18 Business Leaders on Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Society
These industry leaders outline how best to foster diversity and inclusion in company settings.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The United States is currently facing an important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. Many of us see the news and ask how we can help. What are the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way?
Authority Magazine recently ran an interview series asking close to fifty influential business leaders if they can share their “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”.
Here are some highlights of these interviews.
Cedric Ellis of CUNA Mutual Group
The challenge with DE&I initiatives is that most organizations want the quick fix or what I call the “just add water” approach. To be effective and authentic, one must do the work to better understand the challenges that we face with race in our country. To answer the question more directly, context is key. We all have bias we bring everywhere, but these steps can be important for eliminating roadblocks for DE&I:
1. Ensure leaders aren’t perpetuating the sense of inequity, discrimination, or systemic challenges. Often, employees of color have white leaders. If we can come to terms with the fact that we all have bias and challenge these notions about who is being burdened versus helped, we can go far.
2. Examine your organizational purpose and align DE&I strategy to that. You need to build the why. Be clear about what you want to accomplish, and why. For example, at CUNA Mutual Group, we believe a brighter financial future should be accessible to everyone. Inclusion is built into our purpose.
3. Build a baseline level of training and education for front-line leaders. This dictates how DE&I is embraced and will most directly address how systemic racism is dismantled in the community. If you’re trying to build an anti-racist organization, it starts with front-line leaders to influence overall culture.
4. Be deliberate about your recruiting efforts. Move beyond the usual suspects and think about where diverse talent that without your usual pedigree might be, because those pedigrees probably don’t have enough diversity.
5. The most important step of all is to have a CEO who is on board. Having a CEO who is a champion for DE&I and believes it is linked to success and isn’t afraid to talk about it, sets the tone for DE&I to be successful.
Leslie Crutchfield of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
1. Change hearts as well as policies. Racism is a social norm, a cultural attitude, a personal opinion. It cannot be legislated or regulated. But it can be changed.
The fight for same-sex marriage equality offers a powerful example. In that movement, reformers deliberately set out to first understand where most people in America stood on LGBTQ marriage. National polls in the 2000s showed that while a handful of respondents were adamantly opposed to gay marriage, whether for ideological, religious or other reasons, the vast majority did not have a strong opinion. They weren’t for it or against it. Many said they didn’t understand why gay people wanted to marry. So, the Freedom to Marry campaign and its allies set out to convince this silent, if confused, majority of “persuadable” people to support their cause through widespread social media campaigns and targeted efforts to change the attitudes of influential individuals. Dismantling deeply-rooted social and cultural norms is more challenging than changing laws or regulations. But it is possible.
2. Have a national strategy and a federal strategy. The most successful movements of the 21st Century focused on state and local policy reform, and only later attempted more sweeping federal changes. This worked for anti-smoking crusaders, gun rights proponents, and gay marriage advocates alike over the past two decades, even though these different causes appealed to opposing political parties. Advocates and allies for Black lives should focus their firepower on state and local policy reform now, while they have the nation’s attention — and empathy — they can generate the momentum needed to achieve nationwide changes in the future. But if, instead, the movement pushes for sweeping federal changes too soon, they could squander this historic opportunity.
3. Data doesn’t matter, emotions do. People respond to events with their reptile brains, it’s primal and subconscious. But even the most well-intentioned advocates rely too often on statistics and try to use data and numbers to argue for their cause. For instance, people in America knew as early as 1964 that smoking was dangerous to your health — that’s when the US Surgeon General first warned about cigarettes, but it took more than several decades of non-smoker’s rights and tobacco control advocacy and social norm change campaigns to prevent youth smoking and cut adult smoking rates to their current historic lows. It wasn’t because the data wasn’t available or known. It was the way advocates and people with lived experience of smoking-related diseases shared their stories that change happens.
In this moment of racial reckoning, the more leaders can create places for people to share their personal stories with race and racism, the more understanding and empathy will grow. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, churches, and more can promote the sharing of stories to build affinity for causes.
4. Break from Business as Usual. Business can be a vector for change, not just a donor to causes or a target of activist ire. And whether by choice or by default, companies today are becoming more involved with social movements, with seemingly every corporate CEO now speaking out against racism. Companies can play roles in social movements that are much more complex and far-reaching than self-promotional advertisements or corporate statements promising racial solidarity. Corporate leaders who want to demonstrate support with Black Lives Matter can start by reforming internal policies around hiring, retention, promotion, and pay equity, and also reviewing their supply chain through a lens of diversity and inclusion, among other ways to take meaningful action against racism.5. Be "leaderful." From the start, Black Lives Matter was committed to being a “leaderful” movement — leading from the grassroots up and allowing people with lived experience of racism and police brutality to speak out and stand at the front of protest marches. This was a smart decision. I know from my research that the most successful modern social movements embrace this leadership approach, understanding that it is both effective and protective. Without a sole charismatic leader, the movement is less vulnerable to attack, such as the tragic assassinations of civil rights leaders in the 1960s, most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The challenge, now that the movement for Black lives has the attention and the empathy of a majority of Americans will be to turn widespread social support into political will.
