Tuajuanda C. Jordan, President
NAVAIR, Patuxent River, MD
April 20, 2017
Good morning! I would like to thank all of you for what you do to protect our service people world-wide and to keep us all safe. I especially want to thank Admiral Zarkowski for extending the invitation for an encore performance as a follow up to my January keynote, “A Dream Reimagined, and Chief Zeporah Dasher for her exceptional handling of all of the logistics. It is an honor coming back to PAX River and interacting with you.
Wednesday. November 9, 2016. 2:30 a.m. What did you feel? Fear? Delight? Angst? Relief? Hopelessness? Promise? Regardless of your political affiliation, few would argue that the recent election was much more divisive than previous elections. Those who felt fear, angst, and hopelessness worried about the state of our country and whether their identity was at stake. Those who felt delight, relief, and promise foresaw a new kind of country in which we could do away with “business as usual” and finally break through the political gridlock.
I remember the tenor of the country after the results of the election were publicized. Stories of divided families. Stories of mothers, fathers, children, in-laws, and friends who would not eat, drink, and spend the holidays together due to conflicting political beliefs. I also remember feeling that the country was at the cusp of what was and what is to come. Something new. Something progressive. Something resolute. On January 21, 2017, the day after the presidential inauguration, nearly 2.5 million people took to the streets in cities around the world to “stand for a decidedly different vision of America.” The Women’s March on Washington with its motto “our voice, our power, our vote,” galvanized masses of ordinary citizens who were concerned about women’s rights in the face of a newly-elected president whose views and actions suggested that he does not prioritize true gender equality.
So, perhaps you’re wondering, is there a silver lining here beyond the doom and gloom? I am here to tell you that there is, a very promising one. Some say that the recent election has divided the nation and taken us backward in terms of the ideals of tolerance and inclusion. However, if we probe a little deeper, we see that the election has simply brought many of the tough, contentious subjects to the surface. Illegal immigration, race relations, gender relations, education, the economy, international affairs – these are all areas in which we have a strong opinion as to how things should be done. If we change our perspective, we can see that all of the newfangled energy has channeled into something positive – an era of engaged citizenship. We are hopeful. We are resistant. We are resilient. Protective. Watchful. We are a movement, and we are speaking louder than before.
From 1948 to 1994, the country of South Africa was in a state of major unrest due to apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation. Known for his commitment to civil rights, Senator Robert Kennedy visited the country in June of 1966. During his five-day stay, he “drew powerful parallels between the systems of racial inequality” in South Africa and the United States and “urged the possibility of transformation” to create a just and equitable society. On June 6, at the University of Cape Town, Kennedy delivered what is now known as the “Ripple of Hope” speech. In the following excerpt, he speaks to the responsibility each and every one of us has as citizens to do our part in ablating social injustice:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
What powerful words that resonate so true in the current climate. What do they tell us? They tell us that change for the better is difficult and sometimes costly. Doing what is right is not always easy. Most importantly though, Kennedy’s words are a call to action. As citizens, it is our responsibility to speak out against injustice, support our causes, and fight for what we believe in. Kennedy’s message is one of unity.
Maybe you’re thinking that this sounds good in terms of personal environments, but what can we do to foster an inclusive environment in the workplace that is respectful of differing views?
First, let us dispel a myth that seems to be prevalent in this post-election period and that is that the decline in civility and respect for others was constructed by the current presidential administration. As I mentioned during my keynote in January, we have been in crisis mode – although at times barely perceptible – for at least a decade now. The lack of civility and respect for others is a deep-seated problem in our nation and world. Native American subjection. Slavery in America. Jewish persecution. Apartheid. 21st-century harassment of underrepresented groups. Each of these is evidence of the lack of tolerance in our world. Prolonged and sustained crisis leads to eventual uprising, which is what we see today in grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter.
