Posted by: danielrashke | June 8, 2020

Leading with Empathy, Standing for Justice

The progression of my voice with respect to this subject was as follows. First, let others voice. I needed to listen. I also had a responsibility to use my voice. I had an all employee live company podcast this past Wednesday and that I felt TASC employees were deserving to hear from me before we moved externally, and I focused on the webcast and them. Now this blog, which will follow a similar track as the webcast to TASC employees.

TASC is always focused on its business objectives. In company webcasts I have used I+, G+ and E+ to represent the positive that comes from us executing on our Initiatives, achieving our Goals and the Economic gain to come from that…for them. With the pandemic I needed to put a C- and E- in front of all that to represent the negatives of Covid-19 and Economic downturn, so we hit it head on and remain committed to getting through the C- and E- to get to the plusses.

Here we are again needing to confront the negatives in our society. D-, R- and I-. Discrimination. Racism. Injustice. We need to address these head on with hopes of getting to the C+. The result must be positive Change. We have a portion of our employee webcasts entitled Bravos and Victories. In this case the Victory is still too far off, and we will need a lot of positive change to reach that point.

Voice and Vote are the two other ‘Vs’ that jump out at me.

I want to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd and to the millions of Americans who are angry and hurting as a result of this injustice and the many injustices before this. I am distraught by recent events and the systemic racism and discrimination plaguing our society. Words matter. Your words matter. Voice matters. Your voice matters. You matter.

I am unwavering in my commitment to my employees, my peers and my community. We will make the necessary changes to bring unity and justice to our neighbors who have been betrayed by our choices.

This isn’t a matter of wanting to speak out, we have a duty to speak out. If we don’t, we continue to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.

My history with race and racism started in my family and my community when I was about 6 years old. Born in Milwaukee, having moved to a dairy farm in central WI when I was an infant, it was not until my family hosted a black family from Milwaukee to stay with us on the farm that I had ever seen anyone of color. They went to school with us and experienced rural life. While there were no material negative events during their time with us, or at least none visible to my eye, I could see a difference in how they were perceived by others. In my eye and my mind’s eye, I saw that they were different than me, but so was everyone else. I did see the color of their skin, but it was just another attribute of difference from me.

As I became a teenager, I started to become more aware or racism and discrimination. Some of which was experienced in my own extended family. I did not like or agree with it; I also did not understand the full impact on people’s lives. I also did not know what it may have been doing to shape me and my perspective. I did not take a stand or use my voice then. As a young teenager, I felt I was not in a position to speak out against it.

Fast forward 35+ years and in March of 2017, I stood on a stage to address the employees of TASC and said. “Unusual times. Uncertainty. Confusion. Fear. Change can bring about different emotions. It is a new day with a new political landscape. As in the past, the political landscape will shape or further solidify how we behave. Immigration is a hot topic and with all that comes with it, it raises the subject of inclusiveness. Regardless of what takes place around us, Patti and I as owners of TASC and myself as CEO will always strive for a diverse and inclusive environment and workforce. It will include a safe and positive environment with neutrality when it comes to opportunities at it relates to race, color, religions, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and national origin.”

In fall of 2019 I signed a pledge of diversity and inclusion. As I look back and reread it, it does not go far enough, but it is another step in the right direction.  In March of 2020 I once again took the stage and to the roughly one thousand members of our organization, I spoke of a system of inclusion which tied to our values, mission and desire for diverse, equitable and inclusive TASC community. We have diversity at TASC, but it is the equitable and inclusive parts I am most concerned with.

So here we are now on the backdrop of a pandemic where more injustices that existed in the shadows for black people are coming to light. Coupled with a series of recent injustices that have been widely seen (only because there was a recording, which is only the tip of the injustices iceberg), including but not limited to the death of Mr. Floyd. I know people can say ‘bad apples’, ‘bad processes/systems’, etc. I get that. In fact, good. If these are the problems, THEN FIX IT!

Which takes me to ‘why are they not already fixed?’. There are so many reasons why. There is a bigger issue of systemic racism, systemic injustice, a greater divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and a problem in our leadership. Leadership in government, leadership in business and leadership in our communities.

We need change. For the better. When I became involved in United Way the then executive director would talk about ‘changing the human condition’ and I would automatically add ‘for the better’. The victory is in the ‘change for the better’ (C+). This outcome, from whatever inputs and outputs it will take, is one of many outcomes we need to lead us to our desired result of a diverse, equitable and inclusive society.

As I eluded to earlier, in the webcast we report on victories. To get this V for Victory we need two other Vs. V for VOICE. We should all use our voice and raise our voice for positive change. If you find yourself needing to be thoughtful and if you don’t speak up right away, or maybe even choose to be silent, I get it and will not judge your extended silence as complicit. But you can still be respectful and supportive of those who speak up. If you do find yourself remaining silent, I ask that you really do some soul searching.