Carolyn Collins of Gas South
1. Expand our view. I believe the first step in this journey is recognizing we see the world very narrowly and all of our experiences are not universal. We can’t even begin to have a conversation about equity until we acknowledge where there are inequities.
2. Learn to unlearn. There are assumptions, behaviors, and patterns of thinking that we all have internalized and need to unlearn. Working toward inclusion will require us to interrogate the various ways we craft policy and distribute opportunity. Until we have the framework to implement a more inclusive way of thinking, we will continue to perpetuate the same outcomes.
3. Name the oppression. You can not solve a problem that you can not identify. We must get comfortable naming systems, policies, and people that have contributed to the marginalization of some communities. We must be honest about the issues to create the right solutions.
4. Make restitution. The past is always with us in the present. We need to reckon with our history if we want to make our nation whole. This request often is interpreted as asking people to atone for the sins of their ancestors, which is not the case. We do, however, need to critically examine the lingering impacts of our early history and work to neutralize them.5. Commit for life. None of these changes will happen overnight or with the passage of a few laws. It will take intentionality and deliberateness from all of us to ensure we continue to support equity throughout all of our communities.
Marianne Harrison of John Hancock
1. Embrace vulnerability. Seven years into my career as a public accountant, I had just had my second child and was thriving personally and professionally. One of my managers took me aside and told me that having any more children would hurt me from progressing in my career. Two months later, I was pregnant with my third child and now I am the CEO of John Hancock. These types of experiences really stuck with me and reinforce the value of making sure my employees (and really anyone) feel they are in a judgment-free environment and can bring their whole selves to work, or anywhere else.
2. Recognize accomplishments. It is important that people are recognized for their accomplishments and rewarded as such, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, and ability. I would never want someone to credit my gender for my success. I want people to recognize that I got to this position for being me, for working hard and for doing the best that I can.
3. Create space for diversity of thought. People think differently. That’s a good thing. Being able to recognize the value in different perspectives is key to creating an inclusive environment. Diversity of thought gives us the opportunity to see new and innovative ideas and understand different ways of doing things, and it comes from having people of different races, genders, sexuality, geography, work experiences, etc. at the table.
4. Join forces with others. At John Hancock, we benefit from having many thoughtful community partners and we participate in industry groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, American Council of Life Insurers, and CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. This allows for consensus-building beyond our own walls to help drive systemic level changes that are needed.
5. Listen and learn from experts. We have benefited greatly from a guest speaker series during our remote work that has brought in third-party voices and experiences to help keep our team engaged. From a NASA astronaut to a presidential historian — listening to and learning from those outside our team is so helpful to broaden our perspective.
Dr. Halima Leak Francis of Tulane University
1. Ongoing investment of resources. In order to open doors and support the shifts that we need to see in leadership, we have to make diversity and equity a fiscal priority. To this end, education is one of the most critical areas we must invest in.
2. Commit to the long game . I mentioned earlier that the challenges and frustrations that we are seeing did not happen overnight. Many have committed their life’s work to advancing equity, inclusivity, and justice. If we are going to sustain progress here, we have to be just as committed to long-term monitoring, evaluation, and course correction when needed.
3. Change culture and practice . We live in a society where things like inequity, bias, and various injustices are systemic and deeply embedded in our very identities. While very difficult, changing this from a cultural, policy, and practice stance is necessary if we are going to create an inclusive and equitable society. I think as the conversation has turned to being “anti-racist,” we are headed in the right direction here. Ibram Kendi, author of How to be Antiracist clarifies the concept: “To be antiracist is a radical choice in the face of history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.”
4. Open the door and share the stage . This is about sharing power, opportunity, and influence. Too often diverse voices are muted, resulting in one-sided dialogues that are not representative of the most heavily impacted communities. Sometimes opening doors to advance diversity means actively seeking out expertise and skill in spaces where we might not typically look.
5. Face the difficulties with hope and optimism . Make no mistake, what we are facing today is difficult. It is heavy work and emotional labor is real. To get through the tough times, it is important to remain focused on the goal which is a thriving society where everyone is valued and equity is the rule, not the exception. We are not aiming for a utopian ideal, but instead an attainable reality. Tapping into the creative potential of building equitable systems reminds us of why the labor is well worth it.
