By Glenn Llopis
Our business leaders are in reaction mode.
The actions they’re taking may be good actions to take. But are they doing the hard work that will make those actions meaningful? Or are they just doing something – anything – to make the critics go away?
I fear it’s the latter. And if that’s the case, we’ll end up even more polarized than before.
It’s clearly time for change. I’m certainly not against actions that create change. But I am against actions that make genuine change even harder than before.
I’ve been talking about the Cultural Demographic Shift (CDS) for the past decade. That’s my term for what happens when large cultural segments of the population reach numbers sufficient enough to have a significant effect on what we do and how we act.
It’s here, now.
Look at this recent Brookings analysis of the U.S. population:
- 80% of the population identified as white in 1980; by 2000 that had dropped to 69.1% and by 2019 it is estimated to stand at 60.1%.
- Estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau ahead of the 2020 results show that in 2019 more than 50% of those under 16 identified as a minority.
- The 2010 to 2020 decade will be the first in the nation’s history in which the white population declined in numbers.
We’re just a few years away from starting that transition to majority-minority population. It’s interesting that it’s not just because diverse populations are growing faster – it’s also because the white population has actually declined.
The generations that you are relying on to secure your organization’s future – they’re diverse, they’re proud of their diversity, they’re not going to try to fit into your definition of a successful employee or a successful leader.
Let’s return to that definition mentioned above:
“…when large cultural segments of the population (“shift populations”) reach numbers sufficient enough to have a significant effect on what we do and how we act.”
That’s what’s happening now.
The cultural demographic shift is not just about the numbers. It’s about the point at which culture at large is being shaped more and more by shift populations. Today, the Black community is introducing a paradigm shift in our society. All shift populations influence this paradigm shift (Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, Women, LGBTQ, Native Americans, etc.), but the Black community is at the center at the moment.
Much of society is more ready for that shift than they’ve ever been before.
Or, at least they THINK they’re ready.
Or they WANT to be ready.
Or they want to LOOK LIKE they’re ready.
There’s a blend of all of those motivations at work right now.
Most organizations are not ready.
Don’t get me wrong: their leaders may genuinely agree with the ideas, with the desire for justice, with the need for change.
But, unlike the Black community and all shift populations – which have been thinking about, planning for, and doing the hard work on these changes for decades (and centuries) – most people are just now getting started. And they’re starting with something big and visible, because that’s what other organizations are doing and they feel the need to keep up.
But change doesn’t happen in the big and visible actions. Change happens when leaders in an organization do the hard work, over time, to turn that big and visible public declaration into a truth that permeates the organization. It can only permeate the organization once leaders tear apart their current systems and build new ones to change the way people think about, practice and measure things like:
If your executive leadership team right now is all white men, it’s because that’s exactly what your culture and systems are designed to produce. If you say: “We are committed to a more diverse team,” but you don’t examine and change those things mentioned above – then you’re either lying or fooling yourself. You’re pretending to treat the acute disease of racism while exacerbating the chronic disease: rampant identity crisis in our workplaces
Leaders of Corporate America: Our Future Is In Your Hands
This is important to me because the future of both our country and our economy depend on getting this right within organizations of every size and in every industry.
It makes sense that the extreme of standardization is met with the extreme of personalization. Or, as I put it in this article from last year:
“The pendulum always swings from one extreme to another, before ultimately settling in the middle. Right now, we’re in the stage of a swing that hasn’t yet settled, which means we’re constantly fighting the back and forth from the extreme of standardization to the opposite extreme of personalization. Finding a balance isn’t easy. We will continue to swing from one extreme to the next as we find our way. And in the process, we will continue to get in our own way.”
But we don’t have the luxury of time to let the pendulum swing back to the middle naturally.
