What is Workplace Dignity?
“When we talk about birthright, we talk about the right of opportunity, the right of opportunity to succeed or fail on individual talents, developed unfettered by man-made barriers. This is what gives [a person their] dignity.”
—Robert F. Kennedy, Carrollton, GA, May 26, 1964
Every person's dignity is protected as a fundamental human right
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948) states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...” and in its Article 2, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind…”
Thus, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, affirming in Article 23 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that each person has the right to “just and favorable conditions of work.”
The fundamental right to dignity at work is a right of everyone, without distinction of any kind. It applies to all workers in all settings, regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other characteristic.
“Some principles really are universal—and the most important one is the principle that we are bound together by a common humanity and that each individual has inherent dignity and worth.”
Building on Robert Kennedy’s legacy of human rights advocacy, we are reimagining the workplace.
At RFK Human Rights, we believe that dignity is our common denominator. Bridging our differences, our shared dignity unites us. Our new program, Workplace Dignity, is dedicated to creating a new understanding of the workplace—and coaching organizations on how to achieve the powerful, positive outcomes of honoring dignity at work.
We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to promote human rights and social justice since 1968. Our team of attorneys, issue experts, advocates, entrepreneurs, and writers share a fierce commitment to realize Robert Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world.
We train RFK Young Leaders, the next generation of workplace and government leaders. Our human rights education program, Speak Truth To Power, teaches the workforce of tomorrow to be everyday champions of justice, and in the process, helps students recognize their own dignity and self-worth. Compass Investors supports influential investors as they explore the era of stakeholder-centered business and the return on more socially-conscious decision making.
Efforts to advance dignity complement existing workplace initiatives
A dignity-centered organization honors its workers with its policies, practices, systems and structures, as well as through the actions its managers take on a day-to-day basis. It establishes a common understanding of language and values that creates a context for organizational decisions. Without such dignity consciousness, actions intended to enhance the employee experience may fail to affirm dignity and may even cause harm.
“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the Business Roundtable said in a statement. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”
Honoring dignity includes, though it is not limited to, respected workplace philosophies and practices that are clear indicators of a healthy workplace culture. Each of the following established workplace concepts is a central tenet of dignity.
Honoring diversity in an organization is about respecting difference (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, educational path, socioeconomic background, life experience, etc.) and supporting the expression of individual identity. The dignity-conscious organization strives to increase its diversity, valuing the greater problem-solving capability that a broad range of perspective brings. Honoring the dignity of individual team members recognizes and encourages the unique talents and experiences of each person—especially those in under-represented groups.
Inclusion and Belonging
Inclusion is the active and intentionally welcoming behavior that creates a feeling of being personally valued—despite individual differences—and reinforces the sense of belonging to a team. Inclusiveness catalyzes the potential power of diversity: when people belong, they feel empowered to make unique contributions and have more pride in the organization. Feeling connected, respected, and supported honors the dignity of team members and reinforces an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.
Equity is about fairness and justice. It is about giving people what they need to succeed and recognizing that when it comes to opportunity, not everyone has equal access (access which may be contingent on historical, societal, or organizational circumstances—systemic racism being just one example). Dignity consciousness centers and grounds employees and amplifies their shared interest in a level playing field. We are all better when we are each considered.
A work environment in which one can speak up to share ideas, questions, concerns, or failures without feeling humiliated is psychologically safe. Members of safe teams are less likely to hide mistakes because they know they will not be shamed for them and will still be valued. Managers can lead by example (admitting error, acknowledging blind spots) and honor dignity by encouraging the open expression of ideas and thoughts.
A growth mindset is the conviction that talent can be developed and skills can be learned. Organizations that exhibit this mindset encourage employees to pursue learning, embrace challenges, and develop new skills. In contrast, a non-growth mindset views employees more statically, not appreciating their potential to take on new tasks and larger roles. A growth mindset honors dignity by recognizing employees’ value to the organization as potential and evolving.
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