Kathryn C. Thornton, Former Astronaut & Space Foundation Chairwoman
As a global convener of the world’s space community, we launched our Center for Innovation and Education at Space Foundation with the mission to provide greater access and opportunity for current and future generations of space contributors. Our approach is an all-inclusive strategy through collaborative partnerships that develop and deliver innovative and economic programming to build a sustainable workforce.
At the hub of the Center for Innovation and Education is our Workforce Development Roadmap, which lays the foundation for building the space workforce today and into the future. The roadmap consists of five core principles that address key issues in building a diverse and inclusive workforce. These principles can be readily extrapolated to build a representative and equitable culture in broader communities.
1. Awareness of space impact and the breadth of workforce opportunities. Raising space industry awareness and workforce opportunities has been a focus of Space Foundation since the beginning. There is a misconception that the space industry is for a select workforce of astronauts, scientists and government contractors. This could not be further from the truth. Today, there is an opportunity for everyone, in virtually every community in the world, to participate in the space economy. How? People with a STEM background can build rockets, yes, but there are also opportunities for entrepreneurs to commercialize space-based technologies, for artists to create new designs, and for skilled trade workers to perform fiber laser welding. The future of space is extending into commercial technologies that not only benefit the aerospace community but also improve life here on Earth.
2. Access to jobs, careers and business ventures for all people. I have seen that it isn’t just enough to be aware of opportunities in the space industry: We need to make those opportunities accessible. I remember a time during my 12 years at NASA, the Kennedy Space Center reached out to a local community college to train technicians to apply tiles on the space shuttle. This was not a skill that was taught at the college. It was a need, and through collaboration with the college, the skill was eventually taught and accessible to anyone interested in the space industry. Today, the space workforce is a collaboration of communities, public and private companies, government agencies, entrepreneurs and small business suppliers, educational institutions, and space enthusiasts. By partnering with like-minded organizations, Space Foundation is opening the door to expanding access to all people interested in the space economy.
3. Training for lifelong learning of sustainable skills. In today’s workforce, careers are not linear or set by unchanging parameters. Workplaces are more dynamic, and technology changes the way we work at an unprecedented pace. Traditional education is not keeping up with the needs or the workplace, and employers are not providing the continued job training workers need in light of evolving technology and automation. Department of Labor Statistics and Pearson surveys show that 64 percent of workers are in favor of job-hopping, often to pursue new challenges and higher salaries that are commensurate with their skill level. The average employee tenure is four point two years. This number drops to just two point eight years for employees ages 25–34. Employees around the globe report a need for further education every two years because their jobs have changed. Training for me has been a lifelong pursuit, and likewise, Space Foundation endeavors to enable lifelong learners, from students to professionals at any stage of their careers. Through grants, sponsorships and partnerships, we provide a wide range of multimodal training, including hands-on camps, field excursions, self-guided online webinars, and collaborative regional workshops and virtual events for training as well as plans for reskilling or upskilling to grow and retain a vibrant space economy workforce.
4. Connections to a vast space network of people, businesses, and resources. Gaining entry into most fields is bolstered by one’s network and connections. This is a major stumbling block for most underserved groups, and we at Space Foundation are working to open up our network and communities to new demographics. Here’s how: Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium is the leading international event for the space industry, attracting 15,000-plus representatives from the military, civil and commercial space sectors to examine space issues from multiple perspectives, promote dialogue, conduct new business ventures and partnerships, and focus attention on critical space issues. Space Foundation extends scholarships to teachers, students, young professionals, and space commerce entrepreneurs in order to build their networks. The New Generation Leadership program connects promising young professionals (ages 35 and younger) to space professionals that can provide real-world career advice, guidance, and job roadmaps. The new Swigert Society Young Leaders program connects tomorrow’s leaders with philanthropists who want to make substantial innovations a reality by providing funds that will jump-start promising efforts.5. Mentorship of young leaders to be next-generation role models. There are fewer space industry role models today than there were during the excitement of the 1960s. Yet, to build and retain a qualified workforce requires mentoring and role models for today’s youth, educators, young professionals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. In high school, I was the only girl in my physics class. The retired Air Force officer who taught the class treated me the same way he treated his male students. He didn’t belittle me. He was the reason I majored in physics in college, and I credit my career to him. That’s the power of just having someone believe in you. I invited him to all of my launches. Anyone aspiring to be a valuable contributor to the space economy wants to learn and be inspired. Not only can a mentor aid in skill development and career advancement, but having a role model gives the curious an inside look into their profession, helping to drive and motivate the workforce to pursue passions and continue developing talents throughout their careers. Integrating contributors with experienced leaders in the workplace will allow for active engagement, collaboration, and the development of a thriving space industry. Recognizing that people are one of the most powerful assets, our programs at Space Foundation are designed to ensure a healthy, balanced progression of mentorship and role models at all levels — from aspiring workforce candidates to space professionals. Space Foundation Teacher Liaisons inspire students, communities and peer educators, while our NewGen Ambassadors mentor middle and high school students, and its Senior Leader Mentors guide young leaders, entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Rahkim Sabree of An Extended Hand
1. Creating a safe space . The introduction of the topic and establishment of rules of engagement. It’s important for a structure to exist as many of these discussions can and will explore traumas and challenge beliefs considered cultural norms. A good starting point is banning the phrase “that’s how we’ve always done it” from conversation. How you’ve always done it previously by virtue of this discussion hasn’t exactly promoted an inclusive, representative, or equitable society has it?
