Helping Leaders Become Allies: Turning EQ into Allyship

Jessica Swank

April 5

Long gone are the days of leaving work at work. Without the physical commute many of us used to shed the day’s trials and tribulations, and the constant “on” of technology, social media and more, the boundaries between our personal lives and our professional lives have blurred beyond recognition. Zoom and video meetings can be a “window” into the very real and messy lives of our colleagues – including children, pets, home office/kitchen/bedroom/closet backgrounds, etc.

No longer can we ignore the nightly news or relegate events of the world to the confines of our living rooms. Tragedies, policies, and innovations have real-world implications for workers, tainting or coloring their employee experience if not acknowledged -and even incorporated – into a company’s process, programs, values, culture, and communications. Brexit. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Black Lives Matter. The U.S. Election. Asian American hate crimes and violence. Women’s rights. Trans’ rights. The personal is political AND professional. Employees are demanding companies take a stand on issues via hiring policies and diversity, equity and inclusion programs, while also creating safe spaces for community and belonging.

At Box, one of our core values is Bring your ____ self to work. We understand that when our Boxers show up each day, they are bringing a whole host of identities along too – not just Box employee, but parent/caregiver, single/isolated during a pandemic, disabled, LGBTQIA+, veteran, immigrant …the list goes on and on…

We’ve prided ourselves on an inclusive culture that helps Boxers know they belong. We believe this is an ongoing movement, not just moments, integrating both formal training and policies, within informal practices and behaviors.  Our Overcoming Bias training is a core required course for all Box people managers and over 85% have attended the training. All Boxers are also strongly encouraged to attend. Our 10+ Employee Resource Communities and dozens of Employee Interest Communities have extensive programming to drive equity and access through three key areas: diverse tech pipelines, digital transformation, and being a good neighbor. This shows up in a variety of activities ranging from coaching underrepresented groups of high school students around resume building, to donating time and money in support of numerous causes, to sharing cultural traditions and foods, and much more.

At Box, we know our managers are crucial to setting individuals and teams up for success before, during and after crisis, uncertainty and more. But beyond check-the-box EQ (emotional quotient/intelligence) activities and programming, we’ve discovered the need to truly help our managers and people leaders become allies for their own employees. What do we mean by this?

Step 1: Give managers the tools and permission to check in on their own well-being at work. 

You can’t fill up others if you are running on empty, and Box understands our leaders are people, too. We have four, key leadership mindsets that our People programs and leadership development programs run on: business, team, self and community. By creating space for leaders to process and understand the “why” during highly charged world moments, we help them lead by example.

Earlier this year, we leveraged our monthly Manager Power Hour series to enable leaders on resilience, grit, and boundary setting after George Floyd’s murder. We educated them on the power of non-performative allyship and added in several community safe spaces for discussion and mental health awareness. We also provided time as a company, giving everyone several new days off called “Fresh Air Fridays” or “Mental Health Mondays” so we could scale and prioritize rest and rejuvenation across the business.

Step 2: Give managers the tools and permission to check in on their team’s well-being at work.

Box partners with Modern Health to provide multiple “circles” – discussion groups where leaders and employees can learn, grow, be heard and take action. We also continue to promote mindfulness with the Headspace for Work program, including free app access for our Boxers, giving them tools for meditation and relaxation at any moment. Additionally, our company-wide 10x meeting efficiency program was launched to help give time back and encourage Boxers to ask “should I be in this meeting?” or “what is the agenda and my role here?” with the key phrase, “In the spirit of 10x meetings…”

Leaders were equipped to promote these tools, along with flexible and async work schedules to kick off wellness conversations with their teams, and encourage taking time off, even if Boxers couldn’t go anywhere due to the pandemic. The conversations were meant to go beyond the surface “how are you doing?” and really provide an entree for leaders to create environments of psychological safety where asking for what you need would be supported with no questions asked.

Step 3: Help managers understand inclusion, belonging – and what allyship means.

When leaders showcase curiosity, empathy and action to learn more about the issues affecting Boxers, and find the most helpful way to show support, they are living out our Leader Mindsets, which is the foundation of Unconscious Bias training. By communicating in a timely and proactive manner around BLM, AAPI violence, the election turmoil and more, Box shared resources, tools and talking points as needed with our leaders so they would be aware of current events, understand the potential impact it could have on their team, and give them concrete action steps to address before, during and after the events.

Part of this proactive communications approach was helping leaders be advocates and active allies. Rather than watching events from the sidelines, leaders were actively encouraged to invite others, show up to Employee Resource Group events in solidarity and support (regardless of affiliation), and save time on their – and their team’s – calendars. And speaking of calendars, we also added several new, company-wide holidays this year in a show of support and allyship for International Women’s Day, Juneteenth, and Indigenous People’s Day, as a concrete way of acknowledging and honoring different Box communities.

Additionally, Box’s D&I strategy, which engages leaders at multiple levels around hiring, retention and more, along with our mentoring pilot in support of the Women, Black and LatinX Box communities, has started to yield progress in many of these areas, and we’re taking this opportunity to reevaluate our company values in light of this tumultuous year, ensuring they are still relevant, and still resonate, with our Boxers.

Showing up for, and acknowledging, the full humanity in ourselves and our teams, means leaders can better advocate for themselves and their people, model good boundary setting behavior, proactively support any community regardless of their own personal affiliation, enhance the employee experience, and build new and critical leadership skills that will transition them into effective leaders in our unchartered, post-COVID world.