OHS Canada Magazine

Amazon safety exec unveils tactics to boost diversity, equity


October 17, 2022
By Todd Humber

Health & Safety Human Resources Amazon DEI Diversity and Inclusion National Safety Council

The Amazon building in Santa Clara, Calif. Photo: Adobe Stock

You’ve probably heard the one about the frog and the boiling pot of water.

It goes a little something like this: If you put a frog into boiling water, it will instantly jump out. But if you place a frog into cool water, and gradually hike the temperature up to the boiling point, it won’t move and will eventually die.

“That’s what we’ve been told, that’s what we thought was true,” said Bryce Griffler, global manager, health and safety management program, at Amazon Web Services.

But that is not what happens. A frog dropped into boiling water will immediately die. And the other frog, well, it figures out pretty quickly that things are getting hot and it will leap out.

The point of the story for Griffler, who spoke at the recent National Safety Council conference in San Diego, is that our assumptions sometimes turn out to be incorrect.

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“It’s not the end of the world. It’s just wrong,” he said.

It was a metaphor he used to describe the evolution of diversity and equity at organizations as he offered up tactics for safety professionals to support DEI. Here are six of the key practices he outlined during his presentation.

Tactic one: Use inclusive language

This can be a difficult one, as non-inclusive language is ingrained in society. Griffler himself was guilty of it multiple times during his session.

“I’ve said ‘you guys’ at least three or four times,” he said. “That’s not inclusive language.”

Other examples including saying cameraman or “ladies and gentlemen.”

When you do that, right off the bat you’re excluding people, he said. And if you make a mistake, acknowledge it.

“Sorry I misspoke, correct it and move on,” he said. “That’s OK. We don’t have to go on a whole diatribe about it.”

Tactic two: Question your lens

Griffler put up the dress photo that set the Internet on fire a few years ago. That’s because people, looking at the exact same photo, saw vastly different dress colours.

Some said it was blue and black, while others insisted it was white and gold.

“Which one is right?” he asked.

The answer is both.

“It is possible that both of you can have different opinions, and both be right,” he said. “Question your own lens when you hear from someone else.”

How you view the world is a combination of your background, experiences and upbringing.

“It’s going to make you see the world in a different way than your co-workers,” he said. “And that’s beautiful. That’s exciting. Because that’s how we’re going to reduce risk.”

Tactic three: Join a group, take some training

If you’re part of a large organization, there may be business resource groups or affinity groups employees can join, he said. Griffler’s advice is to join a group that is completely foreign to you.

“I’m a member of a women in finance group at my organization,” he said. “Is it possible I might learn something different? Is it possible I might meet someone who’s super cool?”

It introduces you to new viewpoints, and contacts, who might be able to help when you’re tackling something new and complex.

For professionals in smaller organizations, get out and attend training whenever possible – it will accomplish the same thing in exposing new points of view and meeting new people.

Tactic four: Acknowledge that you don’t know and ask questions

Griffler talked about a recent study that looked at nurses at one particular hospital. The “lead nurse” position was rotational in that different nurses would be in charge on different days.

What the researchers found is that nurses with less experiences and shorter tenure were actually more effective and had fewer violations or missteps than experienced colleagues.

“It’s because they question themselves and they sought second opinions,” he said. “They had this healthy doubt.”

Tactic five: Do the brave thing – get uncomfortable

As a leader, it’s your job to figure out what your teams need to be successful. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because individuals all need different things to thrive, he said.

“Would you treat them all the same? No, it would be chaotic. It would be a disaster, right? A giant dumpster fire,” he said.

Some people need to be checked in on, and some people want to be given a deadline and left alone.

“If you’re not sure, just ask them,” he said. “Do the brave thing. You may not fully be able to empathize with somebody, you may not be able to fully understand where they’re coming from.”

What you can’t do is turn a blind eye to wrongdoing or offensive comments and actions. That applies whether it’s a one-on-one comment or something said in a group.

“It is extremely uncomfortable,” he said. “Speak up and say something. Don’t blame people — and make suggestions for change. But don’t tolerate it.”

Tactic six: Practice empathy

Griffler played a video from Brene Brown. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching and sums up empathy perfectly:

“Empathy is not sympathy,” he said. “We do not know how someone feels.”

What you can do, as a leader, is listen, try to understand and ask questions.

Griffler wrapped up the session with a reminder for people in the top ranks.

“If you are the leader, you are the driver of diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace,” he said. “Be vulnerable and get uncomfortable.”

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