2. A discussion on the definition of racism and how institutional racism works. Inclusion addresses more than just the race issue, however, racism as a whole and institutional racism specifically is an excellent case study in how to silence and limit the progression of oppressed peoples. Remember the boiling water and pot lid analogy? Institutional racism is that lid.
3. Acknowledging culture clash in which the dominant culture cannibalizes or forces out diverse cultures (in hiring, evaluating, promoting, showcasing, etc of employees). Many organizations, unfortunately, will embrace DE&I efforts as an exercise to check off the box; where they will potentially hire a diverse staff, maybe create some affinity groups and have a yearly event with food and music and consider themselves done. These actions however can be interpreted as a sort of “dog and pony” show leaving the underrepresented feeling slightly offended. A good example of this is when democratic lawmakers wore African kente cloths to announce police reform legislation earlier this year. It was a publicity stunt that left many offended. In corporate organizations, this is difficult to address but necessary. Standards around dress, appearance, who gets promoted or hired, who gets a leadership role, etc are often exclusive in that to be embraced or accepted you have to speak a certain way, dress a certain way, look a certain way, prepare your hair a certain way, and sometimes have a name that is easy to say lest you be forced to accept a nickname. It makes the statement that you either assimilate or get out. That you should be grateful for being given this opportunity and not that we value you because of what you bring to the table.
4. Listening . Letting the underrepresented share their experiences, anxieties, fears, etc without interruption or fear of retaliation. This is something that may take time and span many sessions simply because a considerable amount of time is going to be required to undo trauma associated with having to fit in, be “appropriate," feeling the need to code-switch, etc. It can also be uncomfortable as sharing these experiences can be triggering on both sides of the table; as the dominant culture will feel the need to explain, defend, or justify, and the underrepresented may feel like it’s a losing battle not even worth engaging in. These sessions will likely require a moderator who is detached from the organization and who is willing to be provocative enough to pull some of the answers out while maintaining order to be effective.
5. Response and accountability . Letting members of the dominant culture react, respond, ask questions, hold each other accountable, and look for ways to dismantle organizational norms that stem from racism. Some would argue that it’s not something that can be solved overnight, and in some instances, I might agree. However, the speed at which you move to address these issues is going to correlate to the energy behind making it a priority and getting it done. When you hear the titles CEO, CFO, COO, you likely will immediately think of a middle-aged white man. Inversely when you think of the title Chief Diversity Officer, or Diversity and Inclusion Officer you’ll likely imagine a black man or woman, relatively young and full of energy. This is the type of programming that needs to be dismantled. Why are we surprised to hear that major brands with household names have c-suite executives who are black men, or women of any race?
Mary Davis, CEO of The Special Olympics
1. Listen. It is important to listen to people’s views and hear what they have to say. For example, after George Floyd’s murder, we held an all-staff forum for employees to share how they were feeling and to share their experiences. We wanted to create a safe space where people felt they could express their fears and voice their frustrations. We also set up a D&I steering group and a task force to lead this work.
2. Engage. Involve people as part of the solution. In Special Olympics, our athletes are the leaders and teachers of inclusion. They are Global Ambassadors, Health Messengers, Board Members and play an active role in all aspects of the organization.
3. Respect. Respect, value, and appreciate the talents and contributions of everyone. We have a unified school program where students with and without intellectual disabilities play sports together. Through this experience and the power of play, students without disability learn about the skills and talents of students with intellectual disabilities, and through this experience, they are more respecting and understanding of difference.
4. Act. Actions speak louder than words. We must not just talk about how we are going to be more inclusive, each of us must be part of the change that we wish to see and not stand on the sidelines and wait for someone else. We need to be active participants. Through our Global Youth Engagement Program, Special Olympics has inclusion leadership projects that create an opportunity for young people around the world to convene through local summits in their own countries and regions to learn and grow from each other.