Here’s what I’ve been saying for years:
“The world seems fractured at this moment in time. One reason people are quick to cling to and defend their particular identities (whether gender, cultural or generational, or any other designation we strongly relate to) is because the natural, yet clunky, first step in any pursuit of equality is to start with putting people in boxes and counting them. This is how most of our corporate diversity programs operate. As I said, it’s a natural step – but it’s just the first step.”
Our problem today is we’ve never made it beyond that first step.
We’re seeing a lot of performance these days: public statements, press releases, product changes.
In the past, leaders could get away with leaving it there, just a performance, until people are distracted by something else. No more.
The New York Times’ David Brooks said what I’ve been telling leaders for a while now:
“One of the reasons that America is so angry right now is that there is so much dehumanization. Racism reduces a human being to a skin color. The first casualty in a culture, political or generational war is the willingness to see the full humanity of the other.” From Brooks’ column, “Two Cheers for Liberalism! (Or Maybe One and a Half).”
I talk about the fact that we’re living in an age of personalization. Brooks described that same idea in these words:
“Personalism is the belief that at the heart of any successful relationship, any successful organization and any just society, there is an earnest and ongoing effort to see the full depth and complexity of each human person.”
Here’s how I’ve been defining inclusion: An inclusive organization is one that builds systems that actively enable people to:
- be and express whatever identity they authentically claim, and
- at the same time, look for ways to elevate the individuality of others.
Inclusion is active: It’s a system for making sure the organization is welcoming at every level to every individual. That’s why I often use the words “inclusion” and “individuality” together. One is nothing without the other.
- An environment that is inclusive can be safe for people to be and celebrate their individuality.
- An environment that enables and celebrates individuality can lead to inclusion.
But neither guarantees the other.
Brooks echoes those thoughts as well:
“Personalism is about constructing systems where the whole person is seen and cultivated … communities in which each person is seen as a rich interplay of multiple identities, economic systems that allow people to realize their full dignity as makers and earners. … This awful year will be somewhat redeemed if we can end it with a sense of this kind of common morality, and if we can begin the hard work of reforming our institutions to be in line with it.”
Extremes Don’t Solve – They Neutralize
In The Economist’s “The New Ideology of Race,” the authors describe that ideology as one that “defines everyone by their race, and every action as racist or anti-racist. … If it supplants liberal values, then intimidation will chill open debate and sow division to the disadvantage of all, black and white … seeking to impose itself through intimidation and power … silencing your critics, insisting that those who are not with you are against you.”
That’s where we are right now, and that’s why leaders are quick to make big public declarations or “perform diversity” for all to see – so as not to be called out.
The Economist authors offer this alternative, which will sound familiar to my regular readers:
“The new ideology of race is not just wrong and dangerous, it is also unnecessary. Liberalism can offer a fairer, more promising route to reform. It asserts the dignity of the individual and the legal, civil and moral equality of all people, whatever the colour of their skin. It believes in progress through argument and debate, in which reason and empathy lift truthful ideas and marginalise bigotry and falsehood. Liberalism thrives on a marketplace of ideas, so diversity has a vital role. New voices and experiences enrich the debate. Liberalism does not fight power with power, which risks replacing one abusive regime with another. Instead it uses facts and evidence, tested in debate, to help the weak take on the strong.”
When standardization is met with radical personalization (which is how I would describe what’s happening now) it responds in the extremes. One extreme is met with another extreme. Leaders and companies are going to the extremes to make up for what they should have done a long time ago.
But responding with an extreme is a cop out. It’s a way to neutralize the problem rather than solve the problem. It’s a way to try to avoid the hard work of earning people’s trust.
Shift Your Own Thinking
Yes, you should be hiring more Black leaders (and other shift population leaders) at every level of your organization – not to perform diversity, but to achieve it. This is not tokenism, this is not a favor. First of all, they already meet your standards and requirements, you just haven’t noticed. Most important: they have what you desperately need. They have lived the experience of having to battle the gulf between assimilation and authenticity their entire lives.
Originally posted on Forbes