Whether we’re talking about changes in the demographic makeup of the American population or changes in the spending power of marginalized groups, we’re talking about relatively slowly developing trends; trends that have been taking place for decades. The benefit of slowly developing trends is that they give companies a long time to adjust. The downside is that business leaders often neglect to account for such changes and constantly see them as something to worry about tomorrow.
That’s exactly what’s been happening in the boardrooms and business meetings being held across America for decades. Lip service and limited action.
Beyond Lip Service and Limited Action
Recent events demonstrate that race relations in the United States are at a boiling point. Minority groups and their allies are fed up with the decades of disparate treatment that have followed the Civil Rights Movement. The intensity of the frustration and demands for rapid change being played out around the country in a variety of ways cannot be ignored. We now face an urgent need to do what we still have not been able to do despite decades of supposed equality.
While far from the only example, the Black Lives Matter movement is perhaps the most visible sign of increased frustration over race relations in the United States and around the world. While largely political and cultural in nature, the business world has also been significantly impacted by the renewed focus on race relations.
Many companies—perhaps owing to a lack of both diversity and, by default, also inclusion—have fallen short in their responses.
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police officers on May 26, 2020, many companies scrambled to take what they saw as the right stance on topics like racism, diversity, and inclusion. This included organizations ranging from small businesses identifying themselves as people-of-color owned in the hopes of avoiding vandalism and looting in the wake of riots that accompanied otherwise peaceful protests or large, multinational corporations making statements of solidarity with underrepresented communities or calls for change.
A Bolder Approach is Needed
Despite the immediate response to the George Floyd tragedy, many observers saw these overtures as half-hearted and insincere. Consider this commentary in article for Tech Crunch by Megan Rose Dickey:
“Amid this tragedy, many tech companies and leaders have spoken out against racism, saying things like, ‘We stand with our colleagues and the Black community’ (LinkedIn), ‘We stand with our colleagues and the Black community’ (LinkedIn), ‘We stand with the Black community against racism, violence, and hate’ (Salesforce) or ‘we all have the responsibility to create change’ (Facebook) — while simultaneously fostering an environment where employees defend racism, contracting with U.S. Custom Borders and Protection, which has been deployed to police protests, or enabling President Donald Trump’s post inciting violence to remain on its platform. We all know how that ended.
These are just a few examples of many, but they all evoke one thing: complicity.”
In the retail world, big chains like Walmart, CVS and Walgreens announced an end to their practices of locking up hair care products targeted for communities of color. That gesture didn’t get far with some members of the African American community, as illustrated by Cat Davis and Dorian Warren’s scathing opinion piece for NBC News, in which the authors – one a 12-year associate for Walmart – noted that “the largest corporate employer of America's Black workforce” should be focusing more on paying its workers more and protecting them from exposure to COVID-19 than symbolic gestures of support for minority communities.
How We Get to Equity
Equity will result from organizational policies and practices, and leadership modeling, that will eliminate barriers for diverse talent. The driving forces behind achieving equity are:
- Valuing and supporting the significant contributions and development of those who present differently.
- Allowing differences or diversity to help achieve organizational success in a way that hasn’t previously been allowed.
- Focusing on specific groups to remove the barriers that impact equitable experiences.
Leaders need to make equity happen. But they’re confused. They don’t get it. As one CEO of a company with more than 25 thousand employees said to us: “People need to manage their own careers. They’re responsible for moving ahead—not me.” Really? So are they able to promote themselves? To give themselves pay raises? Of course not!
It’s not the employees that make equity happen. It’s you—the leaders. Are you ready to move beyond lip service and take action? Be inclusive!