As I paced the family room waiting for the verdict of Derek Chauvin, I like most people had great anxiety about what was to come. While George Floyd's murder touched a collective awakening beyond black and brown people, it still seemed improbable that a conviction would happen. When the verdicts were read, tears of joy came along with a flood of relief. It felt as if we could all breathe again. As a Minneapolis resident and someone who has spent her career advocating for diversity and inclusion initiatives, the trial and verdict resonated especially strongly for me.
I can’t help looking at the improbable outcome of this case without doing so through the lens of a diversity and inclusion professional. Here are some of my key takeaways from that vantage.
Diversity Does Matter
There are many factors that contributed to the unusual case—especially in Minnesota—of a police officer facing criminal liability for the use of force. Crucially, I know that had Darnella Frazier not taken the video that went around the world, we would have been forced to believe the fabricated police report that said, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.”
But the more important consideration for me is the team that prosecuted Chauvin. This case was led by Minnesota’s State Attorney General, Keith Ellison. Ellison knows what it’s like to be a black man in America. Early on he tried to temper the public’s expectations by pointing out, “it’s hard to convict the police.” As part of his efforts to buck that trend, Ellison assembled a diverse team both at the state level and the Hennepin County level.
This team organized police from the same Minneapolis police force to come forward and say what Chauvin did was not right. It is no small task for officers to break the “blue wall of silence.” High-ranking members of the Minneapolis Police Department, including Chief Medaria Arradondo and Lt. Richard Zimmerman, head of the department’s homicide division, took the stand to testify against Chauvin’s actions. This is a brilliant example of out-of-the-box thinking. I don’t know where, specifically, that strategy came from, except to say that diverse teams create better outcomes.
Homogeneity Negatively Impacts Decisions
Diverse teams make better decisions than non-diverse teams. We make this point frequently with respect to the business world, but it’s true in virtually any setting. This doesn’t mean that the individual team members of a diverse team are necessarily smarter than those of non-diverse teams. Rather, the team as a whole is more creative and thinks more critically when it is composed of people with diverse experiences and viewpoints than if it’s a collection of people with the same backgrounds.
Research demonstrating this phenomenon is discussed in the MIT Sloan article, “The Trouble with Homogeneous Teams.”
Three points in particular stand out from that piece:
People in homogeneous groups were more likely to copy another person’s mistake.
Social pressure also affects us. In same article, research by Ash found that people yield to what they know to be the wrong answer around roughly 30% of the time. Yikes!
Since homogeneous teams so readily agree with one another, there is an inflated sense of confidence. Those groups may not be considering all relevant perspectives. In addition, we have a tendency to narrowly see issues in ways that are consistent with others’ views. And we also tend to feel uncomfortable disagreeing with others.
View from the Majority
At the base of the dilemma of policing with black men, there is a prevailing cultural or majority-based thinking that Floyd or other black people must have really done something wrong for these things to happen. I don’t believe this happens because we in the majority population are ill-intentioned. Rather, I think it’s a factor of not knowing what we haven’t experienced!
Harvard’s latest research on police and black people says, “Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police,” according to a study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This is hard to take in. I don’t want this to be true especially knowing that the percentage of the black population is so much lower than whites!
The $50 Billion Question
Of course, the Derek Chauvin conviction is just one victory in an ongoing battle for equity and inclusion. How do we get true change to happen when those in leadership and in the majority position don’t really understand the extent of the problem?
For me, the single most hopeful thing from this verdict was an interaction I saw right after the verdict was read. Shaquille Brewster (an MSNBC reporter who has been covering the trial in Minneapolis) interviewed an unnamed young white man. When asked for his reaction to the verdict, the man responded that he was relieved and that he was there to support black and brown people. But he also showed great awareness and humility with respect to being a white person trying to understand the different world Americans live in due to the color of their skin.
“I have a lot of learning to do myself,” he said. “And so, for myself personally, this has been a wake-up call for the privilege I've had, and I haven't even realized it, and the difficulty for all black and brown people. So, I'm thrilled that justice was served." Brewster then prodded to ask what the man planned to do next with his newfound awareness. "I want to find out. I don't know," the man said. "I actually Googled it today. What can a white person do to help Black Lives Matter? Just an open awareness to see that, you know, institutionally and systematically, I've got benefits that other people don't have."
This is the cultural and social justice view. It is, in fact, essential for the majority to increase their awareness of the systemic issues facing people of color in order for society at large to appreciate the need for real and significant change.
My Role In This
Through my company, Inclusion, Inc., I have spent decades advocating for greater diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace, not just because I think it’s the right thing to do morally, but because I know it’s the smart move from a business standpoint.
In InclusionINC’s 20th year, we will continue to work within Corporate America to make the most meaningful change we can. Inclusion truly is a business strategy! Diversity brings the broadest ideas forward. A culture of inclusion helps avoid groupthink and poor decision making. Inclusive companies have a better understanding of diverse markets. And, regardless of whether they belong to a majority or minority population, employees prefer working for diverse companies.
As we’ve said for years, and as we’ll continue to say, pursuing a strategy of diversity, inclusion and equity isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. Be inclusive!