Anyone here familiar with Victorian literature? Oscar Wilde? If I were to make an analogy, I would liken the increased visibility of incivility to Dorian Gray uncovering his portrait all those years later – after a life of debauchery – and being frightened by what he sees. Taking the analogy further, I would add that if we cannot bear to see what we have become as a nation, we need to take part in our reform.
A survey conducted in 2016 by the American Psychological Association reveals that more than 1 in 4 employees have been negatively affected by workplace conversations on the presidential election. More than 1 in 4 Millennials who completed the survey reported that political debates led to workplace hostility. Most of us would agree that the recent campaign and election was much more divisive than those in the recent past. However, as leaders, employees, and citizens, we need to learn to manage partisanship to prevent it from having a negative impact on our organizations in terms of productivity, morale, and retention.
During my last presentation, I noted several themes that are useful in creating an inclusive environment that respects differing views. These themes are applicable to creating an inclusive environment in the workplace:
- Diversity is a central, enduring, and distinctive organizational attribute – not solely the responsibility of the chief diversity officer
- Accommodation should be the rule and not the exception, creating openness to change and efficacy for change efforts
- Respecting difference is a necessity, not a nicety, which translates into openness to others and the development of interpersonal competence
- Learning is continuously required, which translates into openness to error and efficacy for continuous improvement
- The physical structure of the workplace, organizational structure, and policies reinforce the centrality of inclusion and creates person-environment fit
- No place is completely immune to challenges in managing differences
Two of these points appear to be quite germane to the necessity of managing partisanship to prevent it from having a negative impact on our organizations and those are
- Respecting difference is a necessity … which translates into openness to others, and
- Continuous learning translates into openness to error and efficacy for continuous improvement
The challenge is, how do we get to the so-called openness? How do we as leaders and managers and team players develop an environment in which there is mutual respect for others and the desire for continuous learning so that we can all be better humans? I know the quick answer is that we must lead by example. But, “we”, too, are only human and “we”, too, will experience moments when we just want to say what’s really on our minds and in our hearts. Is it possible to separate the emotional from the rational?
The other day, just Friday to be exact, I was giving the keynote at a science education conference, and I was to speak on the subject of collaboration across boundaries. As is oft the case these days, I started discussing the state of the human condition. This time, my musings led me to Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was the prime minister of India from 1947 to 1964. He is credited with creating a national mindset that took the country from being a so-called third-world country to really what is an emerging first-world country in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 1950, he coined the phrase “scientific temper” which has the attributes of creativity, rational thinking, openness to different points of view, and tolerance of others.
“The scientific temper describes an attitude (that) involves the application of logic. Discussion, argument, and analysis are vital parts of scientific temper. Elements of fairness, equality, and democracy are built into it.”
If we could develop the “scientific temper” mindset in our work environments, could we really move our country beyond the partisanship we are currently experiencing? Would we create an environment where all voices can be heard and all voices are willing to be heard because they know even before they open their mouths that they will be listened to respectfully and the listener will be open to the presented point of view even if it is very different from their own?
Effective leaders are adept at allowing all voices to be heard within the proper forum. This type of approach channels emotions and feelings into something constructive that can serve as a learning and growing experience.
Let me give an example. At St. Mary’s College, we held a campus-wide conversation directly after the election due to the unsettled sentiment among students, faculty, and staff on campus that was mirrored across the country. As long as the participants were respectful of others, it did not matter which candidate they had supported or which side they were on. We allowed an open session where they could voice their feelings candidly without fear of censure. You would be surprised how far just listening and allowing others to be heard goes. It breaks down barriers, allows the healing process to begin, and strengthens communities.
In his “Ripple of Hope” speech, Robert Kennedy goes on to lay out a world vision. The promise of something greater, brighter, and more sustainable if we would learn to be engaged citizens, willing to speak up against injustice.