5. Commit. The journey towards inclusion requires long-term, focused attention and everyone must be committed to staying the course in building a more equitable and diverse society for all.
Makya Renée Little of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education
1. Know your “why.” Be willing to do the self-work to establish your own North Star, and ensure you are genuinely driven by a desire to leave our society better than you found it — in whatever aspect or field that may be. Once you know your why and how to effectively leverage your natural gifts in your pursuit, be willing to sacrifice your comfort and push through barriers to drive change.
2. Respect others. See those who differ from you as equally talented and deserving of opportunities. There is so much intersectionality between our experiences that I feel there is always something I can learn from someone else — no matter their age or station in life. The basic recognition that someone knows something that you don’t is reason enough to respect them.
3. Practice empathy. Listen to one another. Don’t dismiss stories of inequity. Although you may not be able to relate to the specific challenges of someone whose life experience may have differed from yours does not invalidate that experience. Take a moment to “walk in their shoes.”
4. Never stop learning. Constantly work to educate yourself on past issues and the history of our nation. Don’t rest on your laurels and take everything that you learned in school or see online as fact. Crosscheck sources, research authors to understand their lens, and read books on various topics that challenge your thinking and perspective. Education is the antidote to racism and oppression. We are all products of our experiences and what we’ve been exposed to. Expose yourself to knowledge.
5. Help people solve problems. We as a nation are only as strong as our weakest link. We all must be willing to examine our systems to ensure opportunities are equally accessible for all. As Americans, we are ALL on the same team and need the best of the best to excel in all avenues. We have to see problems and barriers to success as our common enemy and not one another.
Larry Dunivan of Namely
1. Educate yourself. I may not be a racist, but I have most definitely done (or not done) things that perpetuate policies and frameworks that have helped racism thrive. I recently finished reading “White Fragility” and “How to be an Antiracist.” I was dumbfounded by how little I understood the issue.
2. Open your mind. As a 60-year-old white man of privilege, I can’t possibly understand or appreciate what it means to experience racism. I am a gay man, so I have some secondary appreciation of some of the issues, but I’d still have to characterize myself as naive, to be sure.
3. Listen and ask for help. I am deeply grateful to our employee resource groups for their advice and counsel on what to do and how to do it.
4. Empathy rules the day. Before you can possibly appreciate what’s happening, you have to have truly acknowledged the feelings of others, and only through those expressions of empathy can the kinds of open conversations happen that will ultimately drive change. This was especially true the day after Rayshard Brooks’ death in Atlanta. We have a large facility in the city, and many of the employees there are Black. They needed to hear that we cared, that what happened was utterly unacceptable.
5. Commit to change with accountability. We published equality.namely.com as our commitment and we intend to revise it over time in partnership with our employees to drive long-term, systemic change.
Author Chelley Roy
1. Inclusion. There is something special about inclusion, being a part of something, building something together. Everyone wants to feel a part of something and have that sense of “belonging," sort of like a brotherhood/sisterhood. For example, every couple of months, I host a “Women, Conversation, and Cocktails,” where I include several area business owners, as well as aspiring business owners. This is a forum where we discuss challenges, as well as the perks of being a business owner as well as how to effectively navigate through the challenging start-up years.
2. Strategy. In an effort to execute or to be successful in life, you must develop a strategy or blueprint that spells out how you are going to get there and the steps involved to get there. For example: As part of being a fitness coach, in order to help my clients gain maximum results and confidence, not only do I have to guide them one on one with every step of coaching, but I develop strategies that will help them continue to be successful, such as developing and customizing meal plans, work out routines, etc.
3. Diversity. We have to be mindful and take into consideration the many different cultures that breed talent. For example, when trying to be innovative, creative, and think outside the box, many challenges arise. I believe in motivating and encouraging my clients and partners to be open-minded by thinking outside the box in an effort to find solutions to the many challenging issues we face today.
4. Representative. You have to brand yourself and live by a code of ethics, which is all we typically have as humans first, then businesswomen/men second. As a representative of ethics, it’s important to be honest and transparent no matter what you do. It’s important that my client, team, and partners trust me. For example, to build trust, you must exude high standards, morals, and ethics. The trust comes into play, when I value my partners on the same level as myself, I’m open, I listen, and I value their opinions no matter what when it comes to building, branding, strategy, etc.
5. Equitable society. In any industry, you never stop learning and educating yourself, what I mean by this is that, I oftentimes, find myself going to one of my many mentors, or my many other toolkits of resources for the answers sometimes, because I don’t always have them. You have to trust your community, your circle, your vested colleagues, and partners to discover and learn the most valuable best practices.
