Chhavi Chauhan | September 25, 2018
No two individuals of the >7.4 billion humans are identical in appearance, aptitude, emotional IQ, physical and mental wellbeing, and their personal and professional stature. I wonder if the human mind unconsciously seeks ways of sorting the gazillion people we come across in various walks of life. And if so, what does equality then mean to each one of us?
Empathy Embraces (In)Equality
Do we automatically get up to offer our seats on a crowded commuter train when we see a pregnant woman or a mom with an infant enter?
Do we offer a smile and hold the door of the elevator, even when we are in a rush, when a stressed individual who seems to be struggling with a disability is trying to slowly get in?
Do we pause for a few minutes and heartily offer unsolicited advice to help a slightly older individual who seems to be frantically trying to embrace some sort of technology?
Do every time we come across a (single) parent juggling groceries while the kid(s) hang on to her/his arm, we feel the need to offer help by holding the door open or proposing to pick up the groceries?
Do our hearts ever fill up with empathy when we see an appreciative guardian trying to meet the needs of a special kid; pouring her/his heart out unconditionally?
These, often intuitive, decisions are guided by human empathy that most of us regularly practice in our everyday lives.
Professionalism versus Performance
Have you ever have to work with ….
an expecting mother with several OB/GYN appointments?
a new or single parent who tends to need personal time more often?
a parent who has kids with special needs and hence needs flexible work hours?
a colleague who had to work while suffering with a disability that seems to slow her/him down?
a coworker who is juggling work while taking care of a parent/spouse in dire need of help, of course, whom s(he) cannot abandon at the cost of keeping a job?
or an older individual who is extremely wise and experienced but seems to be as technologically challenged as I am on most days?
I bet you saw a few images/recalled a few scenes already by now.
Please take a moment to analyze these scenarios; what REALLY stands out in your mind? And hold that thought….a while longer.
A Moment to Ponder
Were your thoughts related to their performance, or lack thereof? Were your thoughts about the quality of their work? Were your thoughts about them struggling to maintain a work-life balance or even keeping their cool? Were your thoughts on the amount of work that was apparent to come your way due to their situation?
OR were your thoughts on finding innovative ways to empower them to perform optimally and to regain control of their lives?
The Unfortunate “Workplace Culture”
If your thoughts were any one of the above but the last, then you are victims of the unfortunate workplace culture like the majority of us.
Integrating Empathy and Professionalism
Despite being the most empathetic souls, I wonder how often and to what extent do we rely on our emotional quotient in a professional setting. Are our decisions at work guided by the immense volume of work we are expected to handle under strict timelines? Or are they driven by a desire to realize and exploit our emotional quotient and empower us as well as our colleagues to deliver under all circumstances, despite all sorts of personal and professional challenges and oddities?
In my mind, there is no reason why each one of us should not feel similar compassion, empathy, or the urge to assist a colleague when we know someone is expecting, on maternal leave, juggling work (alone) with responsibilities with young kids, assisting parents/kids with special needs, fighting with a disability. There is no reason why we should not be automatically compelled to take a moment to consider ways of supporting these individuals to help them perform up to their caliber to achieve the professional stature that they rightfully deserve.
I wonder if an individual with decision-making ability inevitably determines that an individual (as listed in instances above) might have a lot more transient personal responsibilities that (s)he subconsciously decides they might not be a good (productive) fit for a job that is tailor-made for them or for which they have shown their worth over and over again? Are professional growth opportunities instinctively denied to some individuals because of how the current workplace culture has categorized them? Do capable individuals often suffer by losing growth opportunities due to a lack of effective policies to empower employees? Does a leader choose to offer a strategic position to someone less capable or deserving because of the attached stigma of anticipated average performance by even a high performer given the (untoward, in their mind, in terms of perceived productivity) circumstances?
I strongly believe that these subconscious but apparently deep-rooted biases in current workplace culture can be easily toppled by embracing and exhibiting empathy. One sure-shot way to achieve success would be to bring equality for all performers and embracing diversity at ALL professional levels.
Inclusion Is My Conclusion
I have routinely worked with several colleagues with the majority of the mentioned challenges and we have constantly (proudly) innovated to improve efficiencies. Providing an unbiased equal opportunity platform for each and every team player not only allows them to realize their potential but also empowers them to reach new heights despite constraints. Time and time again, my team and I have collectively out-performed ourselves and each one of us has happily embraced the opportunities that resulted from these collaborative efforts. I most certainly attribute my professional sanity to embracing inclusion!
Chhavi Chauhan is the Director of Scientific Affairs at the American Society for Investigative Pathology and serves as a Scientific Editor for The American Journal of Pathology and The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. She is a passionate researcher who transitioned into scholarly publishing to effectively communicate dense science to masses.
Join Chhavi Chauhan when she presents Making Telecommuting Work: An Interactive Discussion of Best Practices, an SSP regional event at Research Square, October 25, 2018, 3:00-5:00 pm.
Originally published by the Workplace Equity Project.