s 98% Japanese, so we can understand why that happens.

And some of them could not understand why it was important to build trusted-level relationships with people from different backgrounds. These had been very successful people. They were intelligent, hard-working, and one of the ways I would try to help foster this intent was helping them see the business reason.

And so, for example, a Japanese executive would be sent to Houston to manage an office of 100 people. He probably could do a lot of good things with a lot of knowledge about the business, but he had never lived in Houston; maybe had never lived in America.

So my argument would be, people in Houston have a lived experience of what it’s like to work there; they understand the marketplace; they can provide insight and valuable data to you as the manager; so you need to include them in the decision-making rather than just doing everything yourself.

So whenever there is a homogenous home team, there’s a risk of limiting your experience and not addressing the needs of people who aren’t like you. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with being from Japan or having a certain experience; it means that you need to recognize that your lived experience is narrow.

So that idea and that experience I had with Japanese executives helped me see a parallel here in the United States, in corporate America. Most companies still have a home team that is very white. There’s nothing wrong with being white. I’m white, lots of people I know are white. The problem is that if you don’t recognize that in today’s competitive, diverse, interdependent marketplace, we really need to understand and incorporate the lived experience of people who aren’t white, whether it’s our customers, our employees or various stakeholders. Part of WE-Building is seeing difference, learning about difference, and using that information and those relationships to create a very inclusive WE culture.

Linda Ashar: And you’ve mentioned, in discussing this in your book, protectionist behaviors. Is this something that is inherent in the us and them mindset; is if we feel we don’t fit in, we become protective of our perceived identity and are fearful of branching out, if I’m saying that right?

Laura Kriska: Well, I think a lot of people feel protective, for example, of their work, their clients. They like to make sure, especially in the United States, that their job is protected, that you can control the quality, the reputation, et cetera, of your own work. And I guess what I’ve noticed is that the us versus them dynamic sometimes happens because of that protectionist impulse. Maybe sales and marketing don’t want to share information.

I’ll give you a real example. I was speaking with a client and because of the virtual nature of things, the marketing department in the organization hosted some type of webinar for clients or potential customers and they told the sales department, “Hey, tell everybody about this webinar we’re offering.” And the sales department was not particularly enthusiastic and the marketing team got really mad at the sales team. “How come you’re not promoting this? We’re putting all this effort into it,” and the sales team was like, “This is boring. We don’t want to tell the customers to come to this.”

And they got into this kind of conflict over it, when it was a missed opportunity for marketing to go to the sales people ahead of time and say, “Hey, listen, we want to do this event, virtual webinar, to increase our customers. Do you have any ideas about this?” and sales team could say, “Well, it can’t be boring. If it’s boring, we’re not going to tell …”

They could’ve worked together and actually helped the entire organization increase revenue at a time when a lot of companies really need that. And instead they let this gap interfere with their ability to be innovative, to meet customer needs, and possibly interfered with the revenue stream for that company.

Linda Ashar: And it sounds like neither one of that particular group was prepared to take the initiative to break over that gap and bridge that gap, which leads me to the role of leadership and, for want of a better way of putting it, build that bridge.

Laura Kriska: Yes. Yes. So much of the WE-Building effort comes down to the behavior, to the language, to the modeling of leaders. And I’ve seen the whole range. I have seen leaders who operate in very “us versus them” dynamics. They prioritize certain people. They make it very clear there’s an “in group” and an “out group” in the company, and if you’re on the outside of that, you don’t get to participate in the substance of the organization.

You might lose your job. It can be very dramatic. And it can work for a while, but I think you end up alienating high-performing people. You probably don’t get the best solutions because you’re not incorporating the voices of a wide range of people, and there’s a fear-based culture. So some of the innovations that might otherwise be revealed are silent. People keep them silent because they’re afraid of being put on the outside.

But I’ve also seen leaders who really model inclusive behavior, look to a wide range of people, not only with hiring and promotions, but just even their day-to-day behavior. And I’ll give you a very practical example of this.

I live in New York City. I deal with a lot of global companies that have employees from a wide, wide range of backgrounds. I’ll sometimes ask how many different languages are spoken, and in a group of 20 people, there will be at least 10 or 15 different languages spoken among that group. So, that’s the kind of diversity I’m talking about.