We must be transparent, open, and willing to not only be a voice but hear the voices of those who have a strong desire to be included or belong in such brother/sisterhoods. We have to be the voice when our society isn’t strong enough to be a voice. We have to be the blueprint for our culture and generation by demonstrating how to effectively build an innovative and creative, sustainable business from the ground up. As a coach, I mentor women who want to become entrepreneurs. But many are afraid of stepping into their greatness because they worry about being judged or not having the support of friends and family.
Ben Lamm, Hypergiant Industries
1. Have discussions with people who are different than you. This means talking to people who have different opinions than you and talking to people about what those opinions mean. These discussions are not about proving you are right: They are about educating and informing yourself and others. Do a lot of that. You will also find those conversations are way more interesting than the same old conversations with the same like-minded people.
2. Every fight is worth it. If you feel like something is an issue, have the fight and get through it. Do not hide those emotions, do not push them down, and do not walk away from the problem. I am known for being someone who will have arguments with people in my office and this isn’t because I dislike them or think they are wrong. It is because I believe we need to have a steam valve for our anger. Fights help us work through things. We need to learn how to have them and then move past them. Conflict and friction are not bad things. Complacency is though. I cannot tell you how many arguments I have had that I felt convicted about but ultimately was wrong and left the conversation changed for the better and learning. I also promote having disagreements in my team and working through them.
3. Hire lots of people unlike yourself. You are you. That’s awesome but hire other people who are not just like you. These people bring new ideas, new talents, and new perspectives to the table for you to ingest. That’s important. Without a diverse group of people, you miss things. I have a number of employees in NYC. During the global health crisis, they were going through way different emotional and social issues than we were in Texas. Having them on the team meant I was able to see how things were happening across the country and problem-solve for our business in very different ways than if I just had a Texas only view on the crisis.
4. Push the envelope. It’s not enough to do whatever people are saying you should do today. Do one better. Figure out what other people need to do. Yes, we need to hire more diverse people. But, we also need to ensure our education systems are training more diverse hires and we need to ensure kids aren’t hungry so they can go to school and get good grades. And, to do that, we need to make sure that kids are taken care of in their homes and their communities. So, yes, we can hire more diverse people but also we need to do the work of the future and make sure we are creating a safe, more just, and better educated America.
5. Step down. If you are a business leader who does not think it is your job to create a better world for your employees and your community, step down. Don’t hide. Don’t think you can ride it out. Step up or step aside because the best business leaders aren’t the richest, they are the ones who run businesses that change the world.
Chioma Onwutalobi Brown of SCO Group
1. Equality. Champion equality, even in its lowest forms, and speak up whenever you see something that is unjust.
2. Empowerment. Empower marginalized groups so they can acquire the resources to build themselves up and attain a greater standing within society. This may include supporting organizations aimed at uplifting members of these groups, as well as spending/buying from these groups as well as spending/buying from these communities.
3. Education. Educate yourself and the people around you so that your interactions, attitudes, and behavior towards people from marginalized backgrounds are intentional and enlightened.
4 Communication. Integrate with these communities so that you fully understand their stories, cultures, and experiences.
5. Promotion. If you’re in a position to uplift others, be sure to promote and recommend individuals from underrepresented groups. This will go a long way towards leveling the playing field and ensuring equality of opportunity.
Rick Bratman of the Super Girl Pro Series
1. Listen . Try to actively identify an issue by hearing what is important to others. We were producing action sports events for several years where women were primarily on the periphery. We spoke to many female athletes about their frustrations around having little to no voice or respect.
2. Think . Understand the circumstances and determine how you can help make a difference. Our platforms were events and content creation, so we wrestled with how we could use those assets to make a difference.
3. Plan . Devise a plan of action to institute change. We developed the idea behind the Super Girl Pro Series as a platform for the women in action sports and decided to commit both time and resources to the project.
4. Motivate . Inspire others to support your vision as nobody can make a significant change on their own. We spoke with hundreds of top athletes, brands, media partners, and venues about the idea and created a network of key partners to help us bring the whole Super Girl Pro Series concept to life.
5. Act . Be bold and take action. It took several years and considerable financial resources to actually execute the plan, but we committed to the venture (despite the high risks) because we knew it was incredibly important to lead by example.
Aditi Shekar of Zeta
1. Bring on investors who will give you a representative POV. As I said above, I believe diversity starts at the cap table, and recruiting investors of color/women can be a powerful way to ensure you do this. I started by ear-marking at least 30 percent of my round for this type of investor. And then I made it known, to whoever was willing to help, that that was a key metric for me.
