The violent disturbances between Jews and Arabs, Arabs and Jews, tore a hole in the fabric of Israeli society and exposed the subterranean currents that have been bubbling there for a long time. The powerful feelings of pain, anger and frustration are apparent everywhere - not only in the streets, but mainly on social networks.
These are voices that are not expressed in the workplace, even though this is where people spend most of their days. Workplaces are preserved, at least on the surface, as islands of calm, like demilitarized zones where Arabs and Jews meet every day, work shoulder to shoulder for the same goals, think together, help each other and achieve both individual and shared successes.
In the business world, we realized long ago that coexistence is a win-win situation and that human diversity at the office leads to a competitive edge in the field. In high-tech, thanks to the accepted policy of diversity and inclusion, we are exposed to different ways of thought from management and workers, and we also become more familiar with our customers through a process of cross-pollination.
Moreover, when all populations receive equal conditions, starting with hiring opportunities, through salary levels and up till chances for promotion, they can actualize their full potential, and contribute both to themselves and to the company. Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to provide less advantaged populations with sufficient support to succeed.
At a time of war like this, the fellowship of workers is put to the test. Precisely when violence flares all around, when each side digs in to its positions, when nerves are frayed and the mood is inflamed, it is precisely now that we are obliged to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and show empathy, Arabs and Jews as one. People often turn to physical and verbal violence when they feel threatened. In order to go on living and working together, we cannot allow fear to dominate us and we must repudiate its existence.
Many companies in the business sector are making efforts to diversify their workforce and include the Arab population. To this end, Microsoft established its center in Nazareth and very quickly, the number of Arab employees tripled. We have a recruitment program tailored to meet the needs of Arab applicants, onboarding is done using the buddy system (that is, with accompaniment by a veteran worker), we have dedicated forums, a management guidance program, a program to advance Arab women professionally, on-campus prayer centers for the three monotheistic religions, and more.
All of this is important and necessary, but the recent events and the sense of pain and frustration felt by Arabs and Jews alike, suggest that the dialogue we have been conducting in the workplace until now, which remained in the realm of political correctness, no longer suits reality. The approach based on preserving industrial calm in the workplace has not proved itself - and it’s time for change.
Businesses are not meant to fulfill the role of the state, but we can behave differently on the day after. In light of my conversations during this period with my employees, both Arabs and Jews, I believe we must start talking directly about all the subjects that have been considered taboo and open up the abscesses.
We must hold roundtables, not to resolve a political situation but rather to facilitate genuine and open dialogue that will allow both sides to express themselves. Understanding the fears, the feelings and the claims of each side is essential. We have to adopt more assertive communication and set aside political correctness. In this way, we will create a better reality.
The author is Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corporation, General Manager of the Israel Research & Development Center and CTO, Cloud and AI Security division.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 1, 2021
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