I have heard some of the silent break that silence on certain aspects of the protests. They talk about the protests and property damage, etc. They are not silent then. I ask that you not put form over substance.  I am not going to condone violence or property damage, but my ask is that we make sure we are talking about what is important and not just what is interesting. Let’s not focus on what is important to us without gaining a deeper understanding of what is important to others, especially currently for black people.

I do believe that if you remain silent, you are something, if not complicit. Martin Luther King had hit on this point on many occasions; “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people, but we will also have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.” “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

V is for VOTE! If change is needed and it is leadership that is responsible for such change when it comes to government leadership your vote matters. Do your homework on your leaders. Do so with creditable sources of information and verify the information. If you don’t see your leaders in government making the changes to combat these problems, or worse yet, they are furthering the problems for their own gain, vote. Vote them out and vote new leadership in.

I am a believer in people being able to reach higher, but not at the expense of keeping others down. When there is a level playing field, it is understood that there will be a different form of discrimination; one of performance. TASC is a business and capitalism is not all bad. We will favor high-performance.

So, what am I going to do? So, what is TASC going to do? As a leader in my community and my organization, I will not tolerate discrimination. I will listen to what others have to say and I will use my voice to be heard on the issues that we have failed on and to defend and demand justice for the people who we have failed.

Words are powerful but we must act. I will not tolerate any behavior relative to creating or enabling an unjust environment for our employees. We will continue to work on inclusiveness and embracing diversity; creating and bringing equal opportunity at our table regardless of our differences.

We cannot claim that all lives matter until black lives matter and until all the lives of those who are oppressed in this country matter as much as those with the most power and the loudest voices. We need leaders who fight for unity, not divide against it.

Our system is broken. It’s a learning process for us all. I continue to evolve and listen and learn and I humbly admit that I don’t have all the answers; but I’m willing to seek them out and work hard to bring justice and equality where I can, and I look to you to do the same.

I’m going to use my voice and my power for good. I am going to be honest with myself and with you that I don’t have all the answers, but I have the heart. I will see change through in my business, my relationships and my community and I will walk with those who have been wronged and who are oppressed to be a leader and vote for leaders who value this country and the people in it the way that I do.

A review of TASC policies, procedures, guiding principles, etc. needs to occur to ensure that they don’t work against us in this endeavor. We will then audit and test to see that the behavior of the organization, in its leadership and in its people, are being held accountable to the expected behaviors. TASC will also explore and afford TASC employees a way to participate in learning and social activism activities. We already allocate time for volunteerism and innovation, and we have made modifications to these in light of the pandemic, so we will determine what modifications could be made to support our TASC community in this crisis.

What am I not going to do? I won’t tell you how to feel. I won’t tell you how to act, other than my ask of you in this message. I will not encourage violent or destructive behavior, but I do understand how it can come from a place of anger and despair.  I realize that everyone’s ‘how’ is different. The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ should not be that different.

I sought out much advice and counsel. I started with my own thoughts, and then discussed with Patti.  This is very personal and very emotional. Some of that emotion overflowed into places I did not expect it, nor did I want it to, including the webcast. But as I look back and after the feedback, I received I am glad it did.

This change is needed for equality and justice and it must start from a change in both heart and mind. We then need to be address it in our homes as we teach and guide the next generation to instill further change. After 350+ years we saw 1964, and now almost 60 years later, we are still not where we need to be. This needs to be multi-generational. Given I am coming to you from a TASC CEO blog I would also say it has to further permeate into commerce. Hopefully, from all those places we see societal change. There lies our victory.  I will leave you with the advice given to me from my daughter, Tia. It may be the type of advice many of you need to hear.

“Surely, you should speak from the heart and truth-tell. In my understanding, ’this injustice’” was murder incentivized by historic police power and impunity. Give specific examples for how you will ’be in solidarity’ through actions, not just say you are in solidarity through thoughts of your black employees and the people of color oppressed by systemic racism. Open yourself as a leader to accountability from your employees and community rather than asking your employees to trust that you hold yourself accountable. Consider how office dynamics within your organization silence voices of color and perpetuate white supremacy (I know lots of [white] people have a difficult time swallowing this language, but it’s a reality). The protests/riots this weekend and week are about so much more than thoughts and prayers and remembrance; it’s about expressing anger and a desire for a more just society, more just distribution of power and privilege, more just political leadership, more just community policing and accountability, etc.

But, like I said, you must be authentic to yourself if you’re going to share something ‘controversial’ that you’re willing to stand behind (and take minor risk for). What does justice mean and look like to you? What are some personal, interpersonal, institutional, societal/cultural paths toward this vision? (But you don’t have to be as articulate as MLK.) My recommendation is that you consider opening yourself and your power and your institutional policies up to critique, acknowledging that you too benefit from a system/culture that hurts so many others.“



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