“How to Create a Just Workplace”: A Report on an Innovative ebbf Conference

By Wendi Momen

Do you love going to work on Monday morning?

Does your workplace energize you, make you feel that your job is serving humanity and that you are maximizing your potential?

Or do you find yourself saying, “It’s just not fair!”

Do you treat the people you work with fairly?

What can you do to make your workplace more just, happier, a better place to work?

ebbf—Ethical Business Building the Future (http://ebbf.org)—a Bahá’í-inspired professional organization now in its twenty-fifth year, focused on these questions at the most recent event in its “Make It Meaningful” series. Held in Barcelona, Spain, from October 2 through 5, 2014, the conference on “How to Create a Just Workplace” attracted people from thirty-seven countries, half of them first-timers.

The primary focus of the conference was not on presenters or learnshop facilitators but on those who attended. Before arriving and during the conference itself people were asked: Why is justice important in the workplace? Some of the answers are scattered throughout this article, for example this one, from a Wilmette Institute faculty member:

Arthur Dahl (Switzerland)
Justice is a requirement for effective relationships in any community. Without justice, there can be no trust, and, without trust, no real community.

Keynote presentations were brief, questions to the speaker limited, for small, facilitated breakout groups sat around a table, on the beach, or under a tree to discuss one or two main ideas from the presentation that intrigued them. The idea was that everyone has experience that can be shared, not just the presenters, and that people want to have meaningful conversations around topics that are relevant to them and then put into action what they have learned.

Françoise Le Goff (France)
A just workplace is a key element for a prosperous society and the respect of everyone’s dignity.

Learnshops are practical, not mini-lectures. I attended Dorothy Marcic’s two learnshops “Courage to Face the Unknown: Using Music to Find New Harmonies in Teams.” Her premise is that today’s world needs new types of thinking and what better way to unlock unused parts of the brain than to engage participants in a collaborative creation of a musical? As hardly anyone had any experience in writing a musical, she used the idea of “shared incompetence” to help participants, in small teams, write ten minute musicals (dialogue and five songs!) about an unjust management or business issue and to perform them as the Saturday-evening entertainment. Our musical “Big Shop, Little Shop” was about unjust competition in the retail world. It was hard work, but great fun, and we gained a new appreciation of how music and the arts can bring new perspectives to solving problems.

Laura Grassi (Italy)
Justice is the prerequisite to co create a “safe” work environment where each individual can develop his/her talents and contribute in a sustainable and meaningful way.

As musical-writing was too frightening to contemplate for many, some opted to play with Lego instead. Alan McShane used LEGO7 SERIOUS PLAY7 to help participants deal with injustice in their workplaces. Participants built models out of Lego that represented aspects of an unjust workplace and then reflected on why such injustice exists. Their modeling in Lego enabled them to figure out what they need to do to allow just workplaces to develop. Just a bit of fun? No! Studies show that such hands-on learning produces a deeper understanding of the world, deepens the reflection process, and supports an effective dialogue for everyone in an organization.

Solange Hai (Spain)
It [justice] is the foundation for the advancement of society.

The keynote presentations were compelling. I was particularly impressed with the young women presenters:

• with Jenna Nicholas’ stunning explanation of “The Spiritual Transformation of Impact Investing” (Business as usual is not the business of the future);

• with Maja Groff’s answers to “How to Bring Justice to Gender Balance in the Workplace?” (What we need is a public conversation about gender, power, and respect, not just women talking to other women); and

• with Karolina Pietrowsk, leader of AIESEC International (https://www.aiesec.org/), who took a fast-paced look at “How Millennials See the Role of Justice in the Workplace” (For us, success is taking responsibility for the world).

Peeters Birgit (Netherlands)
Trust is the basis of most things, including the workplace. Trust is created through many channels and a just workplace is basic to trust and being trusted.

Shenila Ali (Pakistan)
We need a just workplace as it is our social responsibility.

As for all ebbf conferences, it is what happens on Monday morning that is important to those who attend. We ask ourselves, “What action will I take that will create justice where I work?”, “How I can use the ebbf tools available to support my actions?” and then report back on the impact of our actions: What practice has changed? Who was inspired to adopt an ebbf core value? Who is coming to the next ebbf conference Spring 2015?

Mahmud Samandari (Switzerland)
What is the advantage of an unjust one?

This is just a taste of a richly textured learning event. See details of all the speakers and learnshops at http://ebbf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/ebbfjustice-2014-annual-event-brochure.pdf

Wendi Momen
Because, otherwise, it is just a workplace. . . .

ebbf is an open learning community accompanying mindful individuals passionate about contributing to a prosperous, sustainable and just civilization through their daily work. The date and venue of the 2015 ebbf conference have not yet been set. Eventually some of the 2014 conference presentations will be available on YouTube.