Welcome to the Participation Age (or Participation, Power and Respect)

By | October 20, 2011

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One of my most popular presentations is entitled Speak Up Speak Out: Personal Power and Respect at Work. As the title suggests, the goal of the workshop is to inspire, empower and educate people to speak up when they have concerns and conflicts at work, particularly when faced with power based behaviors like harassment and bullying.

I developed this session as a direct response to what I experience repeatedly in my work as a Respectful Workplace Solutions Expert. The most common response that people have when on the receiving end of disrespectful behaviour is to put up with it, to say nothing and hope that it will go away. Problem is it rarely does. While creating a respectful workplace is the ultimate fix for such issues, many of us don’t have the luxury of waiting. I want to ensure people that they can make a different choice, a choice to speak up respectfully about the problems they may be facing.

I often end those presentations with this quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Recently a small group of American citizens made a choice to speak up. They are speaking up about the very issues I focus on in my work:  equality, respect and power. Three weeks later the Wall St. protest movement has spread within the US and now beyond its borders. Protests are planned for major Canadian as well as European cities.

I just watched an interview with a high profile conservative businessman and Canadian media personality, known for saying things like greed is good and the only thing better than money is more money. Not surprisingly he dismisses what is going on in New York as the ravings of a few disgruntled people who see an opportunity to get themselves on YouTube. He does not believe that these protests will change anything, mainly because his perspective is that nothing needs to be changed.

As I listened I couldn’t help thinking about Marie Antoinette and another infamous quote: “Let them eat cake.”

Personally I think that anyone currently in a position of power should be sitting up and taking notice. I share the perspective of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who contends that we are poised for another momentous shift in our collective economic history. In her opening remarks at the first ever Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy held on September 16 in San Francisco she said:

“I believe that here, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are entering the Participation Age, where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace.”

The Participation Age which Ms. Clinton envisages will be one which will require a shift in the distribution of power. To create a truly participatory society, or a truly participatory workplace, it is necessary to share power, to share wealth and opportunity, rather than hoard it. A participatory workplace is an empowered workplace. And an empowered workplace must, by definition, be a respectful one, where speaking up respectfully becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

Don’t wait until people start protesting in your workplace. The writing is on the wall. The Participation Age is upon us.  Chances are the employees in your workplace are looking for ways to contribute and are eager to speak up. Creating the opportunity for them to do so  demonstrates respect.  All you have to do is use your power to get the conversation started.

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