Papa John's founder and chairman John Schnatter resigned yesterday after it was publicized he used the N-word in a conference call back in May.

There are plenty of articles stating the obvious: business leaders have to hold themselves to higher standards, the word should never be used, or even that companies have to weed out employees, especially at senior levels, whose racist or toxic comments are in conflict with their values. But most of the reports don't get to the real heart of the issue.

For me, and I imagine plenty of others, the real story is the lingering effects of the usage of ugly phrases like these, especially in the workplace, do to the psyche of the people who work in these environments. As a consumer, I can easily say I don't want to buy from Papa Johns's anymore. No big deal.

But for employees whose livelihood is tied to a company where colleagues or leaders who are supposed to have your best interests in mind use such hateful language, the choice to cut ties isn't always so simple. As a result, working in an environment where they don't feel like they belong, negatively impacts how they show up at work every day. 

Culturally insensitive bad behavior is more common than we'd like to admit.

If high-profile leaders, people who we all think should know better are getting caught saying such vile things, we have to imagine there are plenty of other people at all levels within companies who think, say, and do similar things. In case you're not fully convinced, here are a few examples.

Last year, the hashtag #BlackWomenAtWork made its rounds on Twitter, with Black women providing one disturbing account after another about the slights, injustices, and uncomfortable situations they were put in on a daily basis with people they interacted with at work. I used to work for a very large global company with a strong company culture, and I can rattle off several incidents during my tenure that would make you cringe. 

There was the Starbucks manager in Philadelphia calling the police on two black men waiting in the store. There was Permit Patty calling the police on a little girl selling water on a hot summer day without a permit. And recently, there was the police officer in Illinois who just resigned for not helping a woman who was being harassed for wearing a shirt with a Puerto Rican flag on it.

Many of the offenders in these public cases lost their jobs. And as a society, we shake our heads, talk about the incident, but rarely do anything to address the root cause of the issue: bias.

Our biases impact the way we work.

We all have biases. Most of us don't even know we have them. And it impacts how we interact with and relate to others.

When brands like H&M, Heineken, and Dove produce culturally insensitive ads that incite gross public backlash, it is likely due to the biases of members on the marketing and production teams.

When kids in a Nordstrom Rack are harassed while shopping for prom attire, it is likely because of the bias that exists of the workers in the store.

When talent on a team feels like they have to dress more conservatively or straighten their naturally curly hair to better "fit in" at the office, it is likely because of the impact of bias they've experienced from their colleagues.

The negative impacts of implicit bias run rampant at work, and work against your efforts toward creating a space where everyone on the team feels like they belong.

And if your team doesn't feel like they belong, it is impossible for them to consistently make your customers feel like they belong.

And if your customers don't feel like they belong, they just spend their money elsewhere. 

Lets skip only being appalled about bad behavior by people in leadership at high-profile companies. Instead, let us all work together to address our biases so we can create more empathetic, supportive, and welcoming cultures that help those touched by it to thrive.

Harvard has a free test to help you identify your own biases. Starbucks made their implicit bias training that their more than one hundred thousand team members went through available for all. And there are a number of consultants and trainers who are experts on this topic who can help you and your organization with this too.

Acknowledge that bias exists, even within your organization. Then proactively seek out whatever support you need to create the kind of culture where both your customers and your team feel like they belong.

Published on: Jul 12, 2018