EMERGENCY BLOG: Respect and Inclusion for Ukrainian and Russian colleagues

As diversity and inclusion practitioners, HR leaders, and business leaders, we must step up again (like we have done during the pandemic). It is imperative that we create an environment of respect and inclusion for Ukrainian, Russian and Eastern European colleagues in our organizations. As employers, it is our duty to support these colleagues during this extremely difficult time.

Don’t tolerate disrespect

At this time of heightened conflict and anxiety you may well hear words and actions of disrespect, bullying or harassment. These behaviours can separate colleagues from the rest of the group. Making them feel unwelcome. Most of these behaviours are small (micro-aggressions), such as a particular look when someone enters a meeting room. They can also be much more aggressive, telling someone on the factory floor “to go back to where they came from.”. These behaviours must be challenged (called out) immediately and stopped. Leaders must lead by example. CEOs, don’t expect your HR department to take the lead on this — you have to make it very clear to your employees that you have a no-tolerance policy for disrespectful behaviour (even from a big rainmaker in the business).

Anxiety and mental well-being

Anxiety is usually one of the most common mental health conditions experienced at work (in terms of frequency and severity). Ukrainian, Russian, and Eastern European colleagues may be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety — worrying about their families and friends back home. It is very important that you put in place mental health support systems for them. It may be an employee assistance program with counselling services and mental health first aiders in the workplace or referring colleagues to external support services like the Samaritans.

It’s not just our Russian, Ukrainian and Eastern European colleagues that we need to look out for. Having watched the news (just before going to bed), I was worrying about events in Ukraine last night, which caused me to have a restless night. I am not at my best today. It’s possible that the events in Ukraine are “triggering” all sorts of feelings and emotions. You may have a British colleague with a Ukrainian spouse; perhaps you employ someone from Syria or Afghanistan and their trauma of seeking asylum may be triggered in part by events in Ukraine.

It’s extremely important to recognize that mental health is something we all have, and we must take care of ourselves — and take care of one another.

Understanding the complexity of identity

We love to put people into boxes to make sense of the world around us. We need to know what we are interacting with and how to relate to it.

You would probably put me in the male, white, and disabled boxes if you met me. After getting to know me a bit better, you might also put me in the gay box. We are much more diverse than our superficial characteristics suggest. As with an iceberg, 90% of it is below the surface, just like our invisible characteristics such as education, introversion or extroversion, political views, etc. You may have Russian colleagues working for you who identify as Russian and British (they are not just their originating nationality), and they may also identify as LGBT+, which is not necessarily acceptable in Russia. We are complex human beings. Take time to get to know your colleagues before jumping to conclusions, making assumptions or relying on stereotypes.

Be impartial (at work)

It’s important to recognize that the UK is a democracy and that we take human rights seriously (I’m sure some people will challenge me on that). Although I am fully in support of Ukraine (and I think what President Putin is doing is wrong, to put it mildly) I also respect the Russian people. This is Putin’s invasion, not the Russian people’s. At your workplace, we need to ensure that Russian colleagues are still treated with respect. Even if you meet someone with differing views from your own (maybe they support the military action) we still need to respect them — hear them out; try to understand their perspective and their reasoning. Respectfully disagree if you must.

Your PESTLE is due

It’s imperative that we start preparing for the impact that external forces will have on the culture and resilience within our organization. My clients are encouraged to constantly monitor the outside world for factors that might be affecting diversity and inclusion within their organizations. Political, environmental, social, technological, legal, and economic forces make up a PESTLE analysis. Spend 10 minutes brainstorming all these external factors and how they could affect the inclusive culture and respect within your organization. For each “issue” think of some mitigating action. Check out this useful PESTLE fact sheet from the CIPD.

Take a stand without fear

Many businesses are cutting ties with Russia. Spotify, for instance, has suspended operations in Russia, but it is keeping its service open as it wants Russians to have access to information. Prepare to offer support to your Russian and Ukrainian colleagues if your organization takes such a stance. Ask, for instance, what the financial impact would be on a normal Russian family. How should you support them? What will you do with dissenting opinions?

Supporting disabled Ukrainians during the crisis

Specifically, I am concerned about disabled people’s safety and future in Ukraine. I follow a YouTuber who made a video about escaping Ukraine by train and I couldn’t see how I would get on that train in my wheelchair if I was in his position. I wouldn’t be able to escape if I were Ukrainian. Listen to this BBC World Service interview with Tanya Herasymova regarding her struggle to flee the war with her disability for more insight. I wish I could help in person at the Ukrainian border, but I cannot go there. Therefore, I am donating 5% of my sales year-to-date to the Help Ukrainians with Disabilities campaign.

If you need any further advice about supporting your people during this very difficult time — creating an environment of inclusion and respect — then please get in touch with me. You can contact me through my website www.mildon.co.uk.

Look after yourself — and look after one another.

Much love

Toby Mildon

Diversity and Inclusion Architect



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Toby Mildon

Toby Mildon

Diversity & Inclusion Architect. I like psychology, tech, ideas, design and food (esp. curry). Live with SMA.