So what happens is that people have names that reflect these different cultural backgrounds and these names are not names like Linda and Laura, right? These are names that have probably appeared on the top 100 or 200 names in America for years and years and years. So if you don’t have a name that has appeared or will appear on the top 200 or 500 or 1,000. You have a name that might be unfamiliar to people here in the United States, then inclusive leaders, and others, make the effort to say those names correctly.

I’ve met so many people who are like, “Oh, I can’t say that name,” It’s just ridiculous; the lack of intent, perhaps, going back to that word, of just the simple act of saying another person’s name correctly. So that’s a very simple, but day-to-day behavior that leaders should exhibit as WE-Builders and also anybody can exhibit.

Linda Ashar: Well, some people are afraid to ask another person, how do you pronounce your name?

Laura Kriska: And I would say to them, get some courage and be genuine and be respectful. I have asked people how to say their names, how to spell their names, and I am very careful, I am always respectful, polite; and I will say something like, “Hi, I’m Laura,” and they say, “Hi, I’m so-and-so.” And maybe it’s a name I’ve never heard before and I will say, “I want to make sure that I’m saying your name correctly. Is this correct?” and I will repeat what I have heard. And if I’m really feeling like I haven’t grasped the name, I will say, “Do you mind if I ask how you spell that?”

Actually, this just happened to me in a local coffee shop a few weeks ago, where there’s a woman I see on a regular basis to get my coffee with my mask on, and I had introduced myself to her colleague. Her colleague’s name was Evelyn, and I go in and say, “Hi, Evelyn.” And I said to this other woman, I said, “I know Evelyn’s name, but I’ve never asked your name. My name is Laura.” So I always start by introducing myself and saying, “Do you mind?” And I have never once been rejected. Never once.

And now I know the name of the other woman. It was a name I’ve never heard before, and we talked about how she spells it and how she had only met one other person in her entire life with the same name that was spelled slightly differently. So it became a conversation point, and I remember her name and I use her name. Now this is just in a coffee shop situation and I’m making this effort.

So I go back to your comment about people who are afraid. There’s no place in today’s diverse global marketplace to be so concerned that you don’t take action. Being colorblind and culture-silent are outdated, 20th century approaches to difference.

Linda Ashar: Excellent comment.

Laura Kriska: And we’re in a much more diverse world, and so people need these types of connective actions.

Linda Ashar: And that turns me another term that you have used. You touched on it already in our discussion on leadership, bridging the gap, which is what you referred to as the home team advantage. Explain a little bit about that concept in leadership. Well, probably not just in leadership, but it certainly begins there.

Laura Kriska: Well, I noticed, again, in Japan. So my career started when I was 22 and I went to work in Honda Motor Company’s Tokyo headquarters. I was the only American woman working with several thousand Japanese colleagues, and I was really excited to be there. I very much wanted to be there. I had spent a year in college in Japan, I was actually born in Japan, but I was only a baby, so it doesn’t really count so much, so I spoke some Japanese.

And I was very much on the outside of what I would describe as the home team. The home team in any organization are the people with access to power and money. They are the ones making decisions. So in Honda Motor Company, the home team characteristics would be male, Japanese and middle-aged. I am none of those things. At the time, I was a young American female, white, so very far away from that home team identity.

But here, in the United States, as we were talking about, the home team or the cultural majority in most organizations, not all, is male, white and middle-aged. I am white and middle-aged, so I have much more proximity to that idea of the home team.

If you share identity characteristics with the home team, there are inherent advantages. I mean, that’s what a home team has, advantages, whether you’re playing baseball or we’re talking about a corporation. When you’re on the home team, you understand things, you’ve grown up with certain cultural norms, you already understand things that outsiders need to spend time to understand or they just miss information or whatever it is.

I know a lot of white people feel very sensitive. Middle-aged, white American men are America’s favorite punching bag right now and I don’t think that’s fair. I think any organization can have a home team, different departments can have a home team, and it’s not necessarily white, middle-aged and male. But it’s important, when you do belong to the home team, simply to recognize that you have advantages. It’s not a huge task. It’s pretty obvious to anyone. But it does seem difficult for people to recognize this sometimes.

Linda Ashar: So how does a leader of the home team in the business recognize the gap? There’s going to be a gap between us and them in that business somewhere. I think that’s an inherent likelihood. Am I right?

Laura Kriska: Oh, yes.

Linda Ashar: So how does an enlightened leader to this concept find the gaps? I don’t think they’re always so obvious.

