“Can we talk about Black Lives Matter?”
This was the second time that week a white executive coaching client of mine had asked the same question. Like most of my clients, he wanted to participate in the movement. He wanted to leverage the resources of the company he had founded to do so. And he wasn’t sure how.
We talked about the many possible ways his company could help, including allocating time, money, equity, and rethinking internal policies. That conversation and others like it have been growing into a series of essays I’m working on now. The first dimension I’m writing about is time: how employees spend their work hours.
Let’s acknowledge that worrying about how employees at a startup spend their time is a very small part of a very large movement aimed at creating seismic, systemic change. That’s ok! Baby steps forward are still steps forward. Action leads to action. Start somewhere.
Give Your Employees Time to Be Activists
Activism is work! You can support that work by setting company or team-wide days off for people to do that work in whatever form they’re willing. Here are some ways you can do so:
- Designate specific volunteer time. For example, you might declare all Wednesday afternoons “volunteer time” in which company meetings are forbidden and employees are encouraged to do whatever civic work speaks to them, be that attending protests, calling their mayor’s office, or volunteering with a local educational nonprofit.
- Engage in activism-oriented team building. Offsites are a great way to come together outside of the quotidian workday to build trust as a team. Next time you schedule one, consider an activity that’s more meaningful than an escape room. There’s a lot of ways this could look: sign up for a Black Girls Code workshop, or get everyone on a virtual hangout and make masks for frontline workers. Note that you don’t have to figure out what this looks like on your own! A first activity could be to brainstorm ways your team can get involved.
- Carve out “Volunteer Time Off” hours. Volunteer Time Off is analogous to Paid Time Off: it’s time your employees can use to engage in civic activities while still getting paid. Establishing a separate pool of VTO hours that’s distinct from PTO hours can help send the message that you expect your employees to take time to volunteer and that this time doesn’t come at the expense of vacation time. To encourage this behaviour, consider establishing department or company-wide goals for the amount of VTO hours the team hits each quarter.
- Give employees time to vote. Electing progressive officials at the local, state and federal level is critical to building a more equitable country. Mark local and national election dates in the company calendar and prohibit meetings on those days. Different states have different laws regarding time off to vote; you can see a complete list of those laws here. Regardless of your company’s jurisdiction, consider adopting the most permissive of these policies: up to two paid hours off for voting.
- Lead by example. If you’re in a leadership position, it is imperative that you take advantage of your volunteer policies. Make this visible! Put it on your calendar, turn on an autoresponder telling people you won’t be answering emails today because you’re taking your VTO.
If you’ve got ideas for ways companies can leverage employee time not covered here, or specific organizations you recommend partnering with, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.