By Frans Johannson
The public unrest following the murder of George Floyd on May 25 has resulted in people everywhere demanding action from their institutions and leaders—while promising to hold them accountable. Many leaders have held emergency meetings, set up donation funds and scheduled conversations with their employee resource groups. The persistent response from leaders, however, has been a promise to educate themselves on the impact of systemic racism. And yet, it is impossible not to wonder why these promises and commitments did not come sooner.
Most leaders understand that their ability to succeed is contingent on being able to identify the forces that affect and disrupt their ecosystems. This is particularly obvious when it comes to technology for example. When artificial intelligence (AI) became a force to be reckoned with, leaders across industries did the work to educate themselves on the matter, developed a perspective on the implications of this technology in their sectors and strategized around how to leverage AI to advance their business. Simply put, leaders leaned in and invested in the resources that enabled them to understand how AI works. It is evident that leaders have not afforded diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) the same investment.
The need to educate oneself on racial injustice now demonstrates that leaders have failed to see DEI as a matter of critical importance for decades. Unlike before, this storm will not pass. So, here is a roadmap for how to think about sustainable and long-term change.
- Learn and Listen: Leaders must do the work to understand the systems that create inequities in the ecosystems in which their companies operate. As with AI, no one is expecting leaders to understand the intricacies of the technology nor become experts on the history of its development. This could take decades, making it an unrealistic and unproductive task. Yet, leaders need to invest in generating an awareness that allows them to have thoughtful conversations, make informed decisions, and effectively articulate when they do not have the answers to carve a path forward. In other words, they need to stop viewing intercultural competency as an optional skill. Often with DEI, leaders hire an external consultant or a chief diversity officer, effectively outsourcing the work of listening and learning from their own people, while failing to develop DEI competencies themselves. It is time leaders take ownership of this learning journey and do the work needed to make DEI a strategic imperative.
- Make Strategic Decisions: Once leaders have increased their intercultural competencies and created space to make this a continuous learning journey, they must make strategic decisions that demonstrate that DEI is a company imperative. This process will require that leaders identify their company’s priorities and create opportunities for DEI to become a guiding principle in how they achieve these goals. While this may sound like a daunting endeavor, consumers and employees already have a myriad of ideas on to how to accomplish this; leaders just need to create the space to listen and drive a bold agenda that enables them to play a role in dismantling systemic racism in the way their communities and employees are requesting.
- Create Long-Term Opportunities: Organizations must play the long game, which requires building systems and processes that hold people accountable when they perpetuate systems of oppression. Solidarity statements mean nothing when Black employees do not feel that solidarity internally. In this process, leaders must acknowledge that awareness, skill development and building talent pipelines take time, and that they need to play a critical role in driving this. As a first step, all leaders should get a sheet of paper and draw a timeline with three markers: six, 12, and 18 months. Each point should include one or two sentences detailing where they want their organization to be during these points in time and how their leadership is going to help their companies achieve progress.
Originally posted on Forbes