Leading with empathy, kindness and accountability

The past few months have been unlike any others. First, the pandemic changed our lives almost overnight. Then we saw a global outpouring of anger and sadness following the death of George Floyd. Now is not a time to stand back and wait; it’s a time to take action.

It’s time for all of us to talk about what we can do inside our workplaces, to be there for one another in moments like this. But how?

As a CHRO I have a platform and with that comes both privilege and a deep responsibility, and I have professional and personal perspectives on where work starts and ends, and where life picks up. Regardless of those perspectives and the reach of that platform, the realities of a global workforce means it’s absolutely essential to really, deeply think about what each of us as individuals can do.

Leading with empathy, kindness and accountability is non-negotiable.

How do we create forums to listen to each community and what is needed in moments like this?

Having grown up half-Japanese in Sweden, I know what it’s like to be the only person who looks like me in the room. But I don’t know what it’s like to be Black, and I’ve never directly experienced the way that systemic racism impacts the day-to-day lives of Black employees. So when it comes to talking about race in the workplace, I don’t always get it right. I’m sure that’s the case for many in HR leadership. But it’s our responsibility to figure it out.

We’ll likely make mistakes along the way, and get some things wrong, but we aren’t here to be cautious, if change is our constant we have to change too. It will be uncomfortable for so many reasons and for so many people, but that isn’t a reason not to talk about you i) not knowing, ii) not having all facts, iii) not totally understanding.

This approach is something I’ve discussed with Nadya Powell, Emma Mainoo and Tolu Farinto at Utopia several times last year and something that has helped us to listen, and to talk.

Now, when it’s an emotional and traumatic time for the community, ask how you can provide support. Be vulnerable and admit that you’re not sure how to best support. I’m lucky in that way – our ERG BLK@Spotify, my Black mentor, and my Black team members, are all providing me with new and much needed points of view, feelings and experiences, challenging my thinking and my beliefs in the process. But it’s not my Black colleagues responsibility to educate me, so I’m reading up on anti-racist work and me and the team are prepared to do the work. Coming to terms with your privilege is hard, but it is necessary to do, as is allowing the feelings that come along with it.

How can we be even more intentional, and lead with empathy?

What happens outside of our offices affects the way any of us show up at work whether we like it or not. You’ve heard it before – people bring their whole selves to work – what that really means is that they bring their experiences from outside as well as their professional identity. The impact of the world with all its injustices, racism and inequality, amplifies our discomfort and increases our self-awareness. Together, we can navigate this, but we won’t be able to do that if we assume that those experiences get left at the door. Instead, we have to expand ourselves to understand and even embrace all those experiences – even if they are unpleasant, or even in many cases, we find them horrific.

This is and will continue to be an emotional journey, so channel your emotions to propel your actions. We have to stand with our people and validate humanity by communicating directly and personally. Be vulnerable, you don’t have all the answers but know this; when we close off because we don’t understand, or find it difficult to relate to what our friends and colleagues are facing, it can be experienced as exclusion or even isolation. Be an effective ally and learn and listen as much as possible. As managers, we should engage with our team members on these topics and show up for one another demonstrating empathy not just for our families and friends, but also with employees and our workplace. Leading with empathy, kindness and accountability.

How can we embrace allyship fully?

A little more than a year ago, we had our annual Inclusion Summit in New York. Being convinced that allyship is central to creating inclusion and belonging, and since all of us want to be good allies but most are unsure exactly how, we decided we would invite attendees to explore allyship, with the theme of “Bring One, Be One: The Power of Allyship”. It allowed us to dive a little deeper into learning about our own privileges and the systemic inequalities that exist. Isa Notermans, our Global Head of Diversity & Belonging, wrote a blog post about the event in May 2019.

My biggest take away from the event was one of our keynote speakers Kenji Yoshino emphasising that the real magic of allyship lies in how we commit to change the error and move forward. There are a lot of us who want to learn how to change the error now. I hope we all remember, in our day-to-day, what real allyship looks like and not just optical allyship. For example, intervene in moments of bias, speak up not for others (use your own voice as an ally, rather than speaking for somebody else and removing their power), sponsor when those voices are not in the room and validate the experiences of our colleagues. We need to keep supporting and continue our work after the attention has passed.

How are we making a long term impact and affecting change?

A call for action has been in place for quite some time, but it is painfully clear that a much sharper long-term strategy is very much needed. And yes, it’s really important to take a stance externally, after all there is no neutral position on racism, and the more people that add their voice, the stronger the collective voice becomes. This is not the time to quit – for sure.

I’m incredibly proud to work for a company that will take a public stance around the injustices happening in our world today and couple it with real action within our walls. We’re very fortunate to have a trusted ERG in BLK@Spotify and we’ve been having very open and honest discussions about how to improve, impact and their recommendations for progress.

As a company with a platform, Spotify took part in Black Out Tuesday on June 2nd, standing with Black creators to help amplify their voices and accelerate meaningful conversations. We blacked-out channels, playlist and podcasts; and several playlists featured an 8 minute, 46 second track of silence as a solemn acknowledgement of the length of time George Floyd was suffocated. We shifted the focus of ‘The Window’ podcast to feature Black storytellers, and our Black Lives Matter playlist grew from 40k to 850k followers in the course of a week.

We did this hand-in-hand with internal action. Offering support to our Spotifiers to look after their mental wellbeing is always a priority high up on the list for us. And we recognised that many of our Black band members and others might be more heavily impacted by these circumstances, so we partnered with several mental health organisations to provide additional therapy sessions and ongoing support with race-aware mental health providers.

We encouraged employees around the world to observe Black Out Tuesday by dedicating the day to reflection and education, and we shared a plethora of resources for Spotifiers to do exactly that, from articles on what it means to be an effective ally to the Black community, to recommended podcasts, and encouragement of all Spotifiers buying books (on us) to educate themselves on the subject and support tending to their mental wellbeing.

Following Black Out Tuesday, we invited all Spotifiers to come together as a global community for a facilitated discussion about racial injustice. A way to keep the discussion going, allow allies to find their way of supporting the Black community, and give our Black employees a voice and a platform to share their experiences and opinions if they want to.

We’re also putting our money where our mouth is – showing support in a financial form is needed right now, so we’re matching financial donations made by employees to organizations focused on the fight against racism; injustice; inequity; and driving meaningful change.

The future – Juneteenth

This won’t be the end of the discussion at Spotify. One way that we’ve ensured this (along with several other companies), is by making Juneteenth a Spotify-recognized holiday in the U.S.

When we first heard the calls for Juneteenth to become a corporate holiday, we looked to our Flexible Public Holiday benefit. We did this because our standard practice is to observe all official national holidays in each country where we operate, and then offer the benefit as a way for Spotifiers to celebrate the days that mean most to them. But this time it’s different. We realized that in a just world, Juneteenth would already be a national holiday. We have an opportunity to give this day the recognition it deserves, and so we will.

Now is not the time for silence

Now it is our responsibility to address these issues beyond just one day, and leading with empathy, kindness and accountability has been my way of putting my best foot forward in this situation.

As support for the Black community continues to evolve, we hope that these initial steps and actions will help push these conversations forward, promote deeper allyship, and usher in positive and lasting changes.

We must all stand in solidarity with the Black community. We must all fight against systemic racism, injustice and inequality. We must all contribute to the positive change that needs to be made.

Not just externally, but internally too.

Not just today, but every day, until all Black lives matter.