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Why a Trauma-Informed Perspective Matters in a Corporate Environment: It’s all about inclusivity

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

By Lerin Madole, RYT-200, TIYT-II

Old fashioned type writer with "INCLUSIVITY" shown at top of page
Trauma-Informed Perspective on Inclusivity

"Trauma" is on the rise as a topic of much discussion and learning right now, especially in the yoga community as instructors, studios, and yoga educators seek to make modern, Westernized yoga more accessible to and #inclusive of more #diverse populations. We’ve seen the topic arise in Corporate America, too, with recent painful iterations of change for long-overdue adjustments to #DEIB initiatives, policies, and vernacular in the workplace–whether physical, virtual, or hybrid.

Is it just a new hype-worthy buzzword? Or, could it be a quickly-expanding topic with far-reaching relevancy and myriad contexts of study? I’ll let you decide, but let’s first consider a working definition for #trauma...

What is Trauma?

My perspective is that trauma is, basically, overwhelming. Whether instantaneous or built over time, trauma is anything that activates a nervous system response, commonly categorized as fight, flight, or freeze. “Fight” on a minor scale might sometimes just look like annoyance or tension, and similarly, “flight” might look like someone’s difficulty sitting still. Finally, a “freeze” response can sometimes look like habitual flakiness, procrastination, or even chronic depression.

Resmaa Menakem offers perspective on racialized trauma in the United States through a lens of body-centered psychology in the text My Grandmother’s Hands. In the book Menakem supplies a trauma definition as anything that is “too much, too fast, or too soon…” or sustained “for too long.” Menakem also offers research to support a new understanding of how generational trauma can be passed down biologically within families, meaning it isn’t always tied directly to memories or experiences.

In his book Us, Terrence Real offers an overview of trauma, defined differently in context with a “big ‘T’” representing life-threatening events such as a car crash or natural disaster, versus a “little ‘t’” representing dysfunctional relational dynamics sustained frequently, or for long periods of time, from early life caretakers or key relationships in an individual’s life. He provides supportive research to suggest that both types of trauma have equally significant, impactful effects on an individuals' nervous system and ability to cultivate healthy relationships and sense of belonging–with themselves and with others in the world around them.

With these combined, and expansive definitions of “trauma” at hand, one might consider the many forms and contexts it can take, and understand that the effects of trauma are as far-reaching and varied across the many demographics, and individual #nervoussystems that experience it.

Workplace Trauma

Consider a light workplace example among best practices for creating a PowerPoint or similar slides-based presentation. Maybe you’ve heard the tip of avoiding “death by PowerPoint”, which refers to the practice of including far too many words on a slide. Have you seen this done? Was your reaction like mine? I can relate to an overwhelmed and mild shutdown response to this slide format, which for me might look like glazing over or becoming distracted or “checked-out” as an audience member. Instead, best practices recommend sticking to 3-5 points per slide, and 3-5 words per point, filling in the rest with spoken presentation that addresses the audience, rather than reading dryly from the wall. This keeps the audience engaged, curious, and connected with the speaker–these are nervous system functions too–instead of being overwhelmed by too much information too soon, or at once.

On a much larger scale, the U.S. job market recently saw a “Great Resignation” resulting from employees demanding adjustments to structures of compensation, #power, fair treatment, #equitable #access to resources, prerequisite requirements for hire or promotion, better marketing language and imagery, honest representation, #accountability of policies, and the list goes on. Underlying the drive for most of these adjustments is trauma, taking many forms to create long-sustaining injury across industries. Employees have awakened to the traumas of unfair compensation, microaggressions, unachievable goals, overinflated workloads, or even workplaces where yelling and domineering behavior are tolerated from or by leadership.

Building Resilience

Said simply, trauma is everywhere. While that point may sound bleak, I’ll venture further to say that attempting to understand it might offer a blueprint for #resilience, for individuals, and for the workplace. If we can understand the many ways that harm can be done, even unconsciously, we can begin to intentionally reduce the potential for harm, and make space for healing and progress. We can invite our audiences to engage with us, as it were, by following best practices of #inclusion and creating contexts that cultivate a sense of #belonging.

In a #yoga class, this trauma-informed approach might sound like #invitational language instead of directional, allowing opportunity for choice and voluntary participation. In the workplace, it could mean always sending meeting agendas, so participants are not surprised by subject material or put on-the-spot without opportunity to prepare. Discussing the code of #ethics as a group each time a new #hire joins the team might facilitate group bonding and cohesion, give newcomers a voice and opportunity to buy-in to the group dynamic with a sense of belonging, as well as suggest edits to accommodate shifting group needs resulting from growth and change. These are just ideas.

The good news is, #corporations are made up of people. People are resilient and capable of impressive collaboration. Just as our bodies and nervous systems learn what “danger” looks, sounds, smells, and feels like, we can also learn what safety looks, sounds, smells, and feels like - so we can create it together, for ourselves, for each other, on purpose. Does this start to sound like a working definition of inclusion yet? When we help each other feel safe, secure, confident, and included within our surroundings, working at our jobs, as part of a #team, we can build a #community that is inclusive of the #human experience, and within which any human can belong.

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