Expressed opinions Entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
Over the past month, people around the world have watched in horror as Russia invaded and invaded Ukraine, horrific bombings of civilians and thousands of women and children fleeing across the border into Poland and Hungary. Especially in the United States, where divisions of opinion are not so common, there is almost universal support for Ukraine because it has faced Russia in this conflict. And with that support, of course, came the condemnation of Putin, Russia, and even Russian brands and citizens. Most major US brands, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Apple and Amazon, have simply shut down and sold operations in Russia, prompting a backlash against all Russian products and even people of Russian descent.
But for companies – especially technology companies that have enough engineering staff hired from Eastern Europe – this anti-Russian attitude is the result of some dangerous workplace conflicts. It is not uncommon for Silicon Valley startups and large tech behemoths to have a team of developers from both Ukrainian and Russian in the same project or segment. And in some cases, speculation about someone’s ethnic background is causing rifts, suspicions, and unrest in the workplace among workers.
Related: 5 ‘Cs’ method of conflict resolution in the workplace
Same old story, new ethnic group: grouped, problem outside the group
People are predictable. Twenty years ago, terrorists from the Middle East attacked the Twin Towers in New York City, killing thousands. And over the next several years, people in the Middle East have been harassed in their workplaces, communities and societies around the world. There are countless examples in the workplace of workers being called terrorists and Middle Easterners being physically and verbally abused solely on the basis of their national origin.
With the Russian war against Ukraine, which has already killed thousands of people, it can be assumed that anyone who sees or hears Russian is bound to face similar harassment and aggression. People are scared and angry about Putin’s war crimes and the killing of innocent civilians. When people are angry and scared, they subconsciously react negatively to someone associated with the group which causes them fear, even if the association is vague.
Just like 20 years ago, it is important for all of us to ensure security, respect and goodwill towards those of Russian descent or those who appear to be of Russian descent. This means that we remind our colleagues and the community that the Russians are not the cause of the war in the world, and that even the Russians in Russia have no organization to stop this war. People of Russian descent are just as powerless as any other community to stop the war with Ukraine and should be treated with their sensitivity and respect.
Related: Mental and financial costs of workplace bias
So what should be done to nurture a productive workplace relationship and a healthy culture between a company leader or CHRO staff who are feeling or practicing bias against peers of Russian descent? Here are some steps to take.
Understand the importance of in-group / out-group dynamics
First, it is important to recognize that mobility between group and out-group in the workplace is a huge driver of culture. 2020 Workplace Culture Report My company has created analyzed data from 40,000 employees. The results conclude that in-group / out-group mobility is the biggest cause of workplace culture problems. Employees who reported experiencing being a member of the outgroup received less sympathy and respect from their coworkers. What constitutes a group or out group may vary depending on the company, the makeup of the employees or even what is happening in the news. You don’t have to get rid of them completely. But acknowledging their impact on culture, and finding ways to deal with that impact, will help you determine who is present or who is out at any given time.
Related: Ukraine crisis hits home for Silicon Valley, and Tech Axis not wasting time: ‘They’re thinking like a startup, allowing them to move faster’
Start and continue the conversation on respect and empathy
Continue to engage and educate your employees about bias and harassment throughout the year using microlearning techniques, discuss it during all hand meetings and share real stories and experiences. And continue that conversation. If the last 24 months have taught us anything, it will always be global events that threaten communities, workplaces and cultures. So it is best to have constant conversation and training to build empathy and respect as a skill.
Related: 4 Tips Welcome to help employees at all levels of life
Lead with empathy
More than anything else, business leaders should lead with empathy and understand that workers are differently affected by the war in Ukraine. Some people’s friends and family may be in danger. Some may have friends and family in Russia. Others may be concerned about the potential of WWIII. Everyone has their own perspectives and concerns, and it is up to business leaders to model empathy and support for everyone.
Contact your staff. By asking how they feel and what you can do to help, you will make your employees feel listened to, supported and respected. Public leaders are doing better now. This is a task that must continue as the last political / global moment when new parties are taken out of the group.
Related: What you can do to help Ukraine: A list of top-rated relief agencies and additional resources