Since late February, an active armed conflict that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of soldiers and civilians has been raging in Ukraine, following an invasion by Russia. While this conflict is taking place across the Atlantic Ocean and on the far end of the European continent, its impacts are being felt globally, and that includes the impact to expatriates of both Ukraine and Russia.
A comment I recently saw on LinkedIn applies here, I think: “The world is tiny. Be nice.”
Conflict Creating Emotional Strain for Employees
America is a highly heterogenous society with millions of immigrants living and working in the country from all corners of the globe. It’s important for employers to be cognizant of the emotional strain this conflict may be having on team members who may originate from Ukraine or Russia or who may have loved ones living in those countries currently. Being inclusive means appreciating the impact of events in the home countries of employees on the wellbeing of those employees.
Inclusivity also means focusing on the individual and not necessarily on the actions, politics or values of a regime associated with a home country. Many American citizens or permanent residents who hail from Russia may feel alienated or scapegoated in the US as a result of actions taken by the current Russian regime, and employers need to be careful to not let support for the Ukrainian people turn into animosity towards the Russian people.
Inclusion Requires a Broad View
It's extremely important to appreciate the asymmetric attention the global West has paid to the conflict in Ukraine relative to recent and ongoing conflicts in other parts of the world. Critics argue that Americans and Europeans are far more concerned about the welfare of Ukrainians than that of those suffering in other parts of the world and that this asymmetry is due to factors like racial and cultural affinity.
In other words, it’s easier for the American majority population to sympathize with Ukrainians who look like white Americans and share a broadly European culture that white Americans may feel a connection to.
Of course, the conflict in the Ukraine is far from the only global conflict. Civil wars are ongoing in places like Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia; a decades-long drug war is raging in Mexico; and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is increasingly oppressive following its recent takeover of the country in the wake of the US withdrawal.
Employers must be conscious of the fact that some of their employees may have come from these countries and may be dealing with extreme trauma as well as stress, anxiety, and worry for loved ones left behind.
The continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine has arguably drawn a disproportionate amount of attention from the West relative to conflicts outside of Europe. Part of the work of inclusion is understanding and appreciating the geopolitical situation in the home countries of all employees and taking steps to promote the wellbeing of those employees.
Consider that there’s a good chance that all of your employees have ties to one or more countries around the world where conflict rages.
The current conflict in Ukraine is a reminder of that broader but often overlooked reality.
“The world is tiny. Be nice!”