2. Make it part of your core business thesis. From my work in social entrepreneurship, one of the key takeaways was that impact should be tied to your business at its core. For example, Tom’s Shoes gave a shoe for every shoe they sold. Impact and revenue went hand in hand. Similarly, find a way to make a strong case for how diversity impacts your bottom line (and vice versa).
3. Pick a diversity metric and constantly measure it. There’s a famous quote by Peter Drucker that says “what gets measured gets managed." Select a metric that makes sense for your organization and then create a cadence to measure it (regularity) and share it publicly (accountability).
4. Once you have a diverse team, obsess about how to help them thrive. Some advice I got early on was to find the areas where diversity typically breaks down (for example: pay gaps) and actively create systems to fight those biases. For example, in early-stage startups, there’s often not a formal process for compensation (and sometimes not even a clear pay scale). As such, forcing yourself to create one (even if you’re just creating it for yourself) is a good way to gut check the offers you’re making. Then create a cadence for everyone around promotions and bonuses so you give equal opportunity to everyone on your team rather than just the loudest voices.
5. Find people to hold you accountable. Sharing weak metrics might feel daunting or unproductive. Find a group of people who can hold you accountable, even if it’s behind closed doors. Just make sure they’re willing to ask you hard questions if you’re not performing against the goals you set.
Christie Lawler of CJL Consulting
1. Ask questions . Don’t assume someone else in the room doesn’t have the answer you need. Ask questions that promote brainstorming and involvement from all stakeholders. Some of the best ideas are simply questions that have never been asked of the right person.
2. Honor ideas . If a person is willing to share an idea, honor them by listening. For some, speaking up is the most terrifying of obstacles that they must overcome. So, if someone offers suggestions, thank them and see if it can work. The most brilliant mind in the room may be hidden by shyness.
3. Dig deeper . If you don’t immediately understand the thoughts or ideas, ask more questions. Work with the idea generator to flesh out the value within the proposition. Not every idea is brilliant, but working with others to brainstorm new solutions never has a downside.
4. Add value . Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are about to say will add to or detract from the conversation. If you can’t answer that question, wait to speak. If you think your words could potentially hinder progress, then definitely don’t speak.
5. Respect others. Know that you don’t know everything and that others have different opinions and ideas because their experiences are different. Life molds our minds in a variety of ways. Understanding that your experience may not be the same as the person sitting next to you is half the battle to creating an inclusive environment where others feel safe to join.
Rita Kakati-Shah of Uma
1. Pledge a solution. Whilst advocating for diversity and inclusion publicly is a start, just posting a black post on Instagram one day and going back to business-as-usual the next day won’t change anything. Demonstrate your actual commitment to ethnic minorities by changing your practices. Go out and support the minority groups you pledge to support. Start by actively seeking out businesses to partner with. Simply attending unconscious bias training is not enough. We all have unconscious biases. It’s a part of life. But how are we actually acting upon this knowledge, whether it’s unconscious bias, microaggressions or systemic bias? Each individual needs to digest, think about, then speak out about changing any structural inequalities they see at work.
2. Recognize privilege. Depending on where, how, and with whom we were raised, we all have different versions of privilege. Take time to listen to colleagues, ask questions, compare how your lives outside work differ. Only with active communication can privilege be understood and addressed.
3. See something. Say something. Allow your employees to speak up. Do your employees have the freedom to speak up and out about discrimination? About letting it be known how a certain comment or action came across? Simply put, your employees should be able to say something if they see something, in order to change something.
4. Overhaul your hiring practices. Ask who is making your hiring decisions? Are you marketing to attract diverse talent? How are you removing selection bias? You can start by removing names, education dates, and personal circumstance statements from resumes. Then do a diversity audit. Benchmark your progress. Report internally on pay differences between different ethnic groups, as is starting to happen with gender. Similarly, don’t ignore intersectionality. The same efforts made to promote equality based on one “difference” or “uniqueness” should be applied to others. So don’t allow race issues to be compounded by class, gender, and age.5. Have cultural resources openly available to employees. This can encourage a consciously supportive culture for everyone. Be an advocate for mental health. Research shows that sexism, racism, social class, and income affect mental health. So create a supportive work environment to have open and honest conversations. You’d be surprised how sharing experiences can really open up your work community. Ask yourselves and your colleagues, what are you going to do to enact real change? Be part of the solution. Say something if you see something, in order to change something!