“I think that we would agree on what kind of a world we would all want to build. “It would be a world of independent nations, moving toward international community, each of which protected and respected the basic human freedoms. It would be a world which demanded of each government that it accept its responsibility to ensure social justice. It would be a world of constantly accelerating economic progress – not material welfare as an end in itself, but as a means to liberate the capacity of every human being to pursue his talents and to pursue his hopes. It would, in short, be a world that we would be proud to have built.”
Here, more than 50 years later, we are still working towards a world that we are proud of. A world in which underrepresented groups – whether in terms of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic status – are free to be comfortable in their own skin. It is a work that will continue.
The overwhelming response of Americans who have donated to causes since the election is telling. A Washington Post article published three weeks after the election lists several nonprofits whose patronage has soared in the wake of the election. Within a few weeks of the election, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union received more than $15 million from over 241,000 donors. By comparison, within a few weeks of the 2012 presidential election, it had received less than $28,000. Other nonprofits, including the Trevor Project, Planned Parenthood, and the Anti-Defamation League, have seen similar exponential increases in support.
This type of response means that people are mobilizing. More people are paying attention. More people are compelled to get involved. How do we ensure that this momentum is sustained in the future? We need to continue to engage the younger generation – the Millennials – who will be the ones who carry the torch. The younger generation has a very different perspective and outlook than previous generations. Millennials, born between 1979 and 2000, are unique. Among other things, Millennials are realistic, tenacious, and seek meaningful work. They need structure and supervision and thrive in decentralized environments that leave room for a work-life balance.
How do previous generations differ from Millennials? Gen X’ers (born between 1965 and 1978) are independent, pragmatic, and impatient. They tend to be unintimidated by authority and support the expression of individual space. Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are optimistic, collaborative, driven, and relationship focused. They also tend to be technologically challenged, reluctant to disagree with peers, and centralized.
In order to sustain the momentum of our engaged citizenship, diverse generations – who each hold different values, morals, dreams, and desires – must understand each other and be able to work together for a common cause – whatever it may be. Each of us in our personal and professional lives has a responsibility to seek out opportunities in our communities to make our voices heard. It is part of being a responsible citizen.
Organizations can support this multigenerational exchange by designing their workspaces to enable a communication and knowledge transfer between the older and younger generations. Several strategies to foster this type of environment include:
- Support mobility by making workplaces more flexible and multipurpose. Staff should have a range of work settings to choose from and have easy access to collaboration with colleagues.
- Foster collaboration by acknowledging the increasing importance of the office as a space for social and interactive engagement. Provide balance between collective and individual spaces.
- Take advantage of technology to deliver maximum efficiencies. Technology connects people and ideas and pushes the boundaries of time and space.
- Adapt HR structure and culture by ensuring that policies foster a balance between instruction and inspiration. Remember that more guidance and less control lead to less stress, more creativity, and greater output.
For years, we have been hoping, praying, fighting for change. Now we have it. Change is here. For better or for worse, America has awakened, and we are speaking louder than before. Let us do our part and join the movement.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you again. I look forward to our continued collaboration.
 Raymond, L. (2016, January 22). The silver lining for progressives following Trump’s victory. ThinkProgress. Retrieved from https://thinkprogress.org.
 History Channel. Visions of change: Robert F. Kennedy and the “Ripple of Hope.” Retrieved from www.history.com.
 Petrillo, L. (2016). Presidential election is stressing out workers, hurting productivity: APA says more than 1 in 4 employees have been negatively affected. HRNews. Retrieved from http://proquest.com.
 Groggins, A., & Ryan, A. (2013). Embracing uniqueness: The underpinnings of a positive climate for diversity. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, (86), 264-282.
 Nehru, Jawaharial (1989). The Discovery of India.
 “Scientific temper and the argumentative Indian”. Chennai, India: The Hindu. 22 September 2005
 Itkowitz, C. (2016, November 30). ‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com.
 Bennett, J., Pitt, M., & Price, S. (2012). Understanding the impact of generational issues in the workplace. Emerald Insight, 278-288.