I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review, where Ben Hecht, Living Cities CEO, wrote about his journey of moving towards racial equity by changing the fundamental business culture. He begins by saying that as this critical issue continues to evolve, neither consumers nor employees are looking for vague platitudes about change; they want to see companies committing to action within their own walls. Achieving racial equity in the workplace will be one of the most important issues that companies will tackle in the coming decade.
The work Ben Hecht did at his company inspired me to bring this topic to the Wonder Women Tech summit on 16th Sep 2020 and get real industry heavy-weights and thought leaders to pick it apart. What will it take for companies to become genuinely proactive and practical about change and moving from diversity to racial equity, and where do they begin? Here are my five key takeaways from this talk.
1) There cannot be “WE” until we get the “ME” straight
Diversity is critical, everybody matters as we all bring something to the table. For diversity to be effective, everyone’s got to give – people at the bottom, middle and the top. Teams have different functions, with each individual being an expert in a particular subject, however we all have to come together at the common goal. Everyone has to be a participant in our own rescue. It is not the HR, the board, the supervisor’s job, it is all of our job, and it starts with the ‘I’.
2) Be intentional
Leadership teams need to understand that they have the power to change things. However this can only be achieved through being intentional about Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts. A global D&I expert Melissa Mavlanova-August offers five very practical steps on achieving this:
Have the conversation. Leadership teams need to be comfortable speaking about racism. Listen to your people and stop accusing people of playing the race card.
Stop the PR. Stop handing out brochures or paying a third party to talk about your D&I efforts. Put your money where your mouth is. Embrace diversity internally by creating boards that represent the community you serve and get the people to talk about your D&I efforts, rather than paying an agency.
Formalise D&I efforts. Stop treating D&I initiatives as a side or volunteer job! Pay your D&I experts! Formalise their D&I efforts and include that in their performance management. D&I jobs require a lot of emotional labour, therefore they have to be taken seriously and remunerated accordingly.
Perform internal audits before you are asked to do so. Audit and report ethnicity pay gap as a standard. Government is seriously considering to make this mandatory, so get ahead of the curve by doing this before you’re made to do this. One of the most powerful tools at your hands is your salary model. Make it transparent for a start!
Keep leaders accountable. D&I is everybody’s job: it needs to be embedded in the culture and everyone needs to practice it.
3) Call out voices of those who cannot be in that room yet
There are a lot of people that are doing an amazing job in the space, however their voices are not being heard or amplified. Speak up for the unheard voices! When you occupy a space of privilege - give up that space and allow others to elevate their voice. Raise the profiles of others. Be a role model. Open doors of opportunity for others when they are not in the room. Use your platform so multitude of voices can flow through it, and don’t expect a reward for it, simply make it part of your daily business.
4) Know yourself
We currently have a huge opportunity for change and to move towards a purposeful society. However this requires a level of cultural intelligence and cultural competence. It starts by us educating ourselves on unconscious bias and historical roots of racism. Us looking at our own ecosystem first; looking at the skills we have, people we know, networks we engage with and see how we can drive racial equality within our own ecosystem. It will be uncomfortable for many, as there are new behaviours that need to be learnt, and some behaviours that need to be unlearned.
5) Regulate what you listen to and what you look at
A lot of people are going with the crowd when it comes to BLM. We question things and engage our critical thinking too little. Eyes and ears are the gateway to the soul. Stay focused – only then you can offer your best self.
Transparency is at the heart of what needs to happen next. We need to acknowledge, accept and act on what’s happening. We need to acknowledge the advantage and privilege some people have inherited. It is not your fault if you are in this position, but it is your responsibility what you do with it.
There are over 200 million people that currently live in a country outside to the one they were born in, and yet we still have world leaders that much rather build walls than bridges.
As James Baldwin has said – not everything with face can be changed, however until we face it, it cannot be changed.
Our differences are beautiful!
A special credit for this post goes to the panellists of the talk: Vanessa Vallely OBE, Rob Neil OBE, Dr Jonas Gadson, Melissa Mavlanova-August, Amanda Obidike and Heeral Gudka.
Full recorded video of this talk will be available soon!