Laura Kriska: I would say gaps are everywhere, all the time. As I mentioned, sometimes it’s related to the business mandate. So one way to recognize gaps is listen to people, listen to how they describe other departments, other people, other offices. And if you hear negative language, if you hear complaints and gossip, that is an indicator that a gap may be getting to the point that needs to be addressed.

There’s always healthy competition and gentle ribbing and kind of light-hearted us versus them, and I’m not talking about those issues. I’m talking about when there is information withheld or conversations that are detrimental about a specific person or a department that interferes with the overall productivity of the organization.

When it comes to identity issues, leaders can look for the gaps in representation of employees. If you have 100 employees and 90% of them are a certain group, then I would call that a yellow flag. If you look at the leadership team of your organization and they have a lot of similar characteristics, again, I would say that’s a yellow flag.

It doesn’t mean that people in a homogenous group cannot learn about others and understand and incorporate the cultural data from other people, but often what I see happen is that a homogeneous group is just unaware that there are other needs until there’s a crisis. There might be a human relations complaint; there might be an official complaint; there might be legal action; and I want to prevent that. I want to help people notice these differences and these gaps way before there’s a complaint or someone is terminated or there’s a request for termination or whatever it is.

So it’s incumbent upon leaders today to pay attention to the makeup of their organizations, to think about what cultural groups are represented and in what percentages as it relates to the organization. And it’s tricky because the current legal framework in the United States makes it very difficult to navigate. There are not clear guidelines about how to handle this.

I’m not a lawyer. I love reading about these topics. But as I understand it, basically, the message is that you cannot take race into consideration, except in certain narrow circumstances. The protected classes, which is very important and the legislation is critical.

However, this is an observation I have, Linda. The civil rights legislation was passed over 50 years ago. Yet we have negligible progress in representation, for example, of Black professionals in the vast majority of industries in the United States. So what I’ve concluded is that the legal framework and the policies are important, but they are not enough. Proximity to those who are different is good, but it is not enough.

Linda Ashar: Exactly. I am a lawyer and I will tell you that there’s a lot of lawyers that don’t understand it all either. It’s a very murky area in many ways.

Laura Kriska: So it feels like a minefield for many leaders. Here’s part of my solution and part of why I wrote this book and what I advocate. It is my firm position that if we want to move away from division and fear and hate and toward unity and solidarity, it is through relationships. Relationships with people who don’t look like you; who don’t sound like you; who don’t pray like you; who simply are different. If there is a leader and he or she or they look in their immediate lives and they only see homogeneity, I would say you have to work on that and you need to expand your idea of who belongs in your life.

A lot of folks I know say, “Oh, that seems so forced,” or “I would feel so awkward. How would I even begin to do that?” Well, have some courage and do something. Don’t just put a Black Lives Matter sign in your window and think things are fine.

We are never going to move away from the division and toward unity until people take action. Face-to-face action of increasing depth is our salvation. And until the white cultural majority, especially leaders, especially people exactly like me, middle-aged, white people, until we take action to build these trusted relationships outside our familiar, comfortable circles, we’re not going to get the change we need.

Linda Ashar: Well, this is a good point to turn to your, briefly because there’s a lot of material to it, is your three-step process for closing the gap, which is your subtitle of your book, “The Proven Three-Step Process for Closing the Gap Between Us and Them in Your Workplace.” Everything that you have said deeply resonates with need and certainly where we are today. What is the three-step process? Because I think it’s going to sum up very well what you’ve been saying so far.

Laura Kriska: Well, the three steps are very simple, but they do take time and effort. So the three steps are this.

Number one is fostering awareness of culture, and that simply means that culture difference does not only refer to international differences. Everybody understands that if you go to a different country, there are invisible cultural norms that you may or may not understand and that understanding these will help you. That is a common understanding. But that same idea applies to people from different generations, different genders, gender orientations, different races, ethnicities, all the aspects of a person’s identity. I think step one is not too difficult. Step two is self-assessment, and this is what requires the courage I’ve been referring to.

Linda Ashar: Exactly.

Laura Kriska: It requires courage to look inward and it requires the honesty that I referred to as well. In The Business of WE, what I recommend and advocate is for anyone who wants to build unity to pick a “them” cultural group. It could be as big as a whole country or it could be as small as a single other person.

