The importance of fostering a safe and inclusive workplace culture
Natosha Edmonds

February 21, 2021

(A personal blog by Natosha Edmonds)

This morning I watched a video posted by Deputy Clyde Kerr III shortly before taking his life, and this tragedy has been heavy on my heart. It’s so profound because while he describes a system that failed him his words also served to illuminate the suffering that happen when people feel trapped, working in a company culture or system that doesn’t support or value them. It made me think about the many people who may have barriers to traditional employment and the importance of building, participating, and fostering a safe and healthy workplace.

 

My first Impressions at Ventures
I’m entering into my third year of employment here and depending on who you talk to I wasn’t sure I would stay more than a month… it was just different at Ventures. It had this mildly unsettling mystery and yet this sort of endearing-playful-simplistic-messiness to it. I mean no HR Department? I’m a person of color working somewhere with no HR department? I don’t know, I was feeling a little skeptical at first. Then once the skepticism passed I was a little uncomfortable to be honest, I mean who do I talk to advocate for me if there is, you know, one of those problems? No employee manual, and my supervisor just went into labor and was on maternity leave, so I had this temporary kind-of supervisor it was weird, I’m not going to lie. But I actually liked these people, and I had to trust in the culture and trust that I had a mindset that could contribute to improving and shaping the culture I wanted to see.

 

The anomaly
I’m an observer first, going about my job, but observing. Like how do people talk to each other? Can I be myself? Can I just be Tosh, and all of the energy that comes with just being Tosh? Luckily I had some experience working with organizations with nontraditional company cultures. So I was open, I worked with this company that was serious about their company culture. I mean we had healthy snacks everyday twice a day, mindfulness practices, a meditation room, work from home, yoga retreats, cooking retreats, team building, seminars on emotional intelligence, an entire office-wide annual joy campaign, we held a flash mob for our co-worker. I mean they even co-sponsored a talk with the Dalai Lama. It was diverse, I felt well represented and I felt for the most part safe at that company. I also knew I could not work for or operate a company that didn’t demonstrate the same level of care with regard to the culture they create and the employees who worked for them. Ultimately it had to be a place where I felt safe. Safe to be me, safe to share my thoughts concerns and feelings, safe to vent when I needed to vent, safe to cry if I needed to cry, safe to balance my work and life, a space to feel safe just growing as a human.

The Summer of George Floyd, I was not Ok.
My time at Ventures hasn’t always been rainbows and lollipops. There have been some tough conversations to navigate, and opportunities for growth and deeper understandings and vulnerability and genuine rawness. I think back on the Summer of George Floyd or the Summer of 2020, and the pandemic, and just having these moments where the trauma of an entire lifetime came to the surface. Not only for me, but for almost every African American in America, and around the globe. I was not Ok.

I think people processed that pain in a number of different ways, therapy, loved ones, art, protesting, etc. What I know for me, is that a large portion of that process included the people who worked directly with me. During the lock down like most people my social circle became pretty small, really quick and most of my communication with other humans were with my work colleagues. I think had we as an organization not taken the time in advance to foster the culture and community we have, I think 2020 would have looked very different for me.

 

I realized in the aftermath of 2020 and even more so after watching Deputy Clyde’s video that organizations have to do more to carefully craft their culture from the selection process all the way down. For me I was blessed and it was a crucial part of my journey through 2020 as a person of color to work at an organization where I felt emotionally safe to just cry. I remember I had an entire hour long meeting ugly crying and some venting (let’s just be honest).

Authentic human connection

Ultimately this really speaks to a culture that fosters genuine human connection in a way that transcends the obstacles of technology, the craziness of society, and all the trauma it brings. Watching the Clyde video my heart breaks for the impacts his job had on him and that many people feel trapped in organizations that are abusive or traumatizing. I think it’s important for organizations to realize that it takes more than meeting a diversity quotient or offering diversity trainings and even having an HR department. Organizations have to craft a culture which fosters meaningful human connection and genuine emotional safety. I think of other people of color across a variety of occupations who don’t feel heard, who don’t feel valued and feel trapped every day. We spend half of our waking hours on average at work, it only makes sense that we ensure our working environments feel emotionally safe and positive, and that we as colleagues, and leaders have to understand that the impacts of unhealthy work environments are catastrophic. So when companies say Black Lives Matter they have to understand that the workplace environment impacts the lives of people of color, it has real tangible impacts on people’s well-being and their lives.

Listening to the words of Deputy Kerr, I think we all have an obligation to each other in the workplace. Ultimately since human decency can’t be manufactured it takes finding good people, and carefully nurturing that community in healthy ways, I know for me, I know it, when I see it. So I have to applaud the two organizations that foster inclusive and safe workplace cultures and Hopelab Foundation and Ventures get my stamp of approval.