Contributor: Kari Heistad, Culture Coach International
In the 1850’s, streetcars in New York City were privately owned and racially segregated. In 1854, Elizabeth Jennings was running late when she boarded a streetcar that was for whites only; she was forcibly removed.
Chester Arthur, 24 years old and future U.S. President, successfully argued her discrimination case against the streetcar company. The verdict set a precedent for the new streetcar industry of equality of service. Elizabeth argued for her principals of justice and equality and she won over the rule of segregation.
There are times when faced with the choice of following the rules or fighting for a principal such as equality, that a fight against the rules is the right action to take. When working in a diverse environment, pay attention for opportunities to fight for the principal of inclusion instead of following the unspoken rule of “that is the way it has always been done.”
Action Step: Replace the response, “that is the way it has always been done” with a “Can you tell me more?” as a way to encourage new ways of thinking.
- When it is important to follow the rules or to break them?
- What spoken (or unspoken) team rules do we have that keep people from questioning decisions?
- Do we use phrases such as “that will never work around here” to shut down people who are challenging the status quo?
- How do we encourage and welcome challenging old ideas that might need to be updated in a way that is respectful?
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