Andrea Sommer of UvvaLabs
Representation in leadership is extremely important since these are the ultimate positions of privilege. White men are in the most privileged position and therefore struggle to consider the needs of anyone but themselves. This results in exclusionary practices and products that leave out whole groups of people. Facial recognition technology is one example. This software has a notoriously difficult time recognizing Black faces. The problem here isn’t the technology — it’s the teams. All white male teams produce products that cater to their needs alone. But societies are changing. The United States, for example, will be majority-minority by 2044. This means customer groups are shifting. Smart organizations will get ahead of these shifts to create products and experiences that attract the most diverse amount of customers as possible. Only by having a diverse leadership team will a company build products that reflect that diversity.
1. Understand privilege and use it as a tool. The first step in creating a more just society is understanding privilege. Privilege creates and perpetuates the structures and norms that govern a society. At best, it makes barriers for underrepresented groups invisible to those in the most privileged positions. One example of this is when white people say ‘I don’t see race’. Not ‘seeing race’ is a luxury only privileged people have. People of color cannot ignore race because it dictates every aspect of their lives — from their interactions with colleagues at work, sales people in shops, or the police when out in the world (and sometimes in private spaces too), to everything in between. At its worst, privilege can be used as a weapon, as in the case of Amy Cooper threatening to call the police on Christian Cooper in Central Park because he asked her to leash her dog. Amy knew perfectly well her words could have had the power of life or death when she chose to say them. Her position as a white woman allowed her to weaponize her words. That is a privilege.
The good news is that the same power that allows privilege to be a weapon can be focused on turning it into a tool to halt white supremacy in its tracks. White people can use their voices and even their bodies as shields to protect people of color. I mean this quite literally. White people can physically stand in between Black people and the police during protests. They can speak up and take action when they see unfair comments and practices at work. And if they are in positions of power in addition to having privilege, they can use this power to change the structures that allow racism to persist.
2. Take every opportunity to raise people of color’s visibility. Have you ever been in a situation where you went somewhere new, maybe you’re starting a new job, or visiting a new town or maybe you took a wrong turn and ended up in an unfamiliar neighborhood full of people that are unlike you? That feeling of complete aloneness, of not fitting in, of fearing for your safety, is the feeling every person of color has when there is no adequate representation. Except that this feeling is constant; it never fades.
Building representation ensures that every person sees people like them in positions of power, everywhere they go. More importantly, representation changes structures by ensuring decision-making takes into account more than one type of person’s perspective.
The way to achieve representation is to hire people of color. Not just one token person, but many. And not just for junior positions, for the positions that really have influence — to sit on boards, to run companies and countries.
Many companies talk a great talk about diversity and inclusion but when you look at their leaders they are all white men. Representation cannot be lip service; it must be followed by action.
3. Find opportunities to transfer your privilege. When you hire more people of color you are also transferring power and resources, not just building representation. People of color have been systematically denied access to the positions of power that allow families to build wealth and privilege intergenerationally.
This can mean making sure people from underrepresented groups are picked for stretch assignments, promotions, and other opportunities for professional growth. It also means promoting minority authors, academics, scientists, and celebrities to ensure their voices are heard. It can also mean buying from black and other minority businesses. This must be active and continuous.
4. Dismantle structures that perpetuate racism. Structures govern our world. They dictate who gets hired through recruitment practices. They shape how funds get allocated through budgetary policies. They control election results by limiting who has access to polling stations. Many structures in American society are racist, in some cases by accident but most often by design.
Take recruitment practices for example. Many organizations believe that to build the right kind of culture they need to hire for ‘fit’. Usually ‘fit’ means people who are similar to the people who are already there. The end result is a team that looks all the same — usually white men. When this team in turn makes decisions, their thinking is limited by their privileged experience while excluding everyone else.
‘Fit’ is a false premise. It’s not important for everyone to be the same in an organization if you know how to support individuality. Smart organizations and leaders understand this.
The good news is that it is possible to dismantle these oppressive structures and replace them with ones that promote fairness, justice, and equality. It can be painful work because it requires facing our own privilege and the role that privilege has had in shaping groups, companies, countries. But facing this discomfort is a price worth paying to build a more just and equitable society. People in positions of privilege and power can use both of these to achieve just that. And they should.
5. Be relentless in your pursuit of oppression. As MLK famously said ‘Go everywhere where injustice goes’. Oppression can hide anywhere. To fight it, we must be relentless. We must vigorously understand privilege, we must dismantle structures, we must build representation and we must raise the profile of underrepresented groups and we must do this tirelessly and with conviction.
We must create structures that support this work for the long term. Structures are more powerful than one-time interventions because they provide continuity and continuity is essential for any of this to work.
Most importantly, we must get comfortable with discomfort. This work will be painful. It might feel unfair or embarrassing. But this discomfort is nothing compared to the oppressively constant discomfort that people of color face in navigating a world with rules designed to exclude them at every turn. We must embrace the discomfort and jump right in.