So if you, for example, are a white person and your “them” group is Black American culture, then you take the self-assessment as it related to Black American culture. This is step two, the self-assessment. It’s 10 simple questions, and you honestly measure your own life choices thus far in relation to this other cultural group. These are not difficult questions; they’re very straight-forward; there’s a “yes or no” answer. And after you take the self-assessment, you get a score. It’s much like stepping on a scale that tells you your weight.

Similarly, it’s not the only indicator. Your weight is one indicator of your overall health; it’s not the only indicator. In the same way, the self-assessment is just one number that gives you an indication of how much face-to-face interaction you have had with this other “them” cultural group. As I said, it’s very important that people pick a “them” cultural group that is relevant to their lives and that they genuinely wish to build a bridge with.

I’ve been doing this in all kinds of ways over time, whether it’s related to country difference, race difference, age difference. I know a lot of people my age, but I’m engaging with Generation Z and, of course, millennials. I try to understand different generational groups because they have different norms. I have three teenagers at home and they even use different language, literally different words and I’m thinking, “I have no idea what that means.”

[Podcast: Understanding Millennials and Their Value in the Workplace]

The self-assessment, these 10 simple questions can be used in many ways. It is my great wish that these 10 simple questions will be used often and repeatedly by a large number of people. And I’ll also add that this self-assessment is free and available to anyone to download from my website. My website is my name, laurakriska.com, and I really do hope that people can use this as one measurement.

So after you assess yourself, you have a score and unlike a scale measuring your weight, the idea is to increase your score. So if you have a low score, that’s fine, and any “no” answers become potential action items for step three.

Step three is a gap-closing action plan. And that simply means taking action to increase your face-to-face encounters so that you can build a trusted colleague-level relationship with someone in this target group.

I’ve seen great strides made by people who take action and it fills me with hope. It just fills me with hope when I see people doing things that might be a little uncomfortable or that people might feel uncertain about it, but when they take these actions, usually they have a positive outcome because they are honest and they are genuine.

I find the benefits of WE-Building are immediate and positive and they self-perpetuate. So once you’ve tried something, once you’ve made the effort to say somebody’s name that was unfamiliar and then you call that person by their name the next day, and you see the way that their face lights up because so few people do that, that is a reward. And so then you feel confident to be more of a WE-Builder and take another potentially uncomfortable action that will bring you closer to someone who might have grown up very differently from you.

Linda Ashar: Without necessarily naming any names, can you walk us through an example of someone you’ve taken through the three steps?

Laura Kriska: Wow. There have been thousands of people.

Linda Ashar: I know. One that you could share, because people like examples.

Laura Kriska: So as you know, I’ve worked with a lot of Japanese executives who’ve come to the United States and there’s a great deal of discomfort in interacting. One person in particular was in charge of a group of Americans and he really was not confident about how to interact with these American colleagues, to the point where he said as little as possible. He was very silent and really just worked and tried to get by with doing and saying very little, kind of being very culture-silent, I would say.

That didn’t work in the workplace. I was advising him and we did the self-assessment and, of course, he had a very, very low score in relation to interaction with American people. He spent all his time with Japanese people. So through training, we developed a plan for him to start taking action.

One of the things I learned is that he would not have any small talk conversations with people in his office. It was so terrifying. He was so worried about doing or saying the wrong thing that he would say nothing.

So I gave him homework and he was a smoker and he said that every day, he bought cigarettes at a certain bodega in New York. I encouraged him and gave him homework to have a conversation, not just, “Marlboros, please,” but try to have a small talk conversation. We started with this inconsequential situation with a complete stranger, and then we built up to trying to have a small talk conversation with his actual colleagues.

And he got up the courage. We had literally printed out a conversation of how he might talk to one of his employees. And I believe the woman had recently traveled to Colombia and he said something like, “How was your trip?” and they were able to have this substantive conversation about Colombia, because he had been in Bogotá, and they just found this common point.

He built up these skills slowly. And I kept pushing him, or nudging him, I would say, and trying to get him to deepen his interaction with people. Eventually, he started having conversations that were in more depth. He was invited to an employee’s house for some type of holiday event, so he shared a meal with people.

And so over time, he developed a much better understanding of the people he was managing and this, not only his small talk, but his feedback in the workplace, his ability to understand the needs. For example, when someone would ask for time off or to get off of work early. This is a very uncommon thing in Japan. But working parents in America, we often have functions related to our children’s schools or community events or things like that. And this, for example, was really unusual for him. He couldn’t imagine taking time off from work to go to a school event.

But by spending time with his American colleagues, he understood this is quite a normal thing. So instead of looking at requests for a Friday afternoon off with suspicion, he started to understand [these requests]. He still felt uncomfortable and he asked people to make a request two weeks in advance and he had to have his comfort level met, but that was an example of the kind of payoff [that occurred]. Rather than tension over requesting time off, he was able to negotiate that in a culturally appropriate way because he had a better understanding of the cultural norms in this place that were different from where he was from.

Linda Ashar: That’s a great example. You could apply that concept, then, really, to one-on-one as you’ve explained it. And you started off by explaining that you could just identify a gap with just one other person.

Laura Kriska: Absolutely.

Linda Ashar: But group on group, leadership to teams that report to leadership. There’s all kinds of dynamics. It starts with awareness, and I think that’s your step one, recognition. It seems to me that’s the greatest challenge right there, is understanding that there is a gap that needs to be bridged.

Laura Kriska: I guess I feel, and I’m curious what you think, Linda. I feel like awareness, again, is higher than it’s ever been, with increased attention to diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Linda Ashar: Well, I don’t disagree with that. I think that there is a general social and cultural awareness of differences. I also think that that awareness makes people nervous and recessive about it.

And there may be, not for everybody, certainly not for you, but a disconnect between that general cultural awareness and a personal understanding of what you referred to as homogeneity. A person saying, “I believe in inclusiveness, I embrace inclusiveness, I’m not prejudiced,” but that same person saying that doesn’t associate with anyone. I’ll say it’s a white person because I’m a white person, I’m a white woman. Doesn’t associate with anyone who isn’t white, doesn’t associate with anyone who isn’t maybe a different religion. Pick your homogenous attributes, all right? And in other words, is not living outside the close, even though, intellectually and with all best intentions in a general sense, believes in inclusion. That’s where I think there is still a gap to be identified in day-to-day operations.

Laura Kriska: So I’m very keen to help people who are very much like me, like you, it sounds like, middle-aged, white people. I’m very keen to help them see that living a homogeneous life—I would even go as far to say a segregated, homogenous life—makes us complicit in a system that prioritizes whiteness.

Linda Ashar: That’s my concern. I wish I could’ve said it like that. But yes, I don’t think anyone realizes that and many people don’t have either the financial or demographic luxury of getting out and about physically, perhaps, as easily as they might to interact with differences.

Laura Kriska: Well, I’m going to say that there are non-white people all throughout our country. And what I notice in the news is when you have a majority white area, they want more unity, they hesitate, but you have a few highly vocal people who are fearful, that they prevent progress.

I’m thinking specifically last week, there was, in Wausau, I think that’s Wausau, Wisconsin, Marathon County. This was a news item. That area, I think there are 135,000 people, 91% white. The non-white population is mostly Black and Hmong. Am I saying it correctly? That immigrated.

And in this county, last year, this time, they were trying to promote racial harmony and so they started a campaign to have a community kind of campaign. And I think it started off as “No Place For Hate” or something like that and people were like, “Well, let’s not use the word hate,” and they’re like, “Okay, let’s adjust it,” and they, for a year, worked on language that simply stated that they promoted inclusion.

And in the end, this was voted down. They could not agree on this statement. I’ve written it down because it’s just been really bugging me, that this group of people could not agree that they wanted to, ready? “Achieve racial and ethnic equity to foster cross-cultural understanding and advocate for minority populations.”

Linda Ashar: We have a federal congress that has an element that can’t agree on that statement.

Yeah. Anybody who doesn’t see that our country prioritizes whiteness and that if you’re living a homogeneous, segregated life, that you are in some way complicit in that, I feel like that’s part of the problem.

But if you can’t get onboard with that simple statement, promoting fostering cultural awareness, advocating for minority populations. That apparently was too terrifying for certain members of this community, who just saw this as a zero sum game. They look at it as they would a loaf of bread. There’s not enough, right? There’s not enough for everyone.

And if we advocate for minority populations, there’s not going to be enough for me and people like me. And they’re so afraid, while they miss that having a larger group of people working toward the similar goals is not like a loaf of bread, it perpetuates more skills and innovation and co-operation. I find it really discouraging when I read about places like this.

Linda Ashar: That was my concern in an earlier statement that I made, was that people lack the means to get out and see more or hear more. They insulate themselves in that comfort bubble you referred to, and it’s a self-perpetuation.

Laura Kriska: But I’m going to say, Linda, I’m going to pivot toward what we started off with. The good news is that there are way more people who don’t isolate themselves and would support this very simple statement, so that’s really who I am focused on. I don’t want to spend my time and energy trying to convince people that it’s a good idea to support cross-cultural understanding and advocate for minority populations. If you can’t get onboard with that statement, you cannot be part of building a WE culture.

Linda Ashar: And that brings me to another question that was running through my mind. Bringing this back to running a business. If leadership is committed to WE-Building and there are people in the organization that resist it in a toxic way, should those people be separated from the business?

Laura Kriska: Well, I would say independent of a WE-Building initiative, if you have employees who are disrupting the productivity of the organization, why are they there?

Linda Ashar: Well, that’s a good question. Like you, I’ve been involved in working with businesses for over 30 years and I have seen businesses keep some toxic people because they were high-producers and profit silos, so that can be easier said than executed.

Laura Kriska: Fair enough. Yeah, I agree. It’s not an easy situation for leaders. And I think that when you model the behavior you want to see when you’re a top leader, that has such an impact on everybody else. And I think more and more toxic behavior, divisive behavior, things like sexually harassing people, being exclusive based on whatever factors of identity, is less and less acceptable, thank goodness.

And I notice, just with women in the workplace, you and I have come up in a generation where there were a lot of rules in place that were not in place the generation ahead of us, so we’ve benefited from that. And I’m sure we’ve kind of seen things that may have been tolerated in the past, but are absolutely not considered acceptable today.

And I see, in my children and what they consider right and appropriate behavior, is even more inclusive and less tolerant of toxic behavior. So I think, over time, the idea of keeping an employee whose behavior is maybe toxic and productive in terms of sales or whatever it is that that person does, it just becomes less and less attractive.

Linda Ashar: So the bottom line is, overall, good business is a greater consideration of what’s going on in the workplace than just how much sales we have. And perhaps those sales aren’t going to continue to be good if we have toxic workplace problems.

Laura Kriska: Yeah. And there was some news about the younger generation, that they really demand standards of inclusion like never before and will not tolerate, they won’t work in a place that isn’t inclusive, isn’t diverse, doesn’t have representation of different groups of people at the very top. And so if you’re an organization that is not responding to these needs, you may be losing out on some of the top talent in your industry.

Linda Ashar: Well, not only that, but just think of all the talent that you’re cutting out of your options by not wanting to have inclusion.

Laura Kriska: Yeah.

Linda Ashar: It’s a bit mind-boggling, but that’s my perspective, perhaps not everybody shares it, and it’s certainly why I liked your book so much. We’re working down to our conclusion of our podcast time. For wrap up, Laura, what would you add to what we’ve been saying to conclude here?

Laura Kriska: I want to inspire a WE-Building revolution, where individuals take action to bridge us versus gaps that are relevant in their lives so that we can create a safer, more welcoming and productive world. But I cannot do this alone. I need your help, Linda, I need the help of your listeners, I need the help of everybody because I really believe that if we work together, we can move away from division, uncertainty, fear and hate, and toward a cohesive, multiracial, multiethnic society that is successful, safe, welcoming and productive.

Linda Ashar: Excellent statement. Thank you so much for this time you’ve shared with us today. Excellent discussion.

Laura Kriska: Thank you.

Linda Ashar: Excellent book. I certainly recommend it to everyone, no matter what their business and personal pursuits are. I’ve certainly got a lot out of it and I will be using it in my classes.

Laura Kriska: Oh, thank you.

Linda Ashar: You’re more than welcome. Laura, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate everything that you’ve contributed to our podcast. I think maybe there’s another podcast in the future, if I can rope you in?

Laura Kriska: Well, thank you. It’s been great to be on your podcast and it’s been a delight to have this conversation with you today.

Linda Ashar: Well, I wish you well and much success with your book.

Dr. Linda C. Ashar is a full-time Associate Professor in the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in business, law, and ethics. She obtained her Juris Doctor from the University of Akron School of Law. Her law practice spans more than 30 years and includes business, employment law, and litigation on behalf